6. Blood of Heroes (1989)
Also known as “SALUTE OF THE JUGGER”, BLOOD is yet another post-apocalyptic tale of a ragtag group of “heroes” who fight in bloody games for entertainment, fame and survival. It’s pretty much a gladiator movie with a wasteland setting.
Rutger Hauer built a strong resume coming out of the ‘70s, often working in the Netherlands with his friend/collaborator, director Paul Verhoeven. After his breakout stateside in BLADE RUNNER, Hauer had mixed success throughout the ‘80s leading up to this sci-fi beat-down.
Writer/Director David Webb Peoples assembled a charismatic ensemble with Vincent D’Onofrio, Delroy Lindo and Joan Chen as a scrappy, feral new member of the team. This was her follow-up to THE LAST EMPEROR – quite the transformation.
Hauer and company travel the wasteland, town to town, in tournaments playing, “The Game,” a capture-the-flag-type fight to the death, or until a player rams a dog skull on a spike.
The fight scenes are swift and brutal, the characters compelling, yet can be a bit over the top. Save for Hauer, who plays it stoically, ever concealing his own demons he’s trying to purge with one last shot at the title.
While this is Peoples’ only directing credit, he’s had quite the career as the co-writer of BLADE RUNNER, LADYHAWKE, 12 MONKEYS, and Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
This one is truly for post-apocalypse completists, as well as Hauer fans.
7. Hardware (1990)
Flesh and metal! Post-apocalypse and robots! A drifter roams the wasteland where he uncovers a buried robot. He sells off the parts… except the head. The head reboots, then rebuilds itself into a killing machine. Whoops!
This one is wild in so many ways: lots of familiar sci-fi elements slammed together, a visual look dripping with rich colors, a driving score, metallic bloody violence, quirky supporting characters to the brooding reluctant hero… all en route to quite the bleak ending.
This was Aussie video director Richard Stanley’s first film, which he followed up quickly with the less successful, DUST DEVIL. A few years later, he would write and begin to direct the ill-fated, ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, with Marlon Brando at the peak of his madness and Val Kilmer at the peak of his ego. He was ultimately fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer, and the rest is history. He dodged that bullet.
Here, at the beginning of his film career, Stanley pours his heart and soul into this low-budget insane horror-fest that was originally rated “X” for violence. Hard to find, but worth the watch. Bonus treat – look for Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister of the band, Motörhead, in cameos.
8. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
It’s a bit perplexing why this film didn’t quite connect with the audience as it’s a strong sci-fi story, albeit layered and dense, full of imagination, cool action and stunning design. It may have been a bit ahead of its time as Virtual Reality was still a developing concept to the general public.
Set in 1999, the CEO of a company developing Virtual Reality technology is murdered, and his protege must jack into the mainframe to hunt for the killer. Inside the system, we’re now in 1937, with familiar faces, and a deeper mystery.
The revelations continue until we discover 1999 is actually a simulation as well. The plotting is very much a classic noir structure, but with extra VR/sci-fi twists and turns.
The strong cast is led by Craig Bierko who is both driving the story while also seemingly perplexed throughout. Armin Meuller-Stahl, Gretchen Mol, Dennis Haysbert, Shiri Appleby and Vincent D’Onofrio give excellent support.
Writer/Director Josef Rusnak broke into the business in Germany and later directed second unit for Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA. Emmerich would go on to produce this film that certainly deserves attention. Now working primarily in Germany, it would be nice to see Rusnak return to the world of sci-fi.
9. Renaissance (2006)
How is it that this animated film has yet to be adapted as a live-action film? Perhaps because is was a huge bomb upon release. And really should not have been. It’s a keeper, and perfect for a home theatre with a huge screen and blistering sound system.
Yet another hugely imaginative futuristic-noir featuring a kidnapped woman, and a beleaguered cop who must hunt for her at the top of society, and then down in the bowels of Paris, 2054.
The film is a European cousin to what Robert Rodriguez was doing with SIN CITY. The film was a motion-capture shoot that was then animated in stark black and white with a real artistic flair.
Voiced by Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce, the characterizations are fully realized. And some kudos must be given to composer Nicholas Dodd who delivers a simply fantastic, classic-Hollywood score.
Dodd has enjoyed an astonishingly full career as a conductor and orchestrator of countless giant Hollywood productions, including a number of Bond movies. He has scored but a few films himself, but his work here is on par with any film on his conducting CV.
RENAISSANCE flew way under the radar upon its release, but it too merits a second chance for some accolades.
10. Vast of Night (2019)
Here is the prefect film to discuss with regards to indie breakout at a festival, the festival circuit, streaming vs. theatrical release, etc. Andrew Patterson’s self-financed low-budget period sci-fi deserved the heat that erupted once it debuted on Amazon Prime in May of 2020.
While it also received a brief run in drive-in theaters, in a pre-streaming, pre-pandemic world, this film would have surely played indie houses for months simply due to word of mouth. While it did enjoy a healthy buzz upon release, it unquestionably warrants a long, healthy life alongside other UFO classics.
Inspired by actual events, Patterson sets his story over the course of one night in 1950s New Mexico. Our intrepid heroes, local DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz), and his switchboard operator, Fay (Sierra McCormick), are immediately intrigued by mysterious audio signals on the radio.
The radio station starts receiving phone calls about objects in the night sky. The mystery deepens when a caller informs Everett about secret government operations and UFOs. Soon, Everett and Fay find their way into the woods, and a clearing… and “something” overhead. The truth is out there – and they found it.
Patterson has assembled a fine group of experienced but little-known actors, skilled technicians and artists, who produced a terrific, old-fashioned sci-fi mystery that is entertaining from start to finish. High marks especially for the dynamic camera-work and impressive period production and costume design.
Patterson’s affection for the genre is palpable. While the film is thoroughly familiar, it’s also a fresh and exciting. VAST OF NIGHT is one of those absolute treats of discovery.