Death Run (1987)

Some movies have training montages of shirtless men using exercise machines. But only one movie has a training montage of shirtless men using each other as exercise machines.


Nuclear war breaks out. Paul and his girlfriend Jenny are placed in suspended animation by Paul’s mother, who hopes that future Paul and Jenny will be the saviors of mankind. Twenty-five years later, Paul and Jenny wake up. They go camping.


A bunch of punks destroy Paul and Jenny’s camping tent, then take them to a city that is overrun by muck-faced mutants. The mutants are at war with the punks. The punks have a leader named The Messiah. The Messiah’s right hand has three fingers, while his left hand has monster fingers. He wears a Dracula cape, pleated jeans, and a swastika key chain. The Messiah enjoys molesting women, but his heart belongs to Sly, his manservant lover. It is revealed that Paul will participate in the “death run” game while Jenny will remain The Messiah’s slave. Before any of that happens, Paul’s prison guard, Barbara, sets him free with the help of a ripped dude who has no name. They meet up with a group of desert-dwellers who are also cannibals. One of the cannibals is pregnant. This is so upsetting to Paul that he vomits on the back of a cannibal woman while drowning her in a pot of boiling water.


By 1987, no-budget British filmmaker Michael J. Murphy had it down. Watching his movies is like reading a David Goodis novel or listening to a Jeff Lynne album — the personal stamp is so strong that you can tell who made it. Murphy’s movies are simplistic in story, but chaotic in execution. They’re post-dubbed at the right speed, but sometimes shot at the wrong speed. They also flirt with homoerotic subtext. Shot on Super 8, then later 16mm, these quiet chamber dramas are trash-gore rampagers that don’t rampage. The stories develop slowly while hallucinogenic moments appear at random. In Invitation To Hell, a guy lifts weights in front of a porn collage while another guy ogles him and throws darts at photos of boobs and vaginas. Then a demon tears out their guts. In The Hereafter, two shirtless guys wearing rubber skull masks and tight jeans beat the shit out of a guy in the middle of the woods. Then they cut off his hands. These movies aren’t concerned with satisfying an audience in a traditional sense. Like the work of Nick Millard or Mark Polonia, Murphy’s movies are engaging because of the eccentricities that define them. These movies were brilliant on their own warped terms, but that didn’t always translate to “entertaining.”

Until now.

Death Run has the same pacing issues as Murphy’s previous movies. But the number of ideas are quadrupled. By sheer force of will, Death Run succeeds where other no-fi post-apocalyptic action movies — like Survival: 1990 — do not. You have no idea what to expect and everything feels like it happened by chance. People explode. The Messiah uses a tiny crossbow to combat the mutants. No-name lifts weights with tree trunks. Everyone fights like they don’t want to hurt each other. There are artsy shots behind candles, buzzing experimental synthesizers, and lo-fi bedroom heavy metal that sounds like Rush as envisioned by a teenage Megadeth. The last fifteen minutes of the movie melt into total chaos. It’s like a netherworld version of Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn exploded under a WWF Royal Rumble in Andy Milligan’s backyard.

If you’re still not convinced that Death Run is the best thing you’ll see this week, the movie’s climax involves breastfeeding.

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