The bomb has fallen – cue a montage of stock footage of nuclear test explosions and volcanoes (?!) – and the survivors have split into two groups: The elite, who have managed to avoid radioactive contamination and stay in enclosed, fortified and guarded communities, while the masses, who are contaminated, live wherever they can, and are hunted for sport by their superiors.
Post apocalypse wasteland...
... and volcano
Alan Tanner (William Mang) is one of the elite, but is banished from his community along with his wife as “expendable material”.
His crime was discovering and threatening to reveal the truth, that the masses are no longer contaminated. This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s revealed in the opening voice over and, one suspects, was included at least in part because the film’s budget clearly didn’t extend to doing mutant make-up jobs.
Some of the hunters
Not having honed their survival skills through necessity, the Tanners are soon hunted down. Alan’s wife is gang raped and killed, while he is left for dead.
Not Last House on the Left
Not Kurt Russell
He is then found by old timer Sam (Woody Strode), who nurses him back to health and equips him with the skills he needs to evade the elite’s defences and take his revenge.
Alan has become The Final Executioner…
Delivering the goods
As a mixture of sundry post-apocalypse films, Escape from New York and The Most Dangerous Game amongst others, The Final Executioner could hardly be called original.
Neither is it particularly well made or well thought through, being the kind of film where almost all the high-tech on display is of 1980s vintage, and where a gang supposedly eking out a marginal existence doesn’t try ambushing their rivals but instead race in doing wheelies and jumping over cars. (An amusing inadvertent sight gag: A motorcyclists has an Oakley helmet, the brand proclaiming to offer “thermonuclear protection” if memory serves correct.)
Yet, amid the general stupidity and unpleasantness – the gang rape is ordered by a woman and is then repeatedly watched by one of the elite, like Otis’s home movie in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – there are some interesting subtexts.
The relationship between Mang and Strode’s characters is reminiscent of those between Lee Van Cleef and Guiliano Gemma or John Philip Law in the spaghetti westerns Day of Anger and Death Rides a Horse, but purer in motive. Rather than being compromised for a personal vendetta, Strode here just wants to pass on his skills to “junior” so that the younger man might accomplish what he no longer has the will to do, namely pursue justice.
The male gaze
Then there’s the class conflict aspect. The filmmakers make it clear whose side we are supposed to be on and who the bad guys are. But the ways things are worked through and resolved is unlikely to pass muster with politically minded critics attuned to the debates initiated by Cahiers du cinema in the late 1960s and continued by Screen in the 1970s.
We’re most certainly not talking a film that is radical in terms of both form and content, rather one which has the right (i.e. left) sentiments but whose approach subverts or even negates these.
A good composition, but a bad dummy that falls into the eye
Specifically we have the individual protagonist motivated by the classic personal goal of revenge. He takes no interest in the wider class that he is now a member of, failing to help it change from a class in itself into a class for itself through his words or his deeds.
Cast thus, the film seems the polar opposite of Cahiers' “Category E” film, the film which at first seems conservative but whose excesses and contradictions open up space for more radical readings. This is, of course, a grouping that I would argue many Italian exploitation films can be positioned within.
Or perhaps there is an area where The Final Executioner is radical, albeit in a reactionary way. This would be its misogynistic / anti-feminist stance, that (elite) women are just as bad as (elite) men; see also the likes of Cannibal Holocaust’s Faye and Macha Meril’s character in Late Night Trains.
Is the myth of universal sisterhood just that, a myth?