For example, I’ve watched a solid handful of Horror pictures lately – I won’t name them as I don’t think that’s necessarily germane – that shockingly offer very few scares. Oh, there are a few clever bits – a splash of blood here, a look of abject fright there – but, all-in-all, I find myself perplexed when the screen goes black and the credits start to roll. These films might offer what I figure to be a Horror concept (or conceit), but in the final estimation their directors seem to have whipped themselves up into a frenzy crafting tales heavy on symbolism and subtext but light on true material. I don’t want to finish a film and then turn to the folks next to me and query what they thought the sequence involving three spotted gerbils marching across the kitchen table represented textually. I’d rather just know how much money we’re out with the purchase of these damn tickets.
Similarly, if you’re going to make a movie about the end of life as we know it – and you want to scare audiences to the point wherein they’d never want to have to survive through one – then why make it so docile? So uneventful? So porous? It’s almost like you didn’t really want fans of these End Times pictures to enjoy themselves vicariously. If that’s the case, then why not stick to shooting documentaries? Wouldn’t that be a better use of one’s time?
As Apocalypses go, 1986’s Land Of Doom is immeasurably tame. And ‘tame’ is a word that should never be used to describe any Armageddon.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“Earth has been ravaged by a nuclear war, and a feminist warrior is forced to join up with a soldier of fortune in her journey to find a rumored ‘paradise’ as they battle gangs of rampaging bandits.”
Though it wasn’t a slog at its 87-minute runtime, there really isn’t all that much action in Land Of Doom.
Now, let me clarify that …
When even your plot description promises ‘rampaging bandits,’ then shouldn’t there, minimally, be a good portion of them? I understand that – if the budget is tight – then perhaps you’ll have to find some economical means with which to present such lecherously-fueled hysteria, but managing the bedlam and mayhem is already part of being a motion picture director. As this Doom unspools, viewers are treated to some acts of carnage that are a bit too benign. Though the prime agitators are dressed like the usual suspects in such fare (angry biker gangs, black leather fanatics, sex dungeon workers, etc.), they’re documented ‘raping’ and ‘pillaging’ is far too … I don’t know … civilized? Why, there isn’t so much as a single breast bared amongst the forced conjugal acts, and the victimized ladies don’t even get their pants much less their briefs down … so isn’t this more ‘high schoolish’ assault than anything else? These bandits are acting more like fraternity-level pranksters than they are bandits, so let’s just be honest: that’s a huge disappointment.
But into this world of – ahem – polite anarchy a feminist rises … and her name was Harmony.
Sadly, actress Deborah Rennard (as the aforementioned Harmony) looks the part (maybe a bit too clean for a world that’s been previously destroyed), but she’s given so little to do in the flick’s preamble. While she’s clearly ready-to-rumble when the script calls for it, she’s otherwise uncharacteristically chaste, wanting to follow her male counterpart’s lead. Essentially, she’s on the run – kinda/sorta like ‘Mad Max’ but without the vehicle and driving skills. After rather easily avoiding these grizzled malcontents, she holes up in a cave already occupied by Anderson (played by Garrick Dowhen), an injured rebel fast on the draw (at least once) and with a heart of gold. Before long, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these two wayward souls were destined to not only meet but eventually team-up in a bid to survive the holocaust, seek out and find the fabled Promised Land, and maybe – just maybe – find love along the way.
I’m not sure what market demographic director Peter Maris may’ve targeted for this Science Fiction release. At times, Doom feels like it might’ve been conceived as kid-friendly, even; but perhaps the natural evolution of shooting pushed the tale into darker territory. Though the script by Craig Rand (adapted from a novel by Peter Kotis) occasionally drops a lot of swear words (F-bombs included), the rest of the post-humanity tale is ridiculously PG. The action sequences have no discernible pace; the fight sequences are incredibly under-developed; and these characters are supplied with dialogue that might favorably be described as naive … so much so that I can’t help but wonder if these exchanges were merely conceived on the spot. Stranger things have happened … but rarely have they been rendered with so little sense of urgency. This is the Apocalypse, people: is it too much to ask that we look, at least, rattled?
But because I’ve made it my life’s pursuit to always find that diamond-in-the-rough, I’m thrilled to speak highly of Doom’s shooting locations. IMDB.com reports that the feature was shot in Turkey, and – despite the fact that there are more rough edges than needed to be there – Maris and his crew made very good use of that nation’s natural terrain. Like any good disaster picture, he captures shot after shot in the bleak countryside, not quite as desolate and blighted as Star Wars’ fabled planet Tatooine but a pretty reasonable facsimile. Also, the production design utilized some caves and what appears to be some indigenous dwellings that give all of this a fabulous ‘back to the Stone Age’ feel, one that’s consistent from start-to-finish.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Rennard a bit of praise. It’s an imperfect outing, but she makes it work nicely in a few places. As the film’s centerpiece, she’s definitely an attractive character to watch. Though the script never quite successfully capitalizes on Harmony having a bit of an ‘Indiana Jones in-the-making’ quality to her, it’s clear that there’s more than meets the eye at work. Had the first film established a workable franchise (FYI: it ends with the promise of being open to a sequel), then I’m left wondering what direction the next creative team could’ve taken with a leading actress who’s proven she’ll beat a deserving thug to a bloody pulp with a rock if he captures her undivided attention. I don’t think even Mad Max did that.
Land Of Doom (1986) was produced by Matterhorn.
For the record, Land Of Doom isn’t a perfect mess. I’ve seen worse days of reckoning, and even I’ve lived to tell about them. What the Peter Maris-directed picture truly lacks is the required rhythm that propels a story about survival from its opening moments to its big climax. Instead, it kinda bobs and weaves its way through the wastelands, introducing one more contingent of the ‘foul-mouthed bikers of the Apocalypse’ when that trope had already become out-of-style with audiences. I laughed more than I should’ve because there just was no driving motivation behind so much of this. Instead, viewers are treated to yet one more boy-meets-girl fish story. Without the fish. And without the story.