The post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s had a few things going for them- we were at the tail end of the Cold War, and thousands of nuclear warheads were aimed at everybody. Now, they’re just decrepit and unaccounted for. Also, there had been an oil crisis in the ’70s and we were all concerned about fighting over it. Wait a minute. Does this mean… a new crop of post-apocalyptic movies could be at hand? Doomsday by Neil Marshall, who gave us the delightful low-budget werewolf blast Dog Soldiers and one of the best horror movies of recent years, The Descent, decides to test the waters with a little bit of 28 Days Later sprinkled on familiar classics such as Escape from New York and The Road Warrior. And mostly, it succeeds- it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
After a deadly outbreak of the Reaper Virus, which gives you giant warts on your face before you puke blood-snot and die, the British government seals off Scotland for 30 years to contain the virus. After a new outbreak in London, a wily female operative and her mostly stupid comrades are sent in to find a scientist named Kane, who may have a cure or vaccine. It’s not quite clear. What is clear is that London has devolved into a criminal shithole reminiscent of the future represented in stuff like Ghost in the Shell, which also has a cybernetically enhanced hottie protagonist. Here, Major Eden Sinclair lost an eye as a child, when her mother sacrificed her life to get to da choppa!!! and save her from the virus. And now she’s going back to kick some viral ass.
In 2035 Britain is shunned by the world for its Machiavellian solution to the plague. “Nip/Tuck” siren Rhona Mitra plays Major Sinclair, the black-clad super-cop leading the mission; her boss is the burly bristly badger Bob Hoskins, operating on orders from sleazy politicians who fear both uprisings and outbreaks. It soon becomes clear that if they can let an outbreak burn through areas rife with unrest, they’ll do it instead of decreasing the poll tax or raising the dole or whatever they do over there instead of bread and circuses. Chips and tellies.
They send her to see what the Scots have done in 30 years of isolation and total breakdown of civilization; the survivors seem immune, but are they carriers? Sadly, the inventors of such culinary breakthroughs as the deep-fried Mars Bar have not fared well, and having run out of haggis, they now resort to cannibalism. Our intrepid heroes roll in with two big troop carriers straight out of Damnation Alley, and get struck by a horde of Post-Apocalyptic Punks as soon as they leave the safety of their vehicles. Thanks to that One Stupid Guy who has to help a teen waif in a heroin haze, they are all slaughtered in guerrilla style with Molotov cocktails, spiked cricket bats, and makeshift weapons. It’s like Aliens in Chechnya.
Sol, the leader of the cannibalistic tribes, definitely resembles Wez from the Mad Max movies, and his hordes seem to have modeled things after post-apocalyptic movies they watched as kids. Believable enough. In a gunless society everyone resorts to knives, swords, clubs, crossbows and cudgels. Sinclair gets captured but two of her men lay low; the cannibal punks beat her up and ask her questions, but apparently draw the line at punching you hard. We soon learn that they’re just tenderizing the meat, as another captive gets roasted alive on stage. They don’t even gut him first, or make haggis. They throw Eden a chunk of him. “If you’re hungry, have a piece of your friend.”
The film manages some controlled gore but doesn’t go over the top, especially for a bunch of cannibals; the Reavers from Serenity were much more savage. Not that your bloodlust won’t be sated by the Unrated version, which has headshots galore. I wondered how they chose the next meal, if no one’s arrived in 30 years, and everyone seems to be in their mid-20’s. Did they eat their parents? We’ll find the Castle for Adult Living, later. Sinclair escapes in a brutal swordfight with Sol’s mohawk-sporting girlfriend, dragging along another female prisoner who turns out to be his sister. They go to find dear old Dad, who turns out to be the scientist Kane they went to find in the first place.
A lot of internet nerds think it all went pear-shaped here, when they run into Kane’s people, who are dressed and armed like medieval knights and peasants, and live in a fortified castle only reachable through an underground bunker. It was fine with me; I never asked where the Humongous and company found all that S&M gear in The Road Warrior, why should I ask how they learned medieval armory skills? A shield looks like it’s made from sheet metal scrap, so it’s not too hard to imagine. Kane is played by Malcolm MacDowell as a tyrant bent on bringing back serfdom, and the movie makes it none too clear that the rulers on the outside only differ in their methods.
There’s a great duel between Sinclair and an armored knight with a morningstar, but Marshall’s supposedly inspirational vision- of a modern or futuristic soldier facing a knight in armor- is never to be. Which is probably for the better, as I’m not sure how cheesy that would be. I imagine they’d have decided to make the armor bulletproof, when the reason it fell out of fashion was because it most certainly was not. We get plenty of action besides, with a final chase worthy of a Mad Max film, with a bunch of British vehicles done up in punk-apocalyptic garb vs. a Bentley GT. Too bad Sol couldn’t scavenge up a Jaguar XKE- they manage to catch them anyway, this being a movie.
Of course it’s derivative, but let’s face it, the last movie of this type I can remember is Escape from L.A., which was fun but had a bit too much camp for my liking. Doomsday may not be a classic, but it’s certainly entertaining. The ending shows that Major Eden Sinclair could be pals with Snake Plissken, and sets us up for a possible sequel that I doubt we’ll ever see. That’s too bad, because I’d watch it. The movie’s flaws are minor- the cliche dumb guy who gets the team killed, and offing one of our favorite characters- the only guy who seems competent- to drum up some emotion in the third act.