When the gangs take over the highway... remember he's on your side.
Year of Release: 1979
Genre: Action/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: George Miller
Mel Gibson ... Max
Joanne Samuel ... Jessie
Steve Bisley ... Jim Goose
Roger Ward ... Fifi
Hugh Keays-Byrne ... Toecutter
Tim Burns ... Johnny the Boy
Geoff Parry ... Bubba Zanetti
Paul Johnstone ... Cundalini
David Bracks ... Mudguts
Bertrand Cadart ... Clunk
Jonathan Hardy ... Labatouche
Brendan Heath ... Sprog
Nick Lathouris ... Grease Rat
Vincent Gil ... Nightrider
Urban society is in terminal decay. The inter-city highways have become a nightmare arena for a strange death game between nomad bikers and a handful of young cops in souped-up pursuit cars.
Max is a young cop responsible for the death of a crazed biker known as The Nightrider.
A gang of bikers led by a weird psychopath known as The Toecutter chase a young couple out into the countryside and tear apart their hot rod in a violent frenzy. Max and his friend Jim Goose come across the aftermath and find one drug-crazed biker left behind called Johnny the Boy. He is released from custody the next day on a legal technicality.
The Goose is outraged, and he and the Boy exchange threats. Later, the Goose dies a terrible death at the hands of The Toecutter and Johnny the Boy
Max quits the force and opts for the peace of traveling the country roads with Jessie and their baby - until chance unwittingly brings them into conflict with The Toecutter, launching a new era of violence and revenge.
Mad Max, remindin' us that in the dystopian future, mannequin love triangles will not be tolerated. That kinda thing leads to jealousy, dissension in the ranks, an inevitably outback fu. You just gotta be firm with those chunkheads, that's all there is to it. Take 'em out to Fat Nancy's truck stop, sit 'em down with a stack of pancakes, an explain that just cause the mannequins in Twilight Zone came to life don't mean it'll happen in real life. An sides that, if it did come to life, it prolly wouldn't be real happy about a buncha dirt clods makin' it anatomically correct with a Dremel tool an stickin' their bush babies into it. An speakin' of things that'll make you puke, I got serious possum problems on my hands again. Well, I mean the problem isn't on my hands anymore, not since I washed 'em, but look, I didn't mean for it to happen. See, Shankles made friends with this gopher that's been livin' in the seat cushions of my 1976 Dodge Coronet that's been parked out back since 1989, an the two of 'em were chasin' each other around the old tractor tire an... shoot, next thing I know my mower's makin' this god-awful racket an Shankles is covered from nose to tail with gopher shrapnel. I only took my eyes off 'em long enough to watch the mosquito sprayer drive by, an when I looked back down the poor guy was wood shed siding. Shankles an I gave 'im a proper Christian burial next to the Coronet, but Shankles ain't been the same since. I think it had somethin' to do with Apollo lickin' pieces of the dearly departed offa the shed durin' the eulogy, but now Shankles just saunters around with this look on his face like he walked in on his grandparents havin' S&M sex. Sadie Bonebreak an I took 'im out to Lake Gunkamucka to do a little fishin' since he likes to play with that muskrat that lives out there, but even when it came by Shankles still just lay in the grass like Tommy Chong in the police evidence room. Wouldn't even get up to chew on the mess of Bluegills Sadie an I tossed onto the bank for 'im, an normally that's his favorite thing in the whole world cause he likes to roll in the pile after he's gotten his fill. Tetnis told me that he could get an under-the-counter Zoloft prescription for 'im, but I've seen what that stuff did to Billy Hilliard's ex-wife an I'm not about to put 'im through that. I guess he's just gonna hafta grieve awhile an get over it in his own time. Can't imagine what it's like to have your best friend explode into a pile of hot dog meat right in front of ya an get plastered with their internal organs. Oh, an since people've been askin', any donations you'd like to make to the "Get Well Shankles" fund can be made at either The Gutter Bowl or Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks, with 100% of the proceeds guaranteed to go to the Center for Traumatized Possum Studies. With your help, we can find a cure. Or at least pull together enough scratch to buy every patient a pair of miniature black sunglasses so they won't get their retinas burnt out while they're walkin' around with their eyes opened up to the size of dinner plates.
At least the lawn mower was quick cause, I mean, he coulda gone out like that cute little dog in Max Mad that gets mutilated an hung up inside out in the forest like a wind chime at Leatherface's house. But anyway, I figured that since the world's been goin' to heck in a hand basket ever since Carter left the White House, it might be a good idea to rewatch Mad Max an open up the gates for more post-holocaust flicks since this was the movie that paved the way for about 500 low budget Italian copies. Even though I think we can all agree that The Road Warrior is the one that catapulted Mel Gibson from obscure Aussie nobody, into the kinda fame an fortune necessary to scare the hell outta Hollywood every time he starts talkin' about the Jews takin' over the world like your paranoid uncle at Thanksgivin' dinner. Let's not dwell on that though, cause it's a whole lot less depressin' watchin' Mel derail plug-ugly Neanderthaussies than watchin' 'im derail his career. That's why I'd like to offer up these three post-apocalyptic observations to all the people readin', with the hope that someday Mel'll find Drive-In Jesus an quit usin' his colon for a hairdryer so he'll be allowed to kickbox with the punk rock mohawk army again someday. First, car jacks are highly effective interrogation tools when lowered onto the torsos of tight-lipped mechanics. Second, if David Hasselhoff had driven more like the Nightrider in Mad Max, his series of the same name prolly woulda lasted a lot longer. An third, if you're gonna run through a field nekkid, plan on spendin' at least an hour separatin' the wheat from the chafed areas.
But ya know, with all the bad press about the police we've been seein' lately, I think it's time we all took a step back, rewatched Mad Max, an gained a little perspective about the way a police force is supposed to operate. I mean sure, every now an then they get put into a situation where there's really no choice but to crank their turbo chargers up to Mad Maximum Overdrive an scare the tar outta people until they wet themselves an drive head-on into the grille of a semi, but that's not the way they *want* to do things. That's just what happens when they're left with no other choice. An besides, it's not like we haven't all been there when the cart wrangler at the grocery store rounds up a 100' long cart convoy an blocks the entire parkin' lot while he stops to answer a text. We've ALL felt exactly what makes Max so mad at one point or another, but let's try to look at this situation from Max's perspective. See, even in the nuked out future, the lines on the highway are immaculately maintained so that everyone can see where they're supposed to drive. The road signs are updated daily with the latest death tally for the year, an the cop cars're even clearly marked. People KNOW what they're gonna get if they start feelin' a little ornery an decide to play chicken with old Aussie goat ranchers, so what do people expect is gonna happen when they start actin' like chimpanzees on cocaine? Seriously, can you imagine the police commissioner goin' up to Max, Goose, an Chief Kojak an sayin' "ahlroight blokes, we've 'ad a bloody lotta groipes about you thray goys murdahrin bikaz out theyah, an Oi'm gonna need allayas to staht wearin' these 'eah body cams"? They'd throw that guy in a cell with Yahoo Serious an force 'im to listen to Yahoo talk about how he used to be famous once until he cracked a fruity. Why can't folks just understand what a hard job these guys have an cut 'em a little slack? Some sun-dried potato staggers outta the outback lookin' like Peter Jackson after a three day drunk brought on by readin' reviews of The Hobbit, reaches into his jacket, he really aughta know by now that he's gonna get turned into a human strainer, wouldn't you think? Cause they dunno what he's goin' for. Maybe knifey, maybe spoony, maybe the precious; who knows. So, what? Cops're just supposed to stand there holdin' their goannas waitin' to see what happens? Didn't all you squares used to be worried about the population explosion anyway? Make up your bong-addled brains already.
The movie begins in the not-too-distant future where two sets of Aussie cops've gotten a call over the CB about a killer (The Nightrider) drivin' down the freeway like Tony Stewart lookin' for a rest area to unload his explosive diarrhea. So the two police cruisers go barrelin' down the road after the guy until one of 'em gets a pump-action trained right on the nut's mustache, only before he can pull the trigger, the coked up bloke stomps the brake pedal like a wine glass at a Jewish wedding an the wallopers end up buggered in the ditch. Then the chase passes by Fat Nancy's truck stop where this cop who looks like Sting (Goose) is enjoyin' a Vegemite sandwich, an pretty quick the whole place empties out fastern' the frozen food section on welfare day cause the patrons all wanna do some high-speed rubber-neckin'. Unfortunately, one of the cop cars ends up t-bonin' this van with a floorboard fulla Maccas bags, an the next thing you know there's trash all over the roadside an cryin' aborigines comin' outta the woodwork. Somehow the cruiser's able to stay in the game even though its front end's been smashed like a penny on the train tracks, but then it ends up plowin' through an RV when it hasta swerve to avoid runnin' over this toddler in a Freddy Krueger shirt, an by that point the resultin' scrap iron on the road has pretty much rendered it as impassible as the fortified wall of stupid surroundin' Michael Savage. Cept what Blokey an the Bandit don't know is that Mel Gibson's parked up the road waitin' in his super-charged splatmobile, an when The Nightrider comes by Mel rides right up on his ass an starts scrapin' the paint off his rear end an forces 'im into the guts of an overturned semi, blowin' the geek's ride into so many pieces Henry Ford couldn't put it back together. The next mornin', Mel's wife (Jessie) is a little P.O.'d about seein' the dash cam footage on Australia's Wildest Police Chases Part LXXVIII on TV cause she's startin' to think that Mel's job's a little dangerous an yadda yadda, naggin' wife crapola. So Mel hasta put on this Tor Johnson mask to make 'er giggle, before goin' to the Hall of Justice where this tweaked out grease monkey with a coupla blown fuses shows 'im the new car he's cobbled together from spare rocket parts. This puppy's got more horses than the Casa de Shenandoah, an Mel is suddenly Glad Max. Elsewhere, this band of desperado bandito scoundrels has rolled into town to meet up with their equally scummy pal, The Nightrider, an they're just a little bit P.O.'d when this little old man who owns the Billabong Mercantile shows 'em what's left of their buddy.
So like any good gang of nap-haired cutthroats who failed to make the final cut for The Hills Have Eyes, they go tearin' down the highway after this Martin Kove look-alike drivin' a '59 Chevy Bel Air an proceed to take his car apart with axes, meat cleavers, spears, chains, knives, an pretty much everything you need for a respectable bar fight. This makes 'em feel a whole lot better, cept one of 'em (Johnny the Boy, who from here on out will be referred to as Squiggy Down Under) ends up snortin' too much Australian bush peyote an gets left behind, only to be picked up a coupla hours later after Mel an Sting pass the bare-assed Martin Kove guy runnin' through a wheat field. At first they just figure the guy's from New Zealand an that the wheat's too tall to spot the sheep, but then they find Squiggy, the wreckage, an the driver's girlfriend tethered to the car with a phone cord, which is no laughing matter, cause the woman very nearly experienced death by anachronism. But while that's goin' on, the creep in charge of the gang (The Toecutter, who looks just like Reaper from The Hills Have Eyes Part II) realizes Squiggy got left behind like Kirk Cameron an every other kid who ever got enrolled in Christian school, an he sends this guy who sounds just like Julian Sands (Bubba) to retrieve 'im. I'm thinkin' Squiggy must be The Toecutter's brother-in-law or somethin', cause anybody else woulda left his worthless hide on the road if they weren't worried about some scary biker bitch rippin' their face off. Then nobody shows up to testify at Squiggy's trial, an so his little crap-weasel defense chipmunk comes down to the station to get 'im released an Sting is so P.O.'d that Mel an this bald-headed Kojak lookin' guy (Fifi) hafta pry Sting's fists outta Squiggy's face three or four times before he finally gets outta there. Now Squiggy wants a piece of Sting an the rest of The Police, so after The Toecutter breaks up a dispute between two grease rags over which one of 'em has the sexual rights to a mannequin, he tells Squiggy he can go fix Sting, but that he hasta take his meds first, cause he's tired of takin' 'im to the VD clinic to get his koala chlamydia treated. So Squiggy sabotages Sting's bike while he's slippin' the gecko to some lounge singer, an the next mornin' Sting ends up hurtlin' through the air like the Flying Nun after his emergency brake latches itself at 80mph. Then Sting walks it off an grabs a ride in this old truck that looks like it survived a drone strike, only while he's drivin' back to town he gets ambushed by Toecutter's toejammers an takes a cinder block to the face when it comes crashin' through his windshield, an the next thing you know the truck's layin' on its roof an The Toecutter needs a smoke to calm his nerves an... well, Sting's goose gets pretty well cooked. Next thing, Sting's somehow managed to get to the E.R., only now he looks like a slice of burnt toast with strawberry jelly, an Mel is Sad Max.
Mel needs a vacation an a barf bag, so he heads over to Mr. Clean's house an tells 'im he can take his police pension an stick it up his didgeridoo. Then he heads out on a road trip with the family an buys a dog from some old cuss wearin' a Sherlock Holmes hat, swims in crocodile infested waters, an starts sharin' his feelins with Jessie for the first time in their 10 year marriage. Basically, he's decided he's gonna be Dad Max now. Then they stop at this car graveyard to get one of their tires patched an Mel stays with the tire while Jessie goes to get the kid a waffle cone. Cept Toecutter an his fellow nail clippers're loiterin' around the ice cream parlor drivin' away the owner's business an all the breathable air, an when Toecutter gets in 'er face she hasta stuff his beard fulla Tooty Fruity an bury 'er knee into his wallabees to escape. Fortunately, the baby stays upright like one of those inflatable clowns with the lead weights in the bottom while she's fishtailin' all over the lot tryin' to keep the rugby hooligans off the hood of 'er car, until she can pick up Mel an get the heck outta there. Then they stop at the mansion from Quigley Down Under (occupied by an old lady an 'er retarded son who likes to stare at the sun a lot) where Jessie goes for a swim while Mel rubs his face all over the engine block tryin' to seal the crack with his good looks, but unfortunately, the cliffs have eyes, an pretty quick Jessie's bein' chased through the woods by all the King's arses en route back to Chateau Yobbo. She's able to make it back to the house with the aid of Whistler's Grandmother, cept when Mel goes out deadhead huntin' she realizes 'er baby's prolly bein' processed into dingo dook an runs outside to see if there's enough left of 'im to fit in a Foster's can. It's okay though, cause the kid's hangin' out with Toecutter's stooges learnin' important life skills - like how to slap your woman so it won't leave a mark, an why you should never drink enough to pass out within two blocks of a tattoo parlor. But unfortunately for Dirty Dingo McGee, the old lady's packin' heat, an she backs the lot of 'em into 'er garage an latches it so she an Jessie can get their Holden runnin' an head out on the highway. Course, the Crapple Dumpling Gang has prepared for this an jammed a Bowie knife into their radiator, so they don't get very far before the car starts belchin' out steam like the roof of a Simplot plant an pretty quick Jessie an the baby get turned into road pizza by Gorilla the Hun. You'll hafta excuse Mel if he's just a little bit P.O.'d. Mel's way beyond just "Mad" Max by this point, so he jumps in his perp pulverizer, drives back out to the mechanic's place, an starts makin' the guy's floor jack do push ups on his chest until he tells 'im what he needs to know about the Sleazy Riders. Gonna cut it off here, cause this's one of those movies that text just don't do justice to, an there's really no way I can describe what happens when Mel finally goes Auto von Skidmark on these creeps anyhow.
Alrighty, well, if ever there was a movie that a review cannot do justice, it's gotta be Mad Max. And The Road Warrior. Beyond Thunderdome. Probably Fury Road too, I imagine. Reading about these kinds of movies is like listening to a radio play-by-play of a fireworks display, but I guess it's a little late to quit now. Normally I wouldn't review an action movie, but I'll do post-holocaust flicks because they at least border on science fiction. Which is funny, because Mad Max was only ever tweaked into becoming a post-apocalypse movie because of budget restraints that made it impossible to include a lot of extras. I think it woulda been better if that angle had been played up a little more, as it's only alluded to with that opening line of text that reads: "a few years from now", and the fact that the Hall of Justice where Max and his crew work is pretty well trashed. So really, it's more of an excuse than a pivotal plot point, but then we're not really here to see a plot driven story are we? We're here to see slovenly Australians meet their maker and watch cars burst into flames, so who the heck cares? Getting back to the budget though, you've really gotta appreciate what they were able to do with a $300,000 expense account on this thing. Now, that might sound like a lot when you figure a lot of exploitation movies have been made for $20,000 or less, but a critical difference here is that Mad Max actually comes across as a professionally made movie. It's gritty, violent, choppy, and a little disgusting at times, but you really can't lump it in with something like Blood Feast when you see how good the production values are. And naturally, when you don't have the money for things like permits, the question of how bad you want to make your movie and how far you'll go become an integral part of the production process. You can risk getting caught filming in places you shouldn't be, or you can sacrifice your art in the name of staying out of jail, and I think it's abundantly clear to anyone who's seen the movie that George Miller and Byron Kennedy were guerilla filmmakers in the purest sense. Granted, it was a lot easier to get away with that kind of thing in 1979 than it is now, but that doesn't diminish what they were able to accomplish. There's a whole lot more trivia to cover with a flick like this, but since I'm runnin' short on time I think it's only appropriate to conclude with the long standing debate regarding Max's car. I've always thought it was funny how Americans were so certain about what Max's car was, when the movie was made in Australia. People'd throw out everything from Firebird, to Trans-Am, to Camaro, to Nova, to Mustang, and I don't recall ever hearing someone get it right, because it was actually a Ford Falcon. The Falcon was made in America from 1960 - 1970, but Max's car was 1973, because it was (and is) still being made in Australia.
Anyhow, let's fire this thing through an RV and see if it can stick the landing on re-entry. The plot, skimpy as it is, is decent enough. The movie's kinda strange in that regard, because there really is no plot beyond Max living his everyday life until he turns tail, thus resulting in the death of his family, and the need for him to get it together and exact revenge. It's basically Death Wish with cool cars when you get right down to it, so the plot is neither spectacular, nor of much consequence. It's basically just there to set the scene for the stunts that come later. The acting is surprisingly good, particularly given the relative inexperience of the entire cast. Gibson's decent, but this was only his third movie, and I think it shows when you compare his performance against just about every other primary cast member. Now obviously, Mel's acting ability had developed a great deal by the time The Road Warrior was released, but when it comes to THIS movie, I feel like the guys who make it as good as it is are Steve Bisley as Goose, and the lunatics in the biker gang. I'm not gonna mention every single one of them, even though they're all really good, but Vincent Gil as Nightrider, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter are the ones that deserve the most credit.
Here's who matters and why, less Mel Gibson, since you might've heard of him already: Joanne Samuel (Alison's Birthday), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Blood of Heroes, Badlands 2005), Tim Burns (The Chain Reaction), Roger Ward (Long Weekend 2008, Turkey Shoot, Lady Stay Dead, The Chain Reaction), David Bracks (The Chain Reaction), Stephen Clark (Thirst), Jerry Day (Terror Tract, Cavegirl), Max Fairchild (The Road Warrior, The Howling III, The Blood of Heroes), John Farndale (The Wicked), Peter Felmingham (One More Minute), Vincent Gil (Body Melt, Ghosts... of the Civil Dead, Incident at Raven's Gate, Razor Eaters, Voyage into Fear, One More Minute), Jonathan Hardy (Blood Moon, Death Warmed Over), John Ley (Turkey Shoot, Out of the Body), Steve Millichamp (Road Games), Phil Motherwell (Bloodlust 1992), George Novak (Reign in Darkness), Lulu Pinkus (Thirst, One More Minute), Peter Culpan (Patrick), Peter Ford (King Kong 2005, Fair Game), Clive Hearne (Visitors), Paul Young (Patrick), Amanda Muggleton (Thirst). Now, as for the mainstream breakthroughs, I'm counting many of these credits even though a lot of them are for roles on popular Australian TV shows, so if you don't like that, well, you can get bent. Course, with a movie as popular as this one, I don't know that saying so-and-so would be "better known" for these roles is accurate, but here they are anyway: Steve Bisley played Jack Christey in Water Rats, as well as Dr. Henry King on G.P., Sheila Florence went on to portray Lizzie Birdsworth on Prisoner: Cell Block H, Nick Lathouris would go on to essay the part of George Poulos on Heartbreak High, and Amanda Muggleton was Chrissie Latham on Prisoner: Cell Block H alongside Sheila Florence. Surprisingly short when leaving out Mel Gibson's credits, but that should put into perspective what a truly independent, low budget flick this was.
The special effects, which for this particular movie are better summarized as stunts, are pretty good. There are a few gore effects, like the char-broiled hand of Goose that flops off of his gurney, and a fairly gruesome gunshot wound that happens near the conclusion, but it's really all about the stunts. You've also got those goofy eye-bulge scenes that happen just before The Nightrider and Toecutter meet their makers, but they're really brief and kinda ridiculous. Now, if you haven't seen this one for a while, you might start lumping scenes from The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome into Mad Max where they don't belong, but the fact is that Mad Max doesn't have the same level of stunt work or chase scenes as either of those two. Still, we've got an excellent chase early on where a police cruiser t-bones a van and crashes through an RV, followed by the pay-off shot of The Nightrider plowing into an overturned car and exploding. Then you've got Goose flying off his bike, only to roll and skid a beat up old truck down the highway on its top. And of course, the climax sequence where Max gets P.O.'d and makes the gang pay, but I'm not gonna spoil those. Excellent stunts though, particularly for the budget. The shooting locations are another big plus, with a pretty wide variety of terrain being utilized. You've got wheat fields, scrub brush, forests, and a beach for the outdoor scenes, as well as the decaying ruins of the Hall of Justice, and Max's quaint little pad in the outback. I suppose you could question whether such a cross-section of starkly different terrains were really close enough to one another as to all reasonably appear in the same flick, but the IMDB does list every single location as being shot in Victoria, so that's only what... 92,000 square miles? Oh who the hell cares, they all look nice. And besides that, the thing that generates the atmosphere isn't so much how the different areas look, but the fact that there's never anyone around, thus creating a sense of isolation. So nicely done on the location scouting. The soundtrack is probably the low point, and I don't know if that's because it just comes across as goofy to an American audience, or whether they were actually going for something a little bit silly the way Roger Corman did with Death Race 2000. It's kinda got a Conquest of the Planet of the Apes sound to it, but in general, I think it isn't especially helpful at creating the kind of mood you want in a movie that's about fiery car crashes and a man's quest for vengeance. Of course, looking back at the opening scene, it's obvious that the movie wasn't intended to be completely serious, so maybe I'm just assigning labels that don't belong. But overall, still a classic, and one of the movies that really cemented the post-holocaust flick as a subgenre. Unquestionably, one of Australia's greatest contributions to the world, so check out (again).