Their odds are a million to one…and Styker’s the one!
I have a real soft spot for the post-apocalypse movies of the early ‘80s, the vast majority of which were shot very cheaply and often outside the U.S. They’re all very much the same — they’re violent and silly and boast similar costume and production design — but they scratch some kind of itch I didn’t even realize I had until I went down this rabbit hole a few years ago. I mean, I’ve always dug The Road Warrior and Hell Comes to Frogtown and Steel Dawn, but only in recent years have discovered just how insanely entertaining movies like The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx truly are.
Which brings us to 1983’s Stryker, now out on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Kino Lorber and evidence that maybe not all post-apocalyptic auctioneers are created equal. The movie has all the usual signifiers: retrofitted cars and lots of practical stunts and costumes that are all leather and shoulder pads and headbands, gratuitous violence and even more gratuitous nudity. It’s even directed by Cirio Santiago, the Filipino king of exploitation with about 100 movies to his credit. Here’s the problem with Santiago, though: he works quickly, he works cheaply, he works often, but he doesn’t always make good movies. And while Stryker isn’t a “bad” movie (at least by the standards of its very specific subgenre), it’s not one of the better examples of a post-apocalyptic action movie. For a movie with as much crazy stuff in it, the film is surprisingly dull.
The plot of the film is very much in keeping with other movies of its ilk: nuclear war has desolated the planet, leaving behind roaming bands of scavengers and warriors who battle over water, now the most precious commodity there is. The nomadic hero Stryker (Steve Sandor) comes to the rescue of a young woman named Dehlia (Andria Savio), who is being chased by the villainous Kardis. They eventually capture and torture her to find out where the rest of her colony — and by extension, more water — is, prompting Stryker to step in and fight back. He may not be the Stryker we want, but he’s the Stryker we need.
Movies like Stryker are almost completely critic-proof, as you’re either a fan of this kind of thing or you’re not. If you like these movies, there’s a good chance you’ll want to seek this one out and give it a chance. It’s not the best example — after a strong opening, the film eventually drags and lacks a sense of urgency and humor that would help lighten up the tone and make the whole thing more fun. This is something that can be said of a lot of Cirio Santiago’s movies; he’s got a number of gems, but his films often feel lifeless in the way that so many exploitation movies often can. Stryker gets by on its futuristic setting and some completely silly story points (as well as some…interesting costume choices, like the leather diaper that one actress has to wear for the entirety of the movie), but there’s a leadenness to the proceedings that Santiago either creates himself or is never able to overcome.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Stryker is a welcome one, not just because it’s literally the first I’m hearing about the movie existing but also because it helps rescue it from VHS obscurity. The full 1080p HD image boasts decent color reproduction, but also some evidence of age and wear and a softness that’s most likely attributable to the cheapness of the production. The lossless stereo audio handles the dialogue and effects well enough, though there is some disconnect because everything is dubbed and added in post-production — the audio that’s captured doesn’t reflect the physical space on screen. Again, this has everything to do with the way the movie was originally put together and is no fault of the A/V qualities of the disc, but it bears mentioning as a part of the viewing experience. In addition to the original theatrical trailer and a couple of bonus trailers for other post-apocalyptic action movies of the period, there is a commentary track from cult director Jim Wynorski moderated by Bill Olsen and Damon Packard.
My enjoyment of Stryker has everything to do with my affection for this kind of movie and hardly anything to do with the actual quality of the film, which is likely to leave all but the most devoted fans of Cirio Santiago and early ‘80s schlock cold. Kino Lorber does more than just the bare minimum with their release, which is nice for another movie that in another universe would never even get the HD treatment. If nothing else, at least it provides some helpful hints for the end of the world that’s coming soon.