Following the success of Mad Max 2 was a handful of post-apocalyptic B-movies. Among those was She Wolves of the Wasteland (aka Phoenix the Warrior), a movie that killed the careers of nearly everyone in it. From its horrific editing and pacing to the terrible acting, She Wolves maintains an unsteady balance between boring and hilarious. For this discussion, we’re going to break the movie down into 4 parts.
- The Plot
- Interesting concepts
- The Editing
The Plot: She Wolves has a great premise, but suffers from an awful script, awful acting, and awful execution. The opening narration describes “bacteriological wars” (though there’s a big Geiger counter scene, so maybe a nuclear war too) that killed all the men on Earth and left only a handful of women. Of the original survivors, one called Reverend Mother uses “dark powers” to breed a new race of super women. When I heard this, I immediately thought of a cross between The Master from Fallout and Immortan Joe from Fury Road. Unfortunately, though there are some similarities throughout, the plot goes off in an entirely different direction.
The story arc itself is pretty poor. The movie begins with a buggy chase through the desert as a lone woman is pursued by bounty hunters. Once captured, we learn that the woman is a breeder who has escaped from captivity (another similarity to Fury Road), stealing the Reverend Mother’s genetic seed in the process. The seed was destroyed in the car chase. As punishment, Reverend Mother uses her psychic powers to drain the woman’s life force. The scene ends with Reverend Mother explaining that she must consume the life force of a man or she will die.
In a jarring change of tone, pace, and characterization, the focus switches to the bounty hunters looking for a woman (Keela) in a village. Just as they find their target, a woman in a bikini (Phoenix) appears, murdering half the bounty hunters in a daring escape. Once outside the village, Keela reveals that she is a breeder and is pregnant with a male child. Phoenix to lead her to safety. The two women wander through the wasteland until they arrive at an oasis full of naked Amazonians dancing under waterfalls.
Cut 9 months ahead (because apparently nothing interesting has happened in that time) to find Keela giving birth. At the same time, Reverend Mother’s bounty hunters attack Oasis, killing all the naked women. The only survivors, Keela and Phoenix escape into the wasteland.
After that short scene, we cut 5 whole years ahead. Keela’s baby has grown into a ninja star throwing toddler. Although they’ve avoided the bounty hunters for half a decade, Phoenix is worried Reverend Mother will eventually find them. In a few short seconds, Phoenix explains her plan to travel to an island somewhere in the ocean. With bounty hunters still on their trail, the two set off once again, accidentally stumbling upon the last man on earth, a guy named Guy.
As you’d expect, the bounty hunters catch up with our heroes again. Phoenix is captured and placed in a gladiatorial arena. After killing the other slaves, Phoenix is freed by Guy and Keela. The three steal a car and drive out into a legendary area known as “the badlands.” The badlands is a graveyard full of broken TVs, mummified bodies, and La-Z-Boys.
In a shockingly good twist, the mummified bodies are revealed to be mutants who were waiting to trap our heroes for the bounty hunters. Once captured, Guy and the child are sent to Reverend Mother. Guy is never heard from again. With the future of the human race on their shoulders, Keela and Phoenix escape the TV cult and travel all the way back to the village for a final showdown, reducing the last human village on earth to rubble.
Interesting Concepts: One of the reasons I think She Wolves is worth talking about is that although they’re poorly executed, the film does have some interesting concepts. The movie takes a lot of inspiration from other post-apocalyptic movies, but it gives them a twist that make them feel fresh. The clearest source of inspiration comes from A Boy and His Dog. Instead of men looking for women, She Wolves has women who have learned to survive and even thrive without men.
Reverend Mother’s plan would have been interesting if the movie had put some more emphasis on what exactly it was. Most of the focus is on the bounty hunters tracking down Keela and her son, but there was potential there for so much more. If the bounty hunters had been mutant super-women with incredible strength or hideous deformed monsters, the audience would get a feeling for the stakes of the situation and understand why Keela’s child cannot become another breeder. Instead, the movie (like Fury Road) is one long chase scene to capture the breeder and her child.
The Reverend Mother herself is also a pretty interesting idea and has some great makeup (for the budget). She’s a hideous deformed psychic in a wheelchair fitted out with life supporting cybernetics. Her lair is a bomb shelter underneath the only town in the wasteland. At the very end of the film, Reverend Mother reveals was the last person on the planet after the war and that character in the movie is actually one of her children or grandchildren. Although improbable, this was a great line to throw in and is somewhat foreshadowed by the Reverend Mother’s name; though it does mean that the movie technically contains incest.
My favorite part of the movie was the TV cult. One of the hallmarks of post-apocalyptic fiction today is social commentary in the form of immortalizing some trivial aspect of modern society. Fallout has been doing this for years. She Wolves’ TV cult was just plain fun. A graveyard full of corpses forever staring at broken TVs, cathode tubes used as jewelry, trespassers made into TV antennae’s, and best of all using an old decaying TV Guide as a holy book. I honestly wish this had been a bigger part of the story.
Editing: The acting in She Wolves ensured that this movie would be a disaster, but the editing made a few scenes downright confusing. Characters are frequently cut off before they finish speaking, a few lines are done in ADR, and the same grunt and gun fire sound effects are reused to no end. Worst of all though is the time lapses. She Wolves takes place over a six year period, but there’s no transition between Keela revealing she’s pregnant and actually giving birth. There’s no transition between escaping the Amazonian camp and a toddler throwing a ninja star. Admittedly, there are a few nice pieces of cinematography in this movie, but they ultimately fall short because of the editing is just so bad.
Closure: The ending of this movie deserves its own section. The movie builds up to the big confrontation between Phoenix and Reverend Mother and then…nothing happens. The movie ends without explanation. Guy, the last man on earth, is captured and sent back to the breeding tanks, never to be heard from again. The only human town in the wasteland was blown apart. The Reverend Mother had the child that would give her unlimited power, but she chose to put him in a cage and laugh at him, rather than consume him. Keela defeats Reverend Mother by disabling her life support system and the movie just ends. There’s no closure. No explanation. The movie cuts from Reverend Mother’s corpse to Phoenix riding a horse. There isn’t even a closing narration.
She Wolves of the Wasteland is a bad movie, but it’s the kind of bad that makes you want to keep watching. The concepts are fun, the action is OK, and the acting is hilariously bad. The movie feels unfinished though. Given a bigger budget, some good actors, a better script, and a decent editor, I believe this movie could have been on par with A Boy and His Dog. As it stands, She Wolves is a complete disaster that should only be watched if you’re a fan of bad movies.