Posts Apocalyptic: Saluting the ‘Jugger’…

Adam O'Brien continues his journey through the wasteland, noting the influence Mad Max had on another VHS cult hit...

Mad Max began a new lease of life for down and dirty action films and a new genre of science fiction: the post apocalyptic film. Many have tried to meet the target of Miller’s immense vision but equally many failed in the attempt. Some couldn’t find the originality or the power in the story, let’s face it, none saw the mythic nature at the core of the Mad Max story.

The post-apocalyptic film genre is, in many ways, the new post-modern western: heroism and evil and their conflict is there in some of the classic qualities we see. Road Warrior was cut  straight down the line when it came to the good and evil nature of the characters and we see the gunslinging outlaw like character of Max Rockatansky in the middle of it all.

This is just one aspect of the genre – it’s been mixed with horror and vehicle films alike over the years but one that changed this aspect altogether was Blood of Heroes and perhaps more familiar to hardcore action fans by its domestic title: Salute of the Jugger.  This, in many ways is a sports film, where the sport itself is the ‘Jugger’ of the title: a game that is reminiscent of football and ice hockey but as brutal as Roman gladiators.

The film memorably starred Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Vincent D’onofrio, and Delroy Lindo – all of them at an early point in their careers and nowadays far better known than they were at the time. The Mad Max connection continues directly as it also starred ‘Immortan Joe’ himself, Hugh Keays-Byrne.

The film opens to ‘Juggers’ or players coming into a camp and becoming a part of an ongoing game. We meet Rutger’s veteran warrior ‘Sallow’, primed to take on the local team. As they get ready we also meet  local Kidda (played by Joan Chen) as she dreams of being a runner of ‘quick’ in the leagues, the professional level of the sport in what is left of the cities.

Here’s the great trope to the wasteland epic: the constant want to get civilisation back up and running, even after fallout. It’s a driving theme in so many post-apocalyptic fare, from the Mad Max trilogy to more recent films like Book of Eli (which is certainly one of the better of the style) and plays a part in the current zombie revivals like The Walking Dead.

As the story progresses we see the team go through a journey to the league. Led by Sallow, Young Gar (D’onofrio), Kidda (Chen), Mbulu (Lindo) and Big Climber (Katarina) all follow as the futuristic football team. But names aside, the real star here  is the locations.

And it’s easy to see why the director David Peoples chose Australia for the location of his wasteland sport epic, with the fantastical aspects of the Aussie wilderness in the outback. It lends itself to the wasteland feel. Coober Pedy, in South Australia, is as alien as you can get for environments. The desert location was the nearby Breakaways, Lunar Plains, Moon Plain and far Northern South Australia. These are some of the driest, hottest locations in the country, even Adelaide, the largest city in the state gets up to forty degrees Celsius in the spring. Let alone summer. It’s also been a location used for other memorable ‘wastelands’ such as Pitch Black.

This marked a turning point in Rutger’s international career. He had, of course, made his mark Blade Runner in 1982 and also Nighthawks but this was the start of the action film career for him, which would ultimately lead to Blind Fury, Wedlock and many other beloved VHS classics. The charisma he had, the great sense of humour ( and there in just about every role he has taken to this day) combined with a certain world weariness  is what made Salute of the Jugger in particular, so good to watch.

It’s interesting to note on a sporting level, that the film kicked off an actual sport, which is now easily found on YouTube ‘search for ‘Jugger’) and is played by people all over the world. It’s a contact sport  similar to hockey or football and easy to pick up (no apocalypse needed!).

Salute of the Jugger / Blood of Heroes may well be the most interesting film to come out of Australia by an international company and director but it also shows not every wasteland epic needs to be about violence, blood and gore and raging villains… sometimes you have to be more sporting.


Adam O’Brien

Podcaster & host of: #thefanthafromdownunder @fanthatracks #lethalmulletpodcast @fanpodnetwork