Reviewed by Jeff Smith
Just when you thought the post-nuke ROAD WARRIOR-ripoff cycle of science-fiction flicks had finally died out, along comes ESCAPE FROM SAFEHAVEN, a dreary, relentlessly sleazy film that personifies everything bad about this unwelcome subgenre. It may be minus the frantic car chases, but all the other elements are in place: the wayward band of good guys just trying to find some peace in a world gone wild (sorry), a band of punked-out sleazeballs with no redeeming features, a laconic drifter who lives to right wrongs, and a grimy “throw-more-shit-on-the-walls” looks that’s supposed to represent a terminally retrograde future. At the outset, a grimy but plucky nuclear family (Mom, Pop, Brother, Sister) are relieved to find out that they have been accepted into Safehaven, a walled fortress where people live in relative peace without fear from the marauders and scavengers that roam the post-nuclear wasteland. So they pack up their belongings and head for Oz, but are attacked en route by a hungry/horny band of nomads who want to do naughty things to their women. Enter Pierce, the stoic good guy and Mel Gibson stand-in who rescues the daughter and then walks off without a word. The family makes a beeline for Safehaven, but upon arrival wishes they’d stayed outside; the place is virtually a concentration camp, where the effeminate leader and his scuzzy minions convict and hang citizens for minor offenses. In no time flat, Dad, Mom, and Sis are thrown in the slammer on trumped-up charges, with Brother escaping because he was at the grocery store picking up some vittles. On the lam, Bro meets up with the enigmatic Pierce again and, with the help of a blind man who isn’t really blind and a few other rebels, set out to overthrow Safehaven and rescue the family.
ESCAPE FROM SAFEHAVEN takes place almost completely indoors in a move that is, I suppose, intended to generate claustrophobia but instead only generates eyestrain and visual boredom; the cinematography is so dark and ugly as to be virtually unwatchable, and the story grinds along with such measured predictability that you’ll be tempted to reach for that fast-forward button. Those who like their cinematic sleaze straight up -- with no sense of style, wit or suspense to get in the way -- are in for a treat. Others beware. This is the most gratuitously sleazy film I’ve seen in ages, but the tone is so grim and humorless that it all becomes completely lurid and distasteful; the sleaze factor only attains that sort of gleeful overblown quality in one scene, where a gorgeous blonde leatherette subjects Pierce to a strip-tease torture, as sex and violence are once again fused together in the cinematic psyche. The acting, by people like Rick Gianasi, John Wittenbaur, Roy MacArthur, William Beckwith and Mollie O’Mara, is competent if completely uninspired, and fails to buoy the trite script or the grinding-gears pace above the purely functional. ESCAPE FROM SAFEHAVEN may delight hardcore sleaze buffs with its scummy veneer, but I have a hard time imagining it entertaining much of anyone else. This will hopefully be the last gasp of the “after the fall” cycle (but I wouldn’t bet on it). Watch THE ROAD WARRIOR instead, and maybe ESCAPE FROM SAFEHAVEN will slip into an oblivion of obscurity where it so richly deserves to be.
[Originally published in Temple of Schlock #17, May 1989]