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Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man posterby Peter Nielsen

Damon Killian: “This is television, that’s all it is! It has nothing to do with people; it’s to do with ratings! For fifty years we’ve told them what to eat, what to drink, what to wear… For Christ’s sake, Ben, don’t you understand? Americans love television! They wean their kids on it! Listen… they love game-shows, they love wrestling, they love sports and violence! So, what do we do? We give them what they want! We’re number one, Ben, that’s all that counts! Believe me! I’ve been in the business for thirty years!”

Future Los Angeles

Future Los Angeles

Now, I could go into some sort of sociological analysis about the potentially violent and deadly future of TV game-shows… or the decline of TV with those crappy “docu-soap” type of shows like Big Brother or Paradise Hotel, for instance… I could also delve into the devious lengths some TV networks will go to attract viewers and numbers… Yeah, I could do that… But I won’t!

No, I will, instead, lean back and enjoy a great action movie from the late 80’s, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Raw Deal, Twins, Red Heat). It is, of course, The Running Man which was directed by Paul Michael Glaser, whom you might recognize as Starsky from the TV show Starsky and Hutch. As a director, he’s mostly done TV-work, but also movies like The Cutting Edge and The Air Up There.

Laughlin and Ben!

Laughlin and Ben!

From what I’ve read, Mr. Schwarzenegger wasn’t too happy with the choice of director, but I don’t think the movie’s that bad. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but it’s entertaining as hell, so I guess Mr. Glaser did ok, huh?

The Running Man is set in a future where the economy has collapsed and the U.S. is now a police state where most literature, TV and music is censored by the government. To appease the masses, TV networks show violent game-shows wherein convicted criminals get to fight for their lives and freedom in, what I suspect are rigged games. I mean, the government has no intention of letting them go; it’s all about exacting punishment and entertaining the public at the same time. Much like the gladiator fights in ancient Rome! And if you happen to get good ratings while doing that… yeah, well… that’s just a bonus, right?

Ben and Amber in the arena...

Ben and Amber in the arena…

Ben Richards (Mr. Schwarzenegger) is a police helicopter pilot who, at the start of the movie, is arrested for refusing to open fire on unarmed food rioters. He’s thrown into a high-security prison camp and when we next see him it’s 18 months later, and he and a couple of inmates are planning a breakout! The other inmates, Laughlin and Weiss, are played by Marvin J McIntyre (Pale Rider, Short Circuit) and Yaphet Kotto. I’m sure you’ll recognize Mr. Kotto from movies like Alien and Live And Let Die or the TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets. Both Laughlin and Weiss are members of a resistance movement and ask Ben to join them. He politely says no, and they split up.

Ben goes to seek refuge at his brother’s apartment, but finds that it’s now inhabited by a woman named Amber Mendez. Amber is played by Maria Conchita Alonso, whom you might recognize from Extreme Prejudice, Predator 2 and Colors, for instance. Ben decides to leave the country, using Amber as a hostage, but he’s caught at the airport after Amber alerts the security there.

Let the games BEGIN!!

Let the games BEGIN!!

Meanwhile, Damon Killian, who’s the smug and ruthless host of the hugely popular game-show The Running Man, has seen footage of Ben’s escape from the prison camp, and wants him as a participant in the show. Ben refuses, of course, but Killian shows him that Laughlin and Weiss has also been caught again, and they will take Ben’s place in the game if he doesn’t comply with Killian’s demand! Killian has no intention of keeping his side of the deal though, and on game night, when Ben is sent to the “arena”… Laughlin and Weiss are sent to join him.

Yeah, in case you hadn’t guessed this already, Damon Killian is kind of a douche-bag! He’s played by Richard Dawson who was the long-time host of the real life American game-show Family Feud. In The Running Man he’s the kind of guy you love to hate and he does a damn good job with that!

The “arena” is an earthquake stricken area in town, where the “contestants” are hunted by stalkers with colorful names, like Buzzsaw, Subzero, Fireball, Dynamo and Captain Freedom. Some of them are played by actors whom you might recognize, but who’s mostly done minor parts; Gus Rethwisch (House II: The Second Story), Professor Toru Tanaka (Revenge of the Ninja) and Erland van Lidth who played Grossberger in the movie Stir Crazy. The two stalkers, Fireball and Captain Freedom however, are played by actors I’m sure you know well, namely Jim Brown (Ice Station Zebra, 100 Rifles, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka) and Jesse Ventura (Predator, No Holds Barred, Ricochet)

Subzero, Dynamo and Buzzsaw reporting for duty!

Subzero, Dynamo and Buzzsaw reporting for duty!

Other recognizable faces are Sven-Ole Thorsen (Gladiator, Conan the Barbarian) and Edward Bunker (Reservoir Dogs). Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa also appear in The Running Man, so you see, there are actually quite a number of cool people in this movie!

It is very, very loosely based on a novel written by Richard Bachman, whom we today know was a pseudonym Stephen King used for a number of books. At the time of filming though, no one actually knew the two were the same person.

I read the novel many years ago and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do! It is a good read! The novel and the movie differ quite a bit, of course, and only the basic premise was used for the screenplay. They’re both highly enjoyable though!

The movie may be cheesy as hell, but it’s extremely entertaining and chock-full of action and awesome one-liners, and in case you haven’t figured it out by now… I effing love it! I’ve seen it a ridiculous amount of times and I’m sure I’ll watch it again sometime in the near future… right, Kevin?

So my friends… until next time, why not tell me your thoughts on The Running Man in the comment section below?

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About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children, so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family, are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not particular as long as it's good or... so bad it's good... he just LOVES MOVIES!