After achieving surprise success with his first film, The Sword and The Sorcerer (somehow still his highest grossing film theatrically), Albert Pyun went bigger and more ambitious with his sophomore follow-up. Jumping from the sword and sandal genre to a post-apocalyptic comedy, Pyun made a film that is miles ahead of his humble beginnings, but doomed to obscurity, like so much of his filmography. But Radioactive Dreams deserves a reassessment, both for it's impressive production design and unique story, but also for what may be one of the most underrated soundtracks of the 1980s. Using a post-noir wasteland to create a charming fish out of water adventure and a tale of innocence lost on the path to growing up, Pyun establishes himself as a talent to look out for...if you can find his films.
Radioactive Dreams follows Phillip Chandler (John Stockwell) and Marlowe Hammer (Michael Dudikoff), a couple of kids who've spent the last 15 years locked away in a bunker while the rest of the world deals with nuclear fallout. They've spent their time subsisting on dime-store detective stories and fashioning themselves to be a couple of real slick dicks. Sure the names are a little on the nose, but kudos to this film for the most uses of the word “dick” in a non-sexual nature for comedic effect due to its sexual nature (that's something, right?). They escape from the bunker and make their way out into the world in search of some high times and classy dames, only to discover a radiated hellscape full of mutants and weirdos, with no one to trust but each other. After picking up a mysterious hitchhiker, they get caught up in a struggle for two keys to the last nuclear warhead on Earth. The two bumbling innocents have to fight off every gang in the wasteland and a couple of femme fatales to keep the world safe and become the men they're trying to be. There aren't a lot of post-apocalyptic buddy comedies out there, so Radioactive Dreams feels the most distinctive out of Pyun's catalog. I mean, there's not even a single cyborg in it! Who am I kidding, the background is probably dripping cyborgs.
From what I've seen of Pyun's films, this one is probably my favorite. It's Blade Runner noir by way of The Road Warrior aesthetic with the flavor of an 80s Alex Cox film, if you took away all the lofty ideas and replaced them with an explosive MacGuffin and a couple of leads equivalent to characters out of Johnny Dangerously or Oscar. Mixing the throwback detective story with the decrepit post-nuclear setting makes for a film that still feels fresh and unique over 30 years later. The two heroes play off of each other well, with John Stockwell handling the more calm and charismatic lead and Michael Dudikoff taking on the over the top fool (seriously, how did Dudikoff become a martial arts action movie lead after this?). Dudikoff actually borders on flat out annoying at times, but Stockwell balances him out and their friendship serves as a genuine anchor to the film. The femme fatales in Rusty Mars (Michele Little) and Miles Archer (Lisa Blount) are both good in their roles and show a juxtaposition of subtle and overt manipulation for our dim-witted good guys. We also have our first appearance of the name Brick Bardo (a character Tim Thomerson would later play in Pyun's Dollman) and a couple of awesomely vulgar kids as little disco mutants in Travolta suits (one of whom is the paperboy from Better Off Dead).
One of the film's biggest strengths is its set design and costuming. While it moves at a fairly quick pace, any boredom could be subdued by studying any set or character in the background. It's one part The Warriors-era New York and one part Hardware's disintegrating metropolis. Almost every scene is littered with decorations and characters that would be just as much of a blast to follow and learn more about, if this pesky story would stop getting in the way. Pyun is able to build a world that is visually engaging and fun, even if it seems a little too familiar to some other films. The other thing that really makes me love Radioactive Dreams is the soundtrack, which I immediately procured a copy of and put into heavy rotation after seeing the film. It's filled with some of the catchiest and tackiest 80s Glam New Wave and tracks that feel straight out of Jem and The Holograms (I mean the cartoon...and in a good way). The film even contains what would equal quite the bitchin' music video in a later scene with the song “Guilty Pleasures” by Sue Saad. Obvioulsy, your enjoyment of this depends heavily on taste, but it was perfect to get this boy's booty shaking, as I am want to do. You can check out the majority of the soundtrack on this YouTube channel.
This all adds up to a lot of fun that feels like if Richard Elfman followed up The Forbidden Zone with a noir inspired Mad Max musical. It shows a lot of what has made Pyun a cult favorite and the low-budget charm that made me want to cover his body of work. I highly recommend checking out Pyun's sophomore joyride, which is available in very low quality on YouTube, a special edition 2-disc dvd set with soundtrack through German Amazon (it's aparrently a region-free disc), or as a double feature dvd with Wired to Kill from this weird site. Pyun would be back the following year with 1986's Vicious Lips, a punk rock Sci-Fi adventure, which I look forward to covering in the future. I decided to take a different route though and will be going ahead to Pyun's double contribution to a guilty favorite film series of mine. Join me next time as we boot out the mighty JCVD and replace him with the non-too-mighty Sasha Mitchell for Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor!