“By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources, and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand. Television is controlled by the state and a sadistic game show called “The Running Man” has become the most popular program in history. All art, music, and communications are censored.”
In the 21st century, America is under totalitarian rule and civil rights have been flushed down the toilet.
Los Angeles police helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed for mass murder by the authorities, nicknamed ‘the Butcher of Bakersfield’ and sent to a detention centre.
But Richards’ determination to escape leads to his participation in TV’s deadliest show, The Running Man.
Convicted criminals are the contestants on the show. They are set free into a series of elaborate settings known as the game zone, where they are pursued by the network ‘stalkers’ – a group of colourful characters with deadly weapons and wrestling-like theatrics – that chase the contestants and fight them to the death.
The stalkers are Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka), a Sumo Wrestler-like character who wields a large hockey stick with a razor blade tip; the sadistic Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch) who runs around with a chainsaw; Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), an opera-singing giant who shoots electrical bolts out of his fists; a jet-pack flying, flame thrower touting bad-ass called Fireball (Jim Brown); and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), one of the oldest and most famous stalkers.
Given TV’s increasingly desperate search for new “reality-tv” programme formats, this futuristic blockbuster about a game show where a pumped-up audience bays for the blood of convicts on a lethal combat course isn’t so far-fetched.
It’s a long way from the original Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) novel, but Schwarzenegger, busy consolidating his position as the #1 action star of the 1980s (and earning his first $5m paycheck), gets to do what he does best – destroying baddies with a quip – and director Paul Michael Glaser – fondly remembered for his role in Starsky and Hutch – handles the action sequences with some panache.
Maria Conchita Alonso plays Arnie’s reluctant partner while Richard Dawson – fresh from hosting the popular TV quiz show, Family Feud – steals the acting honours as the slimeball ratings-hungry game-show host, Damon Killian.
Erland Van Lidth (Dynamo) died of heart failure in September 1987 at the age of 34, just a few months after finishing work on The Running Man.
Maria Conchita Alonso
Marvin J McIntyre
Erland Van Lidth
Professor Toru Tanaka
Paul Michael Glaser