Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Unfathomable Workings of the Censorious Mind

The first time I heard of Cirio H. Santiago's STRYKER (1983) was through a whitewashed trailer on an old (although then new) VHS tape of THE HITCHIKER (1986). Sucker that I am for all things post-apocalyptical I immediately fell in love with that weird MAD MAX (1979) and MAD MAX II: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) derivative cash-in. Among the usual murder and mayhem on desolate landscapes that is usual in such pop-cultural artifacts, there was a fascinating scene of a full-bosomed chained beauty having her shirt ripped open by a pair of unmistakable villains. I swear I can still hear the paper-like screech of the garment being torn, background hiss from the mono tape included.

As soon as I could I tracked down a copy of the movie in my local rental shop and nested in the sofa to cozily enjoylife after the end of the world as we know it, Phillipino style. However... something was missing from the movie. Not the murder, nor the mayhem... No, all the violent shenanigans seemed to be there, but there was no sign of the eagerly expected shirt-ripping scene. Weirdest of all, the capture of the girl - Delha, played by Andrea Savio (although credited as Andria) - was there; as were some glimpses of her body hanging from the chains, with shirt clearly torn, being interrogated by Kardis's henchmen. But not the reason why it was so. Needless to say, it was true in all other copies I watched since then, be them VHS tapes from other labels, or .avi files found online. So much so that I began to doubt if I had ever really seen the blouse being ripped open, if I had really heard that forever remembered dry tearing sound.

For, as enticing as it is to glimpse such a scene in a trailer, the lack of context is galling. In the trailer she is just a well-endowed woman in chains. Sure, it's great eye candy and hot as hell, but the imagination hungers for more. When the time comes in the film proper, she is no longer an anonymous pair of breasts. She is Delha, a survivor, a warrior, a capable soldier, and the love interest of the film's titular hero.   

The contextual efect is much stronger, almost Christ-like (as her hanging from the chains with spread arms is unmistakenly intent to evoke), after we had seen her escape before by eviscerating one of the disposable henchmen that such villains as Kardis seem to have in unlimited numbers at their... welll... disposal. She's no longer just a sexy woman playing at soldiers, and to be so defeated, exposed, touched, begets an altogether different response from us, the viewers. For the censor, for whatever reason, to have cut the scenes of such unspeakable sexual violence, while retaining the run-of-the-mill punching, knifing, shooting and blasting, mainly among men, speaks volumes from where come so simplistic readings as those that take man-to-man combat as a substitute for hidden homoerotic desires.  
Now, thanks to Kino Lorber's recent Bluray edition of this cult favorite, I feel vindicated after almost thirty years of unbearable doubt (I exaggerate, of course, but I want you to feel my anger). Together with the missing footage of the blouse ripping, I found restored almost a full minute of cut footage that cast aside any doubt that Delha was (gang) raped after refusing to provide the information her torturers wanted her to... but that I'll leave for another post. For now, let us celebrate this historical moment, in all its bruised and battered glory.

And even in the silent, frozen beauty of the screencaps, I swear I can still hear that shirt tearing sound.


Gene Phillips said...

Enjoyed your essay. I feel like I saw the scene uncensored at some point, but probably only because someone downloaded the Blu-Ray edition onto Youtube in recent years-- though it may not be there any more...

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