Steel Dawn (1987)

steel dawn

“It’s not you, it’s me. I attract violence.”

The Scoop: 15 1987, directed by Lance Hool and starring Patrick Swayze, Lisa Niemi and Anthony Zerbe.

Tagline: He is the desert warrior, carving the future with his sword.

Summary Capsule: A post-apocalyptic western starring Patrick Swayze and Patrick Swayze’s wife. I know, right?

Louise’s rating: 2 out of 5 swords with holes for quality, 4.5 pairs of white leggings out of 5 for enjoyment.

Louise’s review: In the postapocalyptic future, the world will be a strange and frightening place. Woolen people will live in the sand, swords will have holes in, cars will be powered by the wind, the acting will be poor, surface-dwelling people with names like ‘Damnil’, ‘Kasha’, ‘Sho’ and ‘Jux’ will build houses over underground lakes and live in thrall to their hairdryers and their white jeans, dogs will be preternaturally clever and crotch shots will somehow be okay. Into this terrifying vision strides the one man who can master it… the Swayze.

Yes, mediocre filmmaking is taken into new places with Steel Dawn. Badly acted, badly scripted and unimaginitively shot, and yet, by the Power of ’80s and for the Honour of Swayze, not a bad way to spend an evening. That is, not a bad way to spend an evening if you like to spend your evenings sniggering into your snacks, going ‘What the heck was that?’ and winning points for predicting the plot twists. I know I do.

In fact, here’s a disclaimer: my view on the watchability and rewatchability of this film is entirely coloured by the fact that my first viewing was in the company of the local Bad Movie Night posse (and our whole raison d’etre is to point and laugh at things called Battle of Two-Headed Monsterwolf Attack 9: The Prequel starring Carmen Electra and The Rock). Subsequent viewings were with other people who like to point and laugh. So, I would probably never watch Steel Dawn by myself, because it’s stupid, but with the right people and plenty of golden syrup popcorn, well heck! Swayze with a mullet is always good value, and it’s more fun than a lot of the schlock out there.

Can I talk about the story yet? Okay, here we go. In the postapocalyptic future, there will be a desert. In the desert will be a settlement called Meridian, home to various eccentric characters, including a brilliantly camp guy who travels by sedan chair, a villainous gangster called Damnil, who wants to control the water supply, and a feisty widow with a massive platinum blonde crimped ‘do called Kasha, who runs a water farm and has successfully petitioned for a peacekeeper (policeman/sheriff authority figure) to be assigned to the town.

When Damnil has the new peacekeeper assassinated before he even gets to town, his friend and former student Patrick Swayze decides to come instead in a bid for vengeance. Patrick Swayze’s character is unnamed, and he’s apparently a former soldier who’s come out of the Wastelands (ooh, the Wastelands!… hang on…what’s special about the Wastelands?). We can tell from his facial expressions that he has a great pain down in his soul, or perhaps he’s just got an unfortunate bowel condition. He’s good at fighting, and his style of choice involves lots of rolling on the ground and waving around a holey sword.

Swayze takes work on Kasha’s farm and starts bonding with her young son (why is there always a kid?), beating up Damnil’s henchmen and taking baths in tiny tubs. It all culminates in a big showdown that feels a bit too Monty Python for comfort, involving sabotage of water pumps, a joust on wind-powered go-karts, a really lucky coincidence with a dog (a canis ex machina, if you will), knives at the throat, and a duel with the best mercenary/assassin character I have ever seen. It’s set in the postapocalyptic future, but the plot is in the grand tradition of the Western.

A few aspects of Steel Dawn require particular comment. The first is the fact that Patrick Swayze does have an inherent dignity. He always has. I know I tease, but I tease where I admire. I can go around saying, “Why is he standing on his head?” and “Of course he’s faster than the horse. Naturally. Why would you even query that?” and “Why is he rolling on the ground?” and “Why does he look so constipated?” and “Sex with Kasha is clearly a blurring of the boundaries that you shouldn’t blur, don’t do it!” but ultimately, I like what he offers. Unfortunately, I don’t sense any chemistry between him and his real-life wife Lisa Niemi, who plays Kasha. Sometimes husband/wife castings work, sometimes they don’t…

I have also plenty to say about the film’s aesthetic, e.g. the costumes, the props, the hair and make-up, the sets. Unfortunately, my intelligent, experienced, mature and considered views can only be expressed like this: BA-HA-HA-HA! BA-HA-HA-HA *facepalm* *winegoingdownthewrongway* *headdesk* heee hee heehee hee hee! omgwehavetorewindthatrightnow! And, as always, that’s me trying to be kind.

The highlight of the last act is Sho, a mercenary and assassin brought in by Damnil to finish off our buddy Swayze, and despite looking exactly like Gary Sinise, not played by Gary Sinise. In terms of appearance, he is like all the other characters, with the massive hair and the tight leggings and what not, but when he opens his mouth, it turns out he’s this posh English man with a debilitating sense of honour! What? That’s brilliant! Sho, my man! You have a total mismatch between your look and your delivery. You’re just confounding expectations all over the place and completely distracting us from the fact that everything else in Steel Dawn is as predictable as the economic downturn.

Shoddy and stupid but rather fun. No more serious analysis is possible, apart from wondering what was going through their minds when they filmed the scene where the Swayze does his ‘big man in a small tub’ routine. Finally, props to the Bad Movie Night posse, because they kick cinematic posterior, and, as always, RIP Patrick. Your fans miss you.

Sex symbol? Moi? Nah, it’s just a liver complaint.


  • Patrick Swayze’s unnamed character is called ‘Nomad’ in the credits.
  • Obviously the plot is reminiscent of the old ‘western’ movies. IMDB calls Steel Dawn a remake of Shane from 1953, but unless that comes directly from the production team I wouldn’t waste time linking it expressly with any particular classic (or forgotten) western.
  • IMDB also suggests that the shipwreck seen in the sand is the remains of the ‘Eduart Bohlen,’ wrecked off the Skeleton Coast of Namibia (filming location) in 1909.
  • Music composed and performed by Brian May – Brian, I believe you need the rest of Queen to rise to the heights of Flash Gordon and Highlander.
  • Why, is that a young Arnold Vosloo as a henchman? I believe it is. Hi, Arnold!

Groovy Dialogue:

Tark: I’d better kill him.

Nomad: What’s the matter? Never seen a grown man naked?

Nomad: It’s not you, it’s me. I attract violence.

Nomad: You’ve got your future.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Road House
  • Mad Max/The Road Warrior
  • The Mummy (1999) (What? They both have Arnold Vosloo and lots of sand. It’s a valid recommendation.)


  1. The Brian May that wrote the music isn’t the one from Queen, but rather an Aussie who also wrote for Mad Max. The name mix-up has led to a lot of hilarity over the years (like people saying “Freddy’s Dead” was scored by a Queen member in honor of Mr. Mercury).

    • Fascinating stuff, and sure to be incorporated into any updated versions of the page. Cheers!

  2. Don’t be too unkind of this film. The soundtrack is haunting and although the film has faults, if you just watch it for what it is without picking it to pieces, it really is a valuable enjoyable film just for the sheer scope and sand. If you want to see a movie with sand, this is the granddaddy. I don’t think I have seen any other film with so much sand. If you like sand this is a film you must see. It’s all about people fighting in wastelands of sand. Sand Sand everywhere and beautiful princesses, evil morons, demented tyrant hired killers and mutants all fighting over endless deserted SAND. It should have won an Oscar for the film of all time showing so much sand. I feel like I’ve just come back from the beach every time I watch my copy on DVD.
    However to be fair, although the film has faults, it’s entertaining, especially if you like sand. I like this film. It makes me feel I can walk across hundreds of miles of desert dunes, save a Princess and then wander back into the SAND fighting mutants again.

    I’m giving it 5 stars just for the sand alone, and beautiful haunting soundtrack that makes you feel like you are about to die of thurst in a wilderness of dunes.

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