Monday, April 12, 2010

1990: The Bronx Warriors

1990: The Bronx Warriors
Original Title: 1990: I guerrieri del Bronx
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Italy, 1982
Sci-Fi / Action
Distributed by: Shreik Show

How damned fantastic is this movie? In my sincerest opinion Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors is one of the absolute best of the Italian sci-fi / post apocalypse flicks ever, and to top it all off - those opening titles are easily among the best opening titles ever. Simple, effective and fucking brilliant.

Castellari is a marvellous director who’s primarily associated with fast paced movies that stay safe in the “real world”, movies like The Inglorious Bastards (Quel maledetto treno blindato) 1978, Keoma 1976, The Last Shark (L’ultimo squalo) 1981, The Bronx Warriors suite 1982-1983, and the many great Poliziotteschi like The Big Racket (Il grande racket) 1976 and Street Law (Il cittadino si ribella) 1974.

Castellari – or Enzo Girolami which his birth names states and why you see that G. in his name – was more or less born into a career in the movie industry. His father Marino Girolami was a director too, responsible for almost a hundred movies where stuff like Violent Rome (Roma violenta) 1975, A Special Cop in Action (Italia a mano armata) 1976 and the classic Zombie Holocaust 1980 can be found. Marino Girolami’s brother, Enzo’s uncle, is Romolo Guerreri, director of films like Johnny Yuma 1966 and The Sweet Body of Deborah (Il dolce corpo di Deborah) 1968. So it’s no surprise that Enzo got himself into the game too. Working his way through a diverse positions – script supervisor, second assistant, editor, actor (he still frequents his own and others movies – more recently Q.T.’s Castellari inspired Inglorious Basterds 2009) and finally the logic step up to directing his own first feature, the spaghetti western Any Gun Can Play (Vado l’ammazzo e tornoro) 1967. The movie was a hit and secured Castellari’s future as he directed several more Spaghetti Westerns before moving into the World War 2 and Poliziotteschi flicks.

The movie that Castellari perhaps is most known for is the 1981 action/thriller The Last Shark, a movie that was seen by Universal – who produced Stephen Spielberg’s original Jaws 1975 and sequel Jaws 2 1978 – as being a bit too close to their movie, and taking a way too much money that close to their own Jaws 3-D 1983 opening (a complete piece of garbage compared to L’ultimo squalo). So they sued, and had the movie taken out of distribution. Castellari’s movie may have been taken off the screens, but it secured a place in cult cinema history for all eternity.

Luckily Castellari has stayed away from the blood drenched euro horror genre – apart from the Italian/Spanish co-production Sensitività (The House by the Edge of the Lake) 1979. The movie made no major impression and as not being a big fan of horror Castellari rejected the offer to direct the next horror film that Fabrizio De Angelis offered to him. Instead Castellari suggested that De Angelis take it to fellow director and friend Lucio Fulci, and the rest is Italian cult movie history. The movie was of course the majestic Zombi 2, one of Fulci’s greatest pieces of his second comeback as a director.

But today we take a look at the absolute best of the many Italian futuristic sci-fi movies that came in the wake of Walter Hill’s The Warriors 1979, George Miller's Mad Max 1979 and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York 1981 – Enzo G. Castellari’s phenomenal 1990: The Bronx Warriors.

In a nutshell 1990: The Bronx Warriors is about a young woman Ann (Stefania Girolami GoodwinEnzo’s daughter, billed here as Stefania Girolami) who goes missing in, or runs away too, the Bronx – now a no-man’s-land where law enforcement has given up. Instead, gangs who are in constant conflict with each other for neighbourhood domination roam the area. Ann is at first taken by the Zombies, but pretty soon The Riders – who act as some sort of vigilante law keepers in the area – show up and after beating the crap out of the roller-skating Zombie gang member, Riders leader Trash (Mark Gregory) takes her with them. Due to a murder of one of the Riders gang members there’s tension between them and rival gang The Tigers – headed by The Ogre (Fred Williamson in his second of three movies for Castellari). The Tigers have found a tracking device – which obviously belongs o Ann, as they still don’t know that she’s the daughter of the President of the Manhattan Cooperation – but the Tigers suspect that the Riders gang member they wasted was a spy for the cops and this obviously causes a hardened tension between the two gangs. Trash members want to retaliate and avenge Chris’ murder, but Trash opts for a more restrained approach that has his second in command Ice (John Sinclair as John Loffredo) question his leadership.

At this point the executives at Manhattan Cooperation decide to send in Hammer [Vic Morrow] an infamous hit man, to track down Ann at any cost. But Hammer is a cynical cold bastard and he sees a perfect opportunity to start a war between the rival gangs and have them kill off each other once and for all. Hammer sneaks into The Riders hideout and after killing two of their number plants a Tigers ring – tension is wound up to a maximum and gang war is at bay. After a brief romantic moment on the beach, Ann is once again kidnapped by the Zombies and Trash left humiliated, he again opts for a more tactic solution where he suggests to take help of their old rival The Tigers in rescuing Ann. Trash has a hunch that something’s not right and the diplomatic tactic separates him and second in command Ice even further. Trash and a few men, venture through several rival gangs territory including a tap dancing one and the dwellers – seemingly post atomic blast underground beings - to have a meet Ogre and discuss a plan of how to free Ann, and at the same time sort out the concerns he has about the recent happenings.

As Ogre and Trash, assisted by the deadly but charming, Witch [Betty Dessy in her only role], set about to free Ann from Golan’s Zombies [George Eastman], Hammer stays close, provoking things even further, and luring Ice to betray Trash and the Riders loyalty to each other. Now Trash doesn’t only have rival gangs to look out for but also has traitor lurking in his gang.

Still following his sinister agenda to agitate the gangs into a full-fledged war, Hammer wallows in his successful tension between the gangs and having them set against each other, one small step from total gang war. But that’s not enough and finally in one last move to rescue Ann, he brings in the big guns for Operation Burned Earth which orders “ No Evidence, witnesses or other beings left alive” and the movie comes blasting at full speed into the burning climax that still has a few surprise shocks up it’s sleeve.

Starting off with those fabulous opening titles, the movie quickly sets up the obligatory New York location shot as Ann runs across the bridge. Cut to the interior of an office where the Vice president (Enzo himself) and Sam Fisher (his brother Ennio Girolami) of The Manhattan Cooperation are informed of Ann’s absence and start discussing how to act. So far only Castellari and two of his family members have been shown on screen, and finally there’s the text card to explain the current situation in the Bronx. It quickly sets up the plot and gives us a rough idea of the world the movie will be like. Hard, raw and ruthless.

Just watching those opening titles it’s easily understood that this movie is going to be something else. Ok cast wise the choice of seventeen year old Mark Gregory always surprises me, a guy that Castellari found at the gym where he used to work out (and still does), but he’s a well buffed guy and pulls the part as - hard ass biker boss, but still able to show a soft side - Trash like a charm. Gregory, went on to star in the sequel Bronx Warriors 2 (Fuga dal Bronx) 1983 and followed that with a string of Rambo-esque like characters in the Fabrizio De Angelis Thunder trilogy, Fernando Baldi’s Just a Damned Hunter (Un maladetta soldato) 1988, and after leading Pierluigi Ciriaci’s Afghanistan the Last War Bus (L’ultimo bus di Guerra) 1989 he vanished off the face of the earth and never made another movie.

Apart from the wild card Gregory, Castellari’s daughter Stefania Girolami Goodwin plays the second lead. Stefania had starred in several movies previous to 1990: The Bronx Warriors for her father, although this was her largest part in a movie to date, and later followed in her fathers footsteps and became a director herself. Now with the two leads out of the way, just take a look at that supporting cast! Fred Williams as Ogre, Christopher Connelly as Hot Dog, Vic Morrow as Hammer, in his second last performance – as you know he died in that terrible accident on the set of his next movie Twilight Zone: The Movie 1983, Enzo in his customary bit part, his brother Ennio, and Joshua Sinclair as Trash second man Ice, and the always-fantastica George Eastman as Golan. It almost plays like a who’s who of eighties action flicks. And with that said one can’t overlook the guys of Rock Stuntman Team (who did those unbelievable stunts in Ruggero Deodato's The Atlantis Interceptors 1983) once again pull off some great stuff and star as gang members side by side with real New York Bikers. Oh yeah I almost forgot, Bobby “Demoni 1+2” Rhodes is seen briefly in the flick, and he even get’s billing in the title sequence.

The masterful Sergio Salvati’s cinematography is outstanding, and his compositions here are only possibly challenged by the splendid work on Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Then I get all giddy again when Gianfranco Amicucci’s name comes up, because I know that this guy edits the beat to perfection, like he did on so many previous Castellari flicks, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors is a really tight and brilliantly edited piece.
Needless to say the knowledge of Dardano Sacchetti and wife Elisa Briganti behind the script (along with Enzo) also adds to the overall affection I have for this piece. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are very few movies that don’t work with a script by Sacchetti, and he will always be among the greatest screenwriters of all time in my book. Stick his name on any old tripe and I’ll watch it, and I’ll enjoy it because I know it’ Sacchetti!

And being a Sacchetti/Briganti (with Enzo) script I start to see stuff that I don’t find in other scripts/movies. There’s a great little Romeo & Juliet / Stockholm Syndrome thing going on between Ann and Trash which I like, it’s adds to the movie and validates his reason for not simply bursting down the door of his rivals and simply taking them out. There’s a value at stake, and that always set’s up a great narrative. Then again the movie also reads as a critique to large organisations, and with that said, the downbeat ending – sure Trash makes it out, but to what price? – The ruthless cooperation are left standing with their pants down when Hammer pushes his personal mission – exterminate them all – to the top of the list passing the “rescue the princess” plot.

I also feel a strong Spaghetti Western vibe in 1990: The Bronx Warriors, as I feel that it deals with similar themes that have occurred in Spaghetti Westerns. The corruption, the one man vigilante, enemies forming temporary alliances - joining forces against a common foe – and the whole damned show going up in flames. I can’t say that it is a futuristic Spaghetti Western, but there’s definitely that kind of vibe to it, and several of the other Sci-Fi/Post Apocalypse films too.

Finally, and I know that I usually end up leaving the score to the last part, but there’s a reason for that. I frequently find that as I write, and if it’s a score I like through the movie, I listen to the soundtrack as I write, because those tracks may be great on their own, but with the images of the movie fresh at mind they are terrific. Such is also the case with Walter Rizzati’s brilliant score to 1990: The Bronx Warriors, it’s a great piece that uses a wide range of styles to bring depth to the movie. The funky beats to set pace and forward movement, the almost Wagner-ish piece that accompanies the funeral of the Riders gang members and that great progressive rock thumping and heavy bass jive makes an eminent soundtrack that conjures up those great images over and over again.

I love this movie, and each time I revisit it I get worked up like a kid about to get a bag of sweets as that unbelievably cool title sequence rolls by. The movie works for me every time, I never get bored, and I just get drawn in and enjoy the ride. Because it is a heck of a ride without any slack or slow sequences at all, and I do feel that it’s by far the best and most stylish of all the post apocalypse – biker gang movies of this time period. That’s off to the great Enzo G. Castellari who once again proves why we still talk about his movies and so many others have disappeared into the realms of the forgotten.

2.35:1 Widescreen

Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, English dub dialogue.

There’s an interview with Fred Williamson, one with Enzo G. Castellari, trailers, a photo gallery and a very entertaining commentary track with Castellari.

And here's that splendid opening sequence with footage shot by Castellari himself, and Walter Rizzati's great score in all it's glory.


Alex B. said...

Mark Gregory is a legend!
This film is top stuff, with Martino's 2019: after the fall of new york.

Alex B. said...

Visually this film's amazing, very colourful and beautifully composed.
Also, the tune that plays on the opening credits is so cool. I'd heard it way before getting to see the actual film and loved it.
It's also interesting how the movie just ends on a freeze-frame of Gregory on the bike dragging the corpse after him!

Anonymous said...

Fuck yeah!

This film is harder than stone! Jag verkligen älskar den! /SNy.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Yeah it's a mean bastard flick this one.


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