Back in the 1970s it really must have looked as if New York was doomed. Blackouts, soaring crime, urban blight and crumbling infrastructure tempted more than one filmmaker to adopt an ‘if this goes on…’ approach to its near future. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that this was a very lazy approach that was bound to come unstuck but, at the time, few could have predicted that the city would have been able to reinvent itself. Although Mayor ‘Rudy’ Giuliani’s revolution was still a few years off, The Bronx Warriors (aka: 1990: I guerrieri del Bronx), even at the time it was made, must have looked more like an exercise in nostalgia than a serious attempt at futurology.
But, of course, futurology was never a serious aim for director Castellari. He was making an action movie, and was simply interested in giving the audience a good time, and consequently there is little that is original here. Escape From New York and The Warriors are the biggest influences, with the Walter Hill film channelling A Clockwork Orange, but there is also a dash of Mad Max as well. Sadly, these blatantly obvious comparisons do not flatter The Bronx Warriors. This was the first of several post-apocalyptic films that Castellari made, and he was obviously hoping that they were going to be the new (spaghetti) westerns. They could have been, with a bit of care and cash, but the entire genre just seemed to march straight onto the video shelves as the 1980s staggered grimly on.
So what have we got here? Little rich girl Ann has run away form here destiny, which is to inherit the world’s biggest arms manufacturer, the Manhattan Corporation. She runs to the Bronx, a lawless zone fought over by themed gangs, and possibly the only place in this vaguely-sketched-out world where she can hide. Unfortunately, it’s also very dangerous, and she is rescued from a marauding roller-skating hockey team by the arrival of Trash’s biker gang. She soon becomes Trash’s woman, and the rest of the film concerns the attempt by the big bad arms corporation to get her back. A word about the cast… Ann (Stefania Girolami) is played by the director’s daughter, and she gives a serviceable performance.
However, a showroom dummy would look convincing when placed next to the actor who plays Trash. Be not fooled by Mark Gregory’s name; he’s a prime piece of gym-honed Italian beefcake, with a waxed chest and beautifully curled mane, but unfortunately he is incapable of more than one expression. His biker gang is somewhat schizophrenic: most are played by real bikers who look terrifying but can’t deliver lines with any panache, whilst the others, obviously real actors there to supply the meatier parts, look like they’re moonlighting from the Village People. The other major force in the Bronx is the Ogre’s gang, the Tigers, who dress like 1920s gangsters and drive around in vintage cars. The Ogre is, one is pleased to see, played by the ever-dependable Fred Williamson. Williamson is never a signifier of a quality film, but he can lift a poor one every time he appears on screen.
The nearest thing to a police force is a mercenary vigilante force, lead by the brutal Hammer (Vic Morrow in his second-last part), who are only interested in wiping out the gangs. Anyway, due to Hammer’s Machiavellian machinations, Trash and a couple of friends end up having to cross the Bronx to try and enlist the Ogre’s help. This, of course involves crossing the territories of several wacky tribes with varying degrees of hostility in an odyssey so unoriginal that you start to wonder if it’s possible that some of the gangs have walked straight off the sets of other films.
The Ogre eventually agrees to help Trash rescue Ann, but does he load up the cars with his army? No. He sets out on foot with Trash, taking only the Witch (the delightfully named Betty Dessy), a bondage-clad woman armed with a whip. You might have noticed that there appear to be no guns: for some reason the gangs can’t get their hands on any. Hammer hands a double agent a Luger at one stage and the guy is very pleased to get it. And no wonder – he is now the most heavily armed gang member for miles.
It’s no big secret that the film is moving towards a massive bloodbath of a finale, but it takes a pretty weird route to get to it. Castellari’s eccentricities do add a certain charm, it has to be said. The interiors were filmed in Italy and the exteriors in New York, the music on the soundtrack is so lush that it would make Argento blush, and rarely will you run across such an apparently random cast selection.
The extras, unfortunately, aren’t particularly illuminating: there’s an interview with the director (he’s a very jolly man), and a commentary that makes Uwe Boll sound like Ingmar Bergman.
Best served with beer…