FILM REVIEW: 1990: The Bronx Warriors
– Chris Frain, July 2017
We all remember 1990 – East and West Germany reunified (to the disappointment of Sprockets host, Dieter), Iraq invaded Kuwait for some reason, and the Bronx was officially declared a no-man’s land ruled by a noble yet violent motorcycle gang called The Riders. Sinead O’Connor’s performance of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” dominated the charts, and some weird TV detective show called “Twin Peaks” captivated our imaginations…who killed Laura Palmer? We have to know! Surely David Lynch will give us a satisfying ending to this series filled with so much promise and…wait…what was that about the Bronx?
Indeed, the Bronx had become a pre-apocalyptic wasteland, according to 1982’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors, an Italian production drawing heavily on recent genre-cinema hits like The Warriors (1979) and Escape from New York (1981). The timing of this film places it directly in the zeitgest of urban decay best exemplified by New York’s 1975 bankruptcy crisis (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”) and reflects the anxieties about urban America exploited by genre films at the time. The film’s exterior were actually shot on location in the Bronx and powerfully convey how much the borough resembled a bombed-out and burnt-down hellscape in real life by the early 1980s, a somewhat stunning accomplishment for a low-budget derivative Italian knock-off movie.
Directed by Enzio Castellari – known for also directing the cult-favorite original version of The Inglorious Bastards (1977) and the wonderfully silly Jaws-knockoff The Last Shark (1980) – Bronx Warriors features a standard “McGuffin” style plot in which several gangs compete over the possession of a precious commodity. In this case the McGuffin is the 17 year-old heiress to the Manhattan Corporation, an arms manufacturer as generically evil as its name suggests. Anne, vacantly played with resounding blandness by Stefania Girolami, literally runs away from Manhattan and into the Bronx to escape her fate as the wealthiest woman in the world (what a weirdo!). Immediately upon arriving she is set upon by a gang called The Zombies, whose The Warriors-style signature is that they ride around on roller skates and wield hockey sticks. The Riders, led by our hero “Trash” (Mark Gregory) rescue Anne and immediately take her into the fold. Meanwhile, the Manhattan Corporation has already hired a dangerous psychopath mercenary named “Hammer” (Vic Morrow – who would die later that year filming a scene for Twilight Zone: The Movie) to bring back Anne at any cost, as long as the whole operation is kept out of the press.
We get a sense of how the gangs maintain a tense truce when The Riders and their rivals The Tigers meet to discuss the discovery of a potential spy for the police among The Riders’ ranks. The Tigers, clothed in snazzy polyester pimp suits and driving 1940s cars (think of Isaac Haye’s gang in Escape from New York), are led by “The Ogre,” played by legendary NFL defensive back-turned-action star Fred Williamson (confusingly, in his football days his nickname was “The Hammer”). Trash and The Ogre manage to keep a fragile peace and even work together to try and recover Anne once she is kidnapped by The Zombies, whose primary-colored hideout resembles the spare room from the Suspiria house.
Over the course of the film Hammer plots to retrieve Anne for the Manhattan Corporation by sewing discord among and within the gangs – think of him as an evil and less-charismatic version of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character in Fistful of Dollars. The whole thing comes to a fiery and bloody end as all these forces converge at the wonderfully campy abandoned castle inhabited by The Tigers.
There are many derivative tropes and imagery from this movie to satisfy fans of The Warriors. The gangs all have some weird unique visual signature – my favorite being the tapdancing fighting style and “Chorus Line” outfits of the Ironmen. In a more serious movie this would be disorientingly weird – but in an Italian knock off you’re willing to just suspend disbelief and enjoy it. There’s also The Scavengers, who seem to be feral troglodytes composed entirely of extras from Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” video – such was the stuff of early 1980s nightmares. The black leather-clad fascist paramilitaries (riding horses with flamethrowers?!) would also pop up in many MTV videos during the early 1980s. The one big disappointment in this area are the protagonists themselves – The Riders – who visually are just a chapter of The Hell’s Angels. A missed opportunity, certainly.
Since the film is a little light on plot, there’s time to show details about life in the gangs and allowing the setting to make an impact on the viewer. The wonderful opening montage, set to the funky theme by Walter Rizzati, sets the mood by showing the viewer all the weapons used by the gangs. Oddly enough, the gangs seem to uphold a ban on firearms, which are only used in the film by forces invading the Bronx from the “civilized” borough of Manhattan. We also get to witness the Viking-pagan funeral ceremonies of The Riders, as well as how members of The Tigers lounge around in luxury in their swanky digs.
1990: The Bronx Warriors would spawn the much more action-packed (and brutally violent) Escape from the Bronx (1983), also known as Escape 2000 – a personal favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater. You can find 1990: The Bronx Warriors on Blu-Ray (!?!) online at Forbidden Planet HERE or on YouTube HERE.
– satisfyingly classic kung-fu sound effects used during the fighting scenes
– speaking of which, Fred Williamson’s martial arts techniques are kind of fun to watch
– every time “The Ogre” is mentioned, it sounds like they are saying “Yogurt.”
– Vic Morrow’s performance has two modes – sarcastic wiseass and scenery-chewing lunacy
– the Euro-centric secondary characters just seem out of place, especially the middle-aged blonde guy (“Ice”) wearing Harry Potter spectacles
– the attempts to incorporate American slang into the witty banter is not always successful
– the leader of the Ironmen, played by actress Carla Brait, really should have got her own storyline in this film. Her performance is great and would have added some much needed personality and levity to the movie
Chris Frain produces and performs electronic music under the moniker “Pattern Language” when he is not fending off hordes of dusty Scavengers in the sewers under Boulder, Colorado. You can buy his new mini-EP – Total Squaresville – from Happy Robots Records at: