Color, 1982, 92m.
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring Mark Gregory, Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Stefania Girolami, George Eastman, Joshua Sinclair
Blue Underground (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Shameless (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Dutch FilmWorks (DVD) (Holland R2 PAL), Stomp (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
After spending the '70s establishing himself as a formidable director of action films and spaghetti westerns, Enzo G. Castellari shifted gears a bit in the following decade. He seemed poised to have a significant international hit with The Last Shark, which was released in the U.S. for one week as Great White before Universal brought down the legal hammer on the distributor and had it pulled. Of course, that never stopped the Italian film industry from cashing in on big English-language hits at the time, so after an unfortunate missed train in New York that landed him in the middle of the Bronx at its most destitute and terrifying, producer Fabrizio De Angelis came up with the idea for what turned into a trilogy clearly inspired in equal parts by John Carpenter's Escape from New York and George Miller's Mad Max and The Road Warrior. (Okay, and maybe a dash of Fort Apache, the Bronx.) De Angelis had just worked on Day of the Cobra and kept him around to direct all three films, which kicked off with the relatively star-studded post-apocalyptic epic, 1990: The Bronx Warriors.
Set eight years in the future (and seven years before Carpenter's film), our saga involves a long-haired, muscular Trash (17-year-old Gregory), who runs a gang called the Riders in the Bronx. As the opening titles put it, "1990. The Bronx is officially declared 'No Man's Land.' The authorities give up all attemps [sic] to restore law and order. From then on, the area is ruled by the Riders." The nefarious Manhattan Corporation has its sights on taking over the crime-infested, decaying hellhole by painting the area as an unsalvageable wasteland, including sending in their nastiest shotgun-toting operative, Hammer (Morrow), in disguise as a mailman to do their dirty work. Meanwhile Trash starts to fall for a mysterious young woman, Ann (Girolami, Castellari's daughter), who has stumbled into the middle of this turf war after being terrorized by a rival group, a bunch of hockey-clad hooligans named the Zombies (straight out of The Warriors) led by none other than the Anthropophagus himself, George Eastman. She has to be brought back "at any cost," which means it's up to Trash to keep her safe (in what ironically amounts to a dry run for what Carpenter would do in Escape from L.A.). Overseeing the madness on the local level is a stogie-puffing overlord, Ogre (a scene-stealing Williamson), who has to work with Trash and company to come up with a plan to salvage their neighborhood before it gets destroyed forever.
Essentially ground zero for all the Italian post-apocalyptic films (some post nuke, some not), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (often shown in Europe as just Bronx Warriors) successfully adapts Castellari's dynamic approach to action scenes to a very different setting. In addition to spawning one direct sequel, Escape from the Bronx, this was followed with a third Castellari/De Angelis film, The New Barbarians, with other Italian cash-ins at the time from directors like Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci including 2019: After the Fall of New York, Endgame, 2020 Texas Gladiators, Warrior of the Lost World, Exterminators of the Year 3000, The Bronx Executioner, Hands of Steel, Urban Warriors, The New Gladiators, The Final Executioner, and the weirdest of them all, Rats: Night of Terror.
If its influence weren't enough, the film sports a slew of memorable performances (albeit not always for the same reason). Old pros Morrow and Williamson are great, of course (though one now-infamous dialogue exchange with the late Morrow about a helicopter is bound to cause a chill or two), while Gregory (a "shy guy" who was discovered in Castellari's gym) makes for a fun action hero even if his acting ability is a tad limited. Though he opted to go back to private left by the end of the decade, he still left his mark with both this film and its sequel along with De Angelis's enjoyable Thunder trilogy and the absolutely bonkers Adam and Eve vs. Cannibals. Even Castellari pops up in a cool cameo as the Vice-President, and you also get some slick cinematography and an atmospheric score by Sergio Salvati and Walter Rizzati, both coming hot off of Fulci's House by the Cemetery for De Angelis. If that weren't enough, how about another rival gang tap dancing and wearing outfits from A Chorus Line? Yep, that's in here, too.
Castellari's film was released theatrically in America by UFDC, with a popular VHS turning up from Media and hanging around mom and pop stores for years. Media Blasters tackled a DVD release in 2003, while a dire UK edition popped up from Vipco. The US disc was definitely preferable thanks to a pretty decent anamorphic transfer and some fun extras including a typically cocky, endearing 40-minute interview with Williamson (focusing more about his overall career and general Italian work), a pretty superficial 6-minute featurette with Castellari about how the film got started, and a much more informative audio commentary with Castellari (which among other things explains why it's tricky using Hell's Angels in your movie), plus a photo gallery and trailers for Flesh for the Beast, 2019: After the Fall of New York, Faceless, and Flesh Eater. That disc was also included in a triple feature "Post Apocalyptic" set with 2019: After the Fall of New York (the second, less controversial pressing) and The New Barbarians. In 2009, Shameless did a much better job with the film than its UK predecessor in a DVD tin set with the other two Castellari films and later as a standalone disc, sporting a 2.35:1 transfer from what appears to be the same master but with much better encoding and less video noise and edge enhancement, a pop-up fact track for the entire film, a brief Castellari intro, a different 24-minute Castellari interview called "Warriors, Barbarians, and Basterds" covering much of the same territory but adding some nice technical info about how he uses between three to six camera using different frame rates for action scenes, and the international, US video and UK video trailers along with the UK and Italian credit sequences.
In 2015, Blue Underground releases the film in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack concurrently with Escape from the Bronx and The New Barbarians, featuring a greatly improved new HD transfer and a significantly expanded, mostly different slate of extras. (Yep, if you're a fan you still need to hang on to those other discs.) It's still not exactly what you'd call a pretty film with a fairly harsh, bright photographic style and grain aplenty in many shots, but this is a vast improvement in terms of color saturation with some beautiful eye-popping shades of red lost in past versions entirely. The kitschy costumes look great as well, and the black levels are richer and deeper than before with something more closely approximating actual depth. Optional subtitles are provided in English, Spanish, and French for the DTS-HD mono English track.
A new Castellari audio commentary has been recorded (with a lot less halting and dead space) accompanied by his son Andrea and moderator David Gregory, going to pretty dense detail about the stunt coordination, the various locales in Rome and New York, and virtually every other aspect of the production. The first video extra is a 14-minute first installment in "Enzo G. Castellari & Fabrizio De Angelis in Conversation" (continued on the other two releases), a great overview (in Italian with English subtitles) in which the pair talk about mounting the project after Castellari turned down the opportunity to direct Zombie (which went to Fulci, of course), Mark Gregory's refusal to stick around to learn English well for American movies, and some funny mishaps from the set involving those Hell's Angels. In the 12-minute "Sourcing the Weaponry," Castellari visits Paolo Ricci, the weapons provider for several Castellari films with a massive cache of swords, knives, machine guns, and other action props, "a dream for an action film." And yes, some of the crazy prop knives from Bronx Warriors are still there. In the 7-minute "Adventures in the Bronx," actor and stunt man Massimo Vanni opens with a somewhat different version of the Gregory gym story and and runs through some anecdotes about going to the "scary" real Bronx (where they met a real gang leader who helped keep the shoot safe, though some of it was obviously shot in other boroughs) and his goofy on-camera role in The New Barbarians. Finally the disc rounds out with a gallery of posters and stills as well as the English international and Italian trailers plus ones for the other two titles in the series.