The holy tryptich of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE WARRIORS and THE ROAD WARRIOR- it wasn't just us kids who were changed utterly, but the charred landscape of the Italian genre cinemaniac psyche circa 1982-1986: Sergio Martino's 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983) is among the best: a post-nuclear Manhattan serves as ground zero for a stealthy battle between mutants, ape men acrobats, robots, and a Catholic-style death cult presided over by a whip-snapping hottie all in leather (Anna Kanakis). I saw it the same night as the 2019 RENT broadcast on FOX, which showed the real 2019... and it's re-imagining/fantasizing about an idealistic NYC in the early-90s, NYC as one big artist commune, where everyone knows your name and the landlord actually apologizes for trying to get you to pay Rent... (I was here in the early 90s and man, we had to pay rent, so we got... Jobs.)
Each (1983's 2019, and 2019's 1990) stars a hunky smoldering-eyed boy in black for whom self-deprecation is anathema, and the idea of working for a living is worse than having to wear white, or take a joke at his own expense. But that's just the tip of their perfect intersection along the meta-draft!
|top to bottom: 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK; 2019's RENT|
At the time 2019 was made, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE WARRIORS (1978), NYC seemed one dangerous place to be. Then came CONAN, THE ROAD WARRIOR, helping us learn to drive, and hear da lamentations of der women. We could rent all four them all in one night, swirl them together with all the care of an LSD-soaked spider. If we were 13-15 year-olds, we could make super-8mm versions (ours had titles like SIMBA, SLAYER; ATOMIC NINJA and JOE NIGHTMARE DESCENDS.) If we were Italian filmmakers, we could make films with key words like "Warriors" and "Escape" and "New York" (or its boroughs) sewn into their titles.
These are the latter.
Taken chronologically, deep in hindsight, you can feel how their influences were once influenced themselves: THE WARRIORS came out of a late-70s yen for 'Brooklyn street gang movies' which were ignited by the Fonze (ayyy!) and Travolta's Vinnie Barbarino/Saturday Night Fever/Grease hat trick, which merged with the waning late 60s biker gang subgenre (via THE WILD ANGELS) and the urban revenge film of the early 70s, (via DEATH WISH, TAXI DRIVER). The street gang archetype became more and more became a fantasy about the cesspool that was 70s NYC--so crime-ridden and filthy they just put a wall around it and make the city itself the prison--on the other. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE WARRIORS swirled together in our collective mind, and films with the key words "warriors," "escape" and "New York" (or its boroughs) came rushing across the Atlantic. Ayyyy! Paisan!
Meanwhile, in the Australian Outback, on the open road, biker gangs still roamed on wheels; now the apocalypse had come and the cops were gone, as were gas stations. SEARCHERS-style space western elements circled back, like that crafty Comanche, Scar, after leading the men off on a posse into nowhere.
Actually 'the apocalypse' hadn't come in the Escape/Warriors movies, it was just that law and order had eroded to the point it barely functioned. MAD MAX came out, but in America we couldn't tell, having never seen the Outback and so not realizing this already was a real place, a vast interior where the nearest cop might well be an hour away, and no cell phone to reach him. In other words, in Australia, the interior of the entire continent was the inner city. Turn off the pumps and bounce the cop's paychecks and the roving gangs simply took over.
After THE ROAD WARRIOR, you didn't even need show a mushroom cloud in the prologue. Just show us dirt-covered vehicles manned by dudes in crazy punk rock eyeliner--the same wacky new wave punk monsters from the Escape/Warriors movies only now with cool killer cars-- and we knew the score. Maybe you will too.
At any rate, you won't doze.
1. 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS
(1982) Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - AThe Bronx in 1990 is--as envisioned by an Italian in 1982--a war zone. As the haves hustle around on their 9-5 circuits in lower Manhattan, the have-nots either drink and stagger in the rubble or rumble in gangs over their little piece of ground, their "turf." All is in a kind of uneasy balance between Bronx turfs, no-man's lands between them, and the cops' monitoring the outskirts to make sure haves and haves not never meet. But then comes Ann (Stefania Girolami), a rich heiress (to the "Manhattan Corporation") who escapes her bodyguards like in Sullivan's Travels, to find out what life is like for the haven'ts. Her dad sends troops and cops, armed with flame throwers, come in to find her, but she's almost immediately shacking up with the Che-esque pretty boy gang leader named Trash (Mark Gregory). If you've seen John Carpenter's 1995's Escape From LA, it's more or less the same plot, with the sympathies reversed! (Snake is played by Vic Morrow here - and named Hammer! while Fred Williamson is the Ogre, Trash's opposite number in the farther uptown gang (played by Pam Grier in L.A.). Hammer tries to trick Trash and the Ogre into fighting by killing their members and leaving gang signs lying around after he kills members from each gang, but they're both too sly to fall for that! Alas, there's a traitor in Trash's midst determined to fan the flames...
|Where are you, Joe (Walsh)?|
It was all over but the Warner Bros. flagship store next to Planet Hollywood. The fat lady sang so loud the old X-rated marquees cracked apart like stardust.
If we'd have seen 1990: The Bronx Warriors maybe we'd have known to fight back. The mix of The Warriors / Escape from NY iconography and anti-corporate nihilism seems to smell Giuliani in the breeze like some cheap knock-off cologne.
One of the leading lights of the neighborhood (with a great walk, like a Harryhausen cyclops), Trash is really a memorable character: tall and muscular but lithe with a great walk, like a Harryhausen cyclops (I imagine horrified spit takes from Miss J. at a ANTM catwalk tutorial.) No doubt cast for a passing resemblance to both Warriors' Michael Beck and Kotter's Vinnie Barbarino, and maybe the wandering wolf-boy from the 1977-78 TV series Lucan., his lithe youthful beauty contrasts with growly Bronx-accented voice he's been dubbed in (Italian film fans will recognize the dubbing guy right off - he does all the 'gruff' Bud Spencer parts). It's a great combination, this deep manly voice and this pretty face, because it's not an unrealistic pairing at all. Go to Coney Island over summer and you'll know what I mean: you see some ethereal young girl wafting down the beach in her red bathing suit and flowing black hair, flawless skin and youthful innocence, and she suddenly turn and yells up the beach to her "ma" so loud and abrasive with such a thick middle age booming accent, it chills you with sociological frisson.
Castellari used a lot of real bikers (supposedly Hell's Angels) as extras, giving the shots of Trash and Ann zipping around in front of a vast parade of bikers under an overpass extra oomph (top). As a kind of catch-all indication of the crazy colorful-dressed gangs. Of the scattered gangs, the best is a bunch of Bob Fosse style fey dancers in steel bowler hats and metal rod canes. Their leader (Carla Brait, below) let's Trash pass because she's kind of turned on by his tight jeans. And I'm a fan of the gruff bond that forms between Trash and the Ogre. When it couldn't get any better? The Ogre and his mob throw Ann a birthday party with a big NYC skyline cake!
Walter Rizzati's score is a bunch rockin' synths, drums and a thudding electric bass, with appropriate moody washes. Man what a crime that those kind of old school electric bass lines are so gone from movies. Give me a badass electric bass over an orchestra anyday. Morricone whipped together his first truly great score with just whistling, an electric guitar, a clanging on a horseshoe and people chant-whispering "we can fight! As cool as Clint may be, if Leone had money for a typical orchestral score, it would just be another western. Think about it, and the next time your sad-eyed oboe player hits you up for a part in your score, say "sorry dude, it's all bass, drums, and electric guitars going TWANNGGGG!
|Mark Gregory as Trash - center - walking to the left, straight as a streetpole|
2. ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX
(1983) Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - AMark Gregory returns as the stiff-postured Swann/Vinnie-esque gang leader Trash, in this napalm-drenched sequel. Picking up where 1990: The Bronx Warriors left off (see them on a lazy Saturday double feature for maximum yield), the 'Manhattan Corporation' now has the green light to raze the Bronx and evict its denizens. Cops in flame-thrower gear slowly 'cleanse' the area, burning out the resistance. Trash ain't leaving and he ain't hiding of course, and whe the cop incinerate his parents as reprisal, you better believe he's going to get even. While his long black hair still flutters as a banner of freedom, most everyone from the last film are dead. The remaining gang members who survived last film's massacre are now hiding out underground under the rule of earring-wearing relatively-easygoing Diablone (Antonio Sabato), who's cool and fun but no Fred Williamson. Luckily, scene-stealing Carla Brait, the Iron Man leader from the previous film, is still standing as refreshingly coy as ever.
Meanwhile, an intrepid journalist named Moon Grey (Valeria D'abici) gets ejected from Manhattan Corp. conferences about the 'new' Bronx. She sneaks up there and tells Trash that if he wants to really get anyone to listen to the truth and save the current Bronx in its ruined form, he'll need to kidnap the president of Manhattan Corp and force the world to listen (ain't that typical). Enter master thief Strike (Giancarlo Prete) and his young son Alessandro, whose innocent glee planting the demolition charges evokes Brigitte Bardot in Viva Maria (1965). As they work their kidnapping plan, a ruthless efficiency expert (Henry Silva) is sent in to kill Trash. Like Morrow in the lasst film, Silva achieves that rare balance between menace and fun, giving the sense that--as in the previous film--hunter and prey don't mind changing roles as long as they get to kill each other.
Whatever one thinks of Italian trash cinema, there's no denying Castellari gets interesting performances from his actors. I haven't read any interviews about what it was like on set, but the vibe on the screen is wryly jacked-up without ever tumbling into camp. The dubbing is flawless, the vibe of the music is propulsive. The climax is an all-out bloodbath of massive explosions (Strike shotguns escaping cars and they just instantly burst into fireballs) and lots of guys in hazmat suits with flamethrowers die in cool falls and crashes through windows. Probably the same five (masked) stuntmen dying over and over but so what? Great stuff! There's also exploding hostages, lots of other explosions, and bang bang! Shit getting blown up.
Still, after the first 100 people die, it gets almost monotonous (I said almost.)
3. WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND
(aka 'The New Barbarians')
(1983 Dir. Enzo G. Castellari
*** / Amazon Image - B+
The Old Testament gets rewritten in high Road Warrior style: Helping the straggling religious pilgrims travel the wasteland are Nadir (Fred Williamson-- wearing outrageous black leather and gold trim armor) as the biblical wanderer type, and 'Scorpion' (Giancarlo Prete, below left) i.e. Strike from Escape from the Bronx ) as the Max Max type, with a ridiculous green dome for a roof to his car. They roam around trying to mind their own business but this world must be awfully small as they keep crossing paths and bailing each other out of jams. If you've seen a lot of Italian westerns you know these kind of strange male friendships occur frequently, perhaps because of Clint and Lee in A Few Dollars More. Or maybe it's just a thing Italian guys do for/to each other...
Most Road Warrior knock-offs are shit, but Castellari has no interest in wasting our time with a lot of static talk and/or driving scenes; he just wants to keep the fireballs coming, the heads lobbing, and the screen buzzing with tricked-out futuristic vehicles. In fact all the vehicles here look like normal, dinged-up, dirty 'normal wear and tear' cars with a few (suspiciously clean) sci-fi additions affixed, evoking Death Race 2000 as much as they do The Road Warrior and helping us wonder just how much of this Castellari intended as sociological deadpan satire. Either way, it's awesome.
Highlights include: a (!!) surprise version of the gauntlet people pass through when exiting a gang. It comes as such a blazing shock I can't go into detail, let's just say way the editing and camera and lights and cutting goes all Suspiria nuts right as it's hitting us what's about to happen and well, damn... Castellari you are a dawg!
And as with Fred's other work for Castellari, he seems to enjoy himself immensely here, especially when he hooks up with a very colorful, beguiling-eyed creature named Vinya (Iris Peynado - above). Fred's eyes light up when he first catches sight of her, and when they begin to hook up, as he realizes he's got green lights as far as the eye can see, his eyes carry such a complicated range of emotions, from caution to tenderness to tough blaxploitation studliness to shyness, back and forth, that he once again transcends his weird dialogue (he seems to have been written as a kind of Muslim warrior/friend in the Parsifal myth). Their scenes together are worth the price of admission by themselves. If you've lived the joy of an out-of-the-blue hookup with a knock-out girl after a forever on the road you'll feel it all come rushing back, even if it's cloaked in enough weird 'code' to fool the kids and make Joe Breen's head explode. The rest of the time we can't tell if Fred's having a blast, just clowning around because he doesn't give a shit, or is just slowly going insane. Either way, we'll take it.
4. RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS
(Aka Atlantis Interceptors)
(1983) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
**** (Amazon Image - B-)
I reviewed this in an earlier Prime round-up, but it's become one of my favorite go-tos when afflicted with that Goblin-scored, aurora grotesk-credit-fonted 70s-80s Italian horror/action/sci-fi hybrid itch, which is very specific and very--if you can find the right salve--rewarding. Raiders is one of the best such salves, right up there with Nightmare City and Contamination as far as recently-discovered Italian psychotronica I can return to again and again when the never-ending film marathon of my life runs dry of viable programming options. I've already seen Raiders at least four times since discovering it in 2017. There are so many reasons it rocks: I love that the central relationship is between two men, Italian cinema mainstay Christopher Connelly and Tony King as a pair of mercs who own a boat together and do all sorts of dangerous work outside the jurisdiction of the US military (?) ala The Expendables. They have great banter/rapport and the film is nonstop cool, with Hawksian attention paid to cigarettes and alcohol, and manly camaraderie (they also have a helicopter pilot buddy played by Ivan Rassimov). Giola Scol is a girl whose skill at deciphering ancient text on a plaque found down on the ocean floor by a sunken Russian submarine triggers the rising of a domed Atlantis. Then there's that strange reaction in a certain percentage of the population, turning them all into marauding savages on a nearby island (maybe the world, who knows?) driving around in their pimped out bikes and rides, decked out like a glam Humongous (Bruce Baron) in a translucent skull bubble helmet (above). Calling his gang 'The Interceptors' and announcing the return of Atlanteans and all others "but one" must die. Time to get the molotov cocktails lined up, and--luckily--find a warehouse full of guns and ammo.
5. EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000
(1983) Dir. Giuliano Carnimeo
**1/2 - (Amazon Image - B-)
I shy off films where a kid is in the lead (too sentimental) but this one has literal tricks up his sleeve and drinks a beer! I let it pass. Instead of oil being the number one commodity in this post-nuclear wasteland desert, this time it's water; there hasn't been any rainfall in years. The result is terrible 80s-style curly hair (with headband) on the lead actor (Robert Ianucci) as "Alien," the hunky antihero, the kid recruits to help him get water for his thirsty colony of ragtag survivors. Alicia Munroe is a sexier, nicer road wanderer, and sports a nice post-Farrah blonde Meg Ryan kind of feathering (above) that puts her far ahead of most action babes of the year 1983. Actually, the coolest character is Fernando Bilbao as the main bad guy (ala Wes in ROAD WARRIOR- below) eagerly pursuing Alien --who stole his car (it's got a TV camera so you don't have to look through the windshield!) We're supposed to root for Alien even though it's rightfully Bilbao's car. Talk about shallow. BOOOM!
Those Italians... You can call this a derivative piece of shit but you miss the point --it rocks and it moves and never wastes time with dull conversations. Like the best Italian imitations, it reeks of the joy of on-the-fly creativity and momentum. Just look at that crazy car design up there, that's totally superfluous, that's a free, just a bit of nutty madness zipping by so fast you barely clock it before it's up in flames. Surely I can forgive the presence of tacky curly hair in the lead and the presence of a child and the scenes of thirsty settlers passively watching their plants die of dehydration? There's also the confusing idea that --in the post-apocalyptic wasteland--someone like Alien would sell out the settlers to make a fortune with the purloined water. What kind of fortune even exists in the wasteland? What, are you going to fill a bucket and drive to the city? Money is only as good as long as the country that issues it is viable, genius! But you can't think twice about those kind of plot gaps unless you're really obsessive. Better to ponder the question of whether Alien and the girl show any kind of honor by bringing the water to the passive settlers, considering the got it by killing its previous owners - but it's okay, they're ugly and wear strange suits. Such is morality... BANG!
Filipino Bonus: WHEELS OF FIRE
(1985) Dir Crio Santiago
** / Amazon Image - B
Crio Santiago directed with an international cast and set in an Outback-style wasteland (really a quarry that's the Filipino equivalent of Bronson Canyon). One should point out there are key differences between Trace and Mad Max. The most obvious is his super cool flamethrower. He has one for his car, too. Lots of guys wind up on fire as a result (3). There are lots of guys on fire, actually, in all the movies on this list. And they did name it Wheels of Fire - well, honey that's truth in advertising. As Cool-Ass Cinema notes "WHEELS are constantly spinning; and rarely does the FIRE diminish."
The other key difference: Trace can't wander as freely as the original Max because he has another thing Max hasn't got, a sexually precocious kid sister, Arlie (Playboy playmate Linda Weismeir, above), who is wild, ill-bred and liable to run off with the first pit fighter who flashes his beady eyes her way. And this area of the wasteland is no place to pull over and have a snog. A band of skuzzy outlaws led by Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana - one of the cast's few native Filipino leads) runs around killing, siphoning, and abducting women for much lurid abuse. Naturally, the sister winds up in their hands and eventually her acting tough, spitting and clawing, only gets her so far. Seeing Arlie spread eagled and topless bouncing around on the dirty hood of Scourge's car, etc, that's not fun, or cool. She just seems uncomfortable and awkward. We admire her resilience and toughness, and that her breasts are natural, but then the nights pass and she's stuck with these monsters, and it gets demoralizing.
Alas, they take her along to their base and Santiago rubs our noses in the whole gang bang / punked-out whore thing, as Arlie is thrown to the crew after Scourge is 'finished with her' and winds up housed in a dirty tent and all the dirty ass dudes take their turns, snickering etc. We're spared the seeing of it (we just hear about it, Santiago wants us to know for sure what's going on) but her continued subjugation sits uneasily over the rest of the film. Though she does get a mildly satisfying revenge, it still leaves a skuzzy residue, like the dirt-caked oil that flecks the tanned skin of the cast.
Meanwhile, Trace runs across a girl road warrior named Stinger (Laura Banks, above), who demonstrates that - 1) the Pat Benatar look must have still been big in 1985 at least in the Philippines and 2) now matter how dire things get, a girl can still find cheap 80s eye shadow. Luckily, the rather weather-beaten Stinger has other assets, like a hawk who acts as her eyes and ears and can signal danger (like when Stinger is abducted by underground mutants in the dead of night). They pick uph other Scourge survivors too: an innocent civilian with psychic powers, Spike (Linda Grovenor) whose make-up is way less oily and garish; and a spunky little person general, and they become like the C3PO and R2D2 of the scrappy bunch.
Many stunts, crashes, explosions, big sets (some old guns placements left behind by the Japanese, maybe?), including a vast underground cave system for mutant burning.... The whole thing becomes a war movie at the end, with the late plot addition of a big outfit of 'good guy' civilization proponents that Trace used to be a member of (now he tells us - where have they been all this time?). There are climactic raids, a group of civilians building a rocket out of sheet metal and gumption, and a final battle with Arlie as a kind of hot mess Gunga Din. Mortars and vast arrays of army men blowing shit up. (1) The final shootouts as all the mean jerks from Scourge's outfit die painful deaths is a-very nice.
Other strong points include Christopher Young's sweeping score, which taps into the Brian May-style pumping Road Warrior original, adding orchestral grandeur like what might happen if the Jaws theme was widened and Wagner climbed down in between the notes like a scuba diver on too many Stuka-tabletten. As with most Santiago films, it may be shitty but it's never dull. And the Amazon Print is farily good, not quite at the level of Warriors of the Wastelend, but probably looking as good as it ever did on the drive-in screen.
Cool-Ass also points out that Wheels was one of the films caught in the tussle when Corman sold New World and the new owners betrayed him by ignoring his drive-in fare in favor of their own dumb bigger release crap. So Santiago's film wound up being one of the first releases of Corman's own new distribution company Concorde instead. Alas, just as he gave up directing when he left AIP to form New World, Corman gave up producing, for the most part, when he left New World to form Concorde. It being the dawn of the drive-in's demise in favor of the endless made-for-VHS sloggery-doggery, sexual imbecility began to reign. Until that is, the arrival of DEATH RACE 2050.
And that's about it for part 4 of Acidemic's Drive-in on Prime series. Next time will be the concluding entry, the post-CONAN sword and sorcery kick of the 1981-88 era.That's not to say this amazing and endless series will stop, because someone has to keep track of the wild, never-ending flow of great shit floating amidst the dross that is Prime. In other words, if I don't write about it, don't watch it. For there is crap galore out there and you must be protected. Now that these films are safely preserved, we must preserve the sanity of their future viewers.
And don't forget these other Drive-in on Prime Roundups:
Drive-in on Prime 3: New World's Rebel Girls (1971-79): THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, COFFY, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS, THE ARENA, BIG BAD MAMA, TNT JACKSON, THE LADY IN RED,)
Drive-in on Prime 2: Post-JAWS Gems (1978-80): UP FROM THE DEPTHS, PIRANHA, CREEPERS (AKA Island of the Fishmen) THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, AVALANCHE
Drive-in on Prime 1: Post-STAR WARS Nugs (1978-87): STARCRASH, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, SPACEHUNTER, SPACE BALLS, SATURN 3, GALAXY OF TERROR
1. some sharp-eyed fellow critics have pointed out it's war footage borrowed from another Santiago film, Equalizer 3000)
2. Not accusing JC of plagiarism, if anything it would be a homage, as much as it is to Howard Hawks.
3. Stuntmen must love to fall off ledges while on fire. Think about it: ultimately guys on fire is not the kind of thing anyone cares about, yet time and again they burn and scream and burn, maybe because they know how to do it without getting hurt, so it's like skydiving or crowdsurfing for them. For us, it's like the cole slaw garnish