In the wake of both George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (1981), the Italian film industry initiated a cycle of low-budget look-alikes which took many of the elements of Miller’s film, blended them with ideas pilfered from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) and seasoned them with the kind of garish costume design, impoverished production values and wayward plotting that became the hallmarks of the cycle.
First out of the gate was Enzo G Castellari’s 1990 – I guerrieri del Bronx (1982), which owed more to Carpenter than Miller and which saw release under the titles 1990: The Bronx Warriors or more succinctly just Bronx Warriors. As its title suggests, it borrows from Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) too as it tells the tale of Ann, a wealthy heiress who goes missing in The Bronx (which by 1990 has been declared a “no man’s land”), Trash (Mark Gregory) the pretty-boy gang leader who befriends her and Hammer (an outrageously over-the-top Vic Morrow) the brutal cop sent to get her back. Trying to keep Ann from the clutches of “The Man”, Trash and his motorcycle outlaws encounter some of the most bizarrely dressed oddballs in cinema history, gangs which frankly, a rather less terrifying than Castellari probably want them to be (one lot consists exclusively of tap dancers!)
The profanity-laden script is about what you’d expect from an Italian exploiter of the period – full of expository dialogue, awkward exchanges and occasional inexplicable lines whose real meanings seem to have been hopelessly lost in translation (“Be careful or I’ll knock your block off”). Plotting is kept to a bare minimum, just enough to get the film from one violent slow-motion set-piece to the next. No explanation is ever given as to why the authorities have given up on The Bronx, nor why sulky heiress Ann has decided that it’s a better option than staying at home and inheriting the massive multinational arms manufacturer that’s her birthright.
The acting is also pretty much what you’d expect – Fred Williamson effortlessly steals the show in his all-too-brief appearances as flamboyant gang-leader The Ogre who cruises the ruined streets of The Bronx in his pimp-mobile; George Eastman pops up briefly as Golan, leader of the roller-skating Zombies gang (one really has to question the viability of roller skates as a means of transport in the rubble-strewn streets of The Bronx); Vic Morrow is spot-on as the ruthless killing-machine super-cop Hammer; but Christopher Connelly, something of a permanent fixture in cheap Italian movies of the era, is wasted on a nothing role. The youthful leads are quite terrible however: Stefania Girolami presumably got the role of Ann as she’s Enzo’s daughter (she’d appeared in a number of his previous films including La polizia incrimina la legge assolve/High Crime (1973), Il grande racket/The Big Racket (1976) and L’ultimo squalo/The Last Jaws (1981) among them) and thankfully gave up acting shortly after this to become an assistant director both at home and in the States. Mark Gregory was cast when his girlfriend sent his photograph to Fulvia Film after they announced a nationwide search for the film’s star and he was able to give up his day job in a shoe shop for a brief career in acting that was over by the end of the 1980s, after which he vanished back into the obscurity from whence he came, thus far eluding any attempts to track him down.
For all its faults though, 1990 – I guerrieri del Bronx is still great fun. It’s a very long way from Castellari’s best work, which was almost exclusively in the polizieschi genre (La polizia incrimina la legge assolve (1973), Il cittadino si ribella/The Anonymous Avenger (1974), Il grande racket (1976) et al, though his excellent war film Quel maledetto treno blindato/The Inglorious Bastards (1978) is a definite career highlight) but it has a dopey charm all of its own. None of it makes much sense and there are far more unintentional laughs than genuine ones but it’d require a serious humour deficiency to fail to appreciate such delights as a street gang who specialise in Broadway-style musical numbers, the birthday party massacre and the hopeless choreography of any of the fight scenes.
Not a film for those who hold originality in high regard, 1990 – I guerrieri del Bronx remains a first-rate guilty pleasure, by turns messily violent (it’s far gorier than any of the films it rips off), ludicrous and hilarious. Just don’t try to make any sense of it, it really isn’t worth the effort. Completely daffy but strangely endearing.