What a gloriously stupid movie. Looking back through the history of Shitty Movie Sundays, some real gems jump out at me. The Incredible Melting Man. The Keep. Anaconda. Kingdom of the Spiders. Reign of Fire. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. These films are Shitty Movie Sundays royalty. Paparazzi follow them and take pictures when they leave nightclubs. One of them is dating a Lesser Kardashian. Another is appearing on Dancing with the Stars. And now a new member joins their ranks.
1990: The Bronx Warriors is a 1982 Italian b-movie from director Enzo G. Castellari and producer Fabrizio De Angelis. I don’t know anything about this pair, nor do I think further investigation would enhance this review. But just judging their careers on this movie alone, I can only assume they got into the movie business to make a quick buck. This flick does everything it can to steal plot points and visuals from some successful, contemporary films. Escape from New York and The Warriors come to mind.
This film, as the title suggests, takes place in The Bronx. The Bronx isn’t New York City’s least known borough (that title goes to Staten Island), but it is the city’s most forlorn. In both local and national surveys that try to measure happiness, The Bronx consistently ranks last of the five boroughs. Residents of The Bronx tend to suffer higher levels of unemployment, have lower than average incomes, have higher infant mortality rates and higher rates of chronic illness, tend to have lower levels of education, and have less desirable housing and housing security, than residents in the rest of the city. The Bronx also carries with it a poor reputation outside of the city. Those old enough to remember the decline in American cities in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s carry with them a mental picture of The Bronx informed by the small slice of it that became an urban wasteland. It’s a misinformed view, but enduring.
In The Bronx Warriors, the borough has become such a haven for crime and such a scene of urban decay that the city has given up on it. By the near future (1990!) the police have abandoned it, and the entire borough has been declared a lawless no man’s land. Anyone who ventures inside does so at their own risk. That’s the stuff Castellari and De Angelis stole from Escape from New York.
The borough is ruled by a pastiche of colorful street gangs. One group, The Zombies, has a uniform that consists of white Wehrmacht helmets, hockey sticks, and roller skates. Another, called The Scavengers, lurk in the sewers. Yet another, never given a name, but which I affectionately think of as The Jazz Hands, features the most deadly chorus line that off-off-off-Broadway has ever seen. This is the stuff the filmmakers stole from The Warriors.
The true antiheroes of The Bronx are The Riders, a gang of motorcycle toughs led by bizarre young hunk Trash (Marco Di Gregorio). When I write that he’s bizarre, I find that I have a hard time articulating just what I mean. As best as the internet can tell me, Di Gregorio was about seventeen years old at the time of filming. He’s too young for the part, and he can’t act a lick. But this movie is the type of shitty where he ends up being absolutely perfect for the role. All his lines were overdubbed by an American voice actor, and he was given a Bronx accent that’s just too precious to be off-putting.
One day, Trash and The Riders rescue a young damsel named Anne (Stefania Girolami) from The Zombies. Anne turns out to be the heir to the all-powerful Manhattan Corporation, and she fled to The Bronx in a fit of teenage rebelliousness. The head of the corporation dispatches a crooked cop known as The Hammer (Vic Morrow) to The Bronx to bring Anne back to civilization. Thus is set an epic battle for control of The Bronx.
All the exteriors in The Bronx Warriors were shot in New York City, and I hope that the location scout got paid well. The Riders’ home turf was filmed in the most rundown and deserted part of The Bronx the borough had to offer at the time, and the climactic battle had as its setting the old Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island (not The Bronx, but geographic accuracy is not usual in movies filmed in the city), decades before the city’s parks department prettied up the derelict landmark. As someone who used to get his jollies crawling around abandoned buildings, the locations chosen for this flick made me giddy.
This movie is silly from beginning to end. But unlike many other shitty movies, it’s never dull. Castellari showed a grasp of pace that’s atypical of a b-movie director. But make no mistake. This movie is so shitty that sometimes it plays like a parody of a shitty movie. It was impossible to take seriously at any point. From the way Trash carries himself, to the karate stylings of fellow gang leader Ogre (a perfectly cast Fred Williamson), to the outlandish costumes, to the idea that the toughest motorcycle gang in The Bronx would ride Hondas (a practical decision for the dystopian urban warrior, but hardly intimidating), this movie plays out as an operatic farce of American street crime, and I loved every minute of it. Alien: Resurrection can’t hold a candle to 1990: The Bronx Warriors.