Enzo G. Castellari was one of Italy’s great journeyman directors during that ’60s to ’80s era when that country’s genre film mill was at its most productive. His filmography from this era is packed with films that are favorites with Eurocult fans for their mix of flashy, kinetic visuals and pulse-pounding pulp narratives. One of his most notable achievements during this period was a string of wild post-apocalyptic action films he made back to back between 1982 and 1983. 1990: The Bronx Warriors was the first of this bunch and it remains a standard-bearer for fans of post-apocalyptic action.
The script for 1990: The Bronx Warriors was penned by prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and it essentially throws The Warriors, Escape From New York and the dramatic conventions of the late ’60s biker flick into a blender. It’s set in a future where the Bronx has been abandoned by New York to become a no man’s land where different territories are controlled by different gangs. One such gang is led by Trash (Mark Gregory), a stoic, musclebound type whose life becomes dangerous when he stops a rival gang from attacking Anne (Stefania Girolami), a young woman who has snuck into the Bronx.
Anne is the heiress to a huge fortune and the corporation behind that fortune isn’t cool with her slumming it in the Bronx. They send in a mercenary and ex-Bronx resident named Hammer (Vic Morrow) to get her back. Using the help of lone wolf local resident Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly), Hammer plots to turn the gangs against each other to achieve his aim. Meanwhile, Trash becomes endangered by a turncoat in his own gang as he falls for Anne and tries to broker a peace in the Bronx with rival gang leader Ogre (Fred Williamson).
The synopsis above sounds pretty standard in its progression but it can’t prepare you for what an eccentric experience 1990: The Bronx Warriors is. For starters, Sacchetti’s script is full of strange Italian approximations of slang-y American tough talk that sound like hasty Google translations. Full, regular traffic in Manhattan can be seen across the water in many wide shots. The gangs take the concept of different uniforms and stylistic affectations from The Warriors but push it to lunatic levels: there’s a group that skates and uses hockey sticks as weapons, Ogre’s gang dresses like blaxploitation pimps, another gang dances and wears Party City plastic tam o’shanters, etc.
Finally, there is the performance of first-time actor Gregory: he’s like an alien trying to approximate the appearance and behavior of a human with incomplete data, particularly in his movements. When he walks, he looks like a G.I. Joe figure that has become sentient. The script leans on his character to be an Eastwood-style badass who conceals a big heart and Gregory’s enacting of these beats have a strange, plastic quality to them.
However, these quirks just add a unique flavor to the pulpy fun of 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Castellari’s direction keeps the patchwork of offbeat elements and b-movie conventions together, giving it a quick, steady pace and a sense of comic book visual flair. He’s aided in the latter area by excellent scope photography from Fulci film regular Sergio Salvati. They find a certain grungy visual poetry in the ruins of the Bronx, most memorably in a sequence where Trash and Ogre’s gangs face off against the backdrop of a bridge while a nearby drummer bangs on his kit. It sounds crazy and it is… but it’s also wonderful in a creative, think-outside-the-box manner. Further fun is added by an ace score from Walter Rizzati that mixes funk, rock and synths in a way that perfectly encapsulates the film’s distinctly early ’80s vision of the future.
The last key element is the strong collection of supporting players that add b-movie marquee value. Williamson is typically charismatic as Trash’s tough yet benevolent rival, effortlessly selling us on the character’s badass bonafides and ghetto-chic style, and Connelly brings a bit of soulfulness to his conflicted misfit character. Also amusing is Castellari regular Joshua Sinclair as Trash’s mouthy rival within his own gang. That said, it’s Morrow who threatens to walk away with the movie with his operatically macho work as Hammer. He makes a meal of each line of tough-guy dialogue and has a ball hamming it up in the action scenes: look for moments where he lets out a wordless yell as he shoots down a gang of attackers and a moment of triumph near the end where he waves his arm wildly while laughing like a cartoon bad guy.
In short, 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the kind of movie that mainstream types might dismiss as a throwaway cash-in… but there’s weird magic here for those willing to open their minds to its quirky Italian genre mill wavelength. Call it junk food if you like but Castellari’s stylish, energetic direction makes it a five-course feast of junk food.