Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Enzo G. Castellari, Dardano Sacchetti, Elisa Livia Briganti, Tito Carpi
Cast: Mark Gregory, Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Henry Silva, George Eastman, Giancarlo Prete
Length: 91 min/89 min/92 min.
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, and Spanish
- Audio Commentaries with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari
- 3-part Series: Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation
- Sourcing The Weaponry: Enzo G. Castellari visits the Italian Weapons Rental House of Paolo Ricci
- Adventures In The Bronx: Interview with Actor/Stuntman Massimo Vanni
- The Hunt For Trash: Interview with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Manley
- Tales Of The Hammer: Interview with Star Fred Williamson
- Poster Galleries
- Theatrical Trailers
When thinking about the history of 80s Italian genre cinema, no three films seem as influential and important to its formation than do 1979’s Mad Max and The Warriors and 1981’s Escape from New York. Each film — albeit through a very different lens — depicted a destructive future, a future where the boundaries between law and order have eroded. For this bleak vision, New York served as the perfect backdrop. The city had been going through a decade-plus cycle of violence and crime. In the 1970s, pamphlets were dispersed aimed at scaring tourists from visiting the city and by 1975 with the, now, famous (although potentially inaccurate) Daily News headline “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” the city’s fate and image worldwide seemed to be sealed. NYC, for those outside of the city, was viewed as a literal wasteland, and filmmakers, especially Italians, capitalized on this concept. Of all the Italian post-apocalyptic films — and, trust us, there are more than you’d think —, there are a handful that stand above the rest. With the sole exception of 2019: After the Fall of New York, the gold standard for the genre is Enzo G. Castellari’s “Bronx Warriors Trilogy.” While the three films included — 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx, and The New Barbarians — are not all connected (the latter, having nothing to do with the Bronx), the films have been catalogued as a sort of thematic trilogy. [For brevity, the three films will be treated as a trilogy, despite the aforementioned problem]. Shameless was the first release all three of Castellari’s films together in a great DVD boxset in the UK in 2009 (Shreik Show having released 1990: The Bronx Warriors and The New Barbarians with Sergio Martino’s 2019: After the Fall of New York in 2005) but, until now, the films have yet to be given a full restoration/blu-ray treatment. Thanks to Blue-Underground, the wait is over.
Its 1990 and crime in the Bronx has risen to such a disastrous level that it has been exiled from the rest of Manhattan. With the absence of a state/police apparatus in place, criminal factions have divided the neighborhoods amongst themselves, with all individual gang lords answering to The Ogre (Fred Williamson), the self-imposed King of the Bronx. Despite the absence of law, the communities seem to function somewhat peacefully — that is, as long as they don’t invade their neighboring territories. Their sovereignty comes under attack, however, when the daughter of the Manhattan Corporation President flees her upper-class existence for a life in Bronx…
Though Castellari plays in coy in interviews, it’s very clear that his films are emerging from a very specific influence. Yet, in spite of any intentions that may or may not have existed, these films are not rip offs, nor are they inferior clones. From its first moments, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Castellari begins developing his characteristically strong visual flair. The Italians really knew how to craft a title sequence — an art that seems all but lost in modern cinema. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (hereafter referred to as 1990), is easily one of the most memorable title treatments in cinema history. Giving the audience a taste of what’s to come, Castellari cuts together a sort of demo reel of the film’s weaponry and colorful characters. Leather, studs, knifes, boots, fists, and more — it’s a battalion of exciting imagery, a visual battle cry that sets up the style for the remaining film.Following the credits — although the credits work towards establishing this as well — Castellari begins creating the expansive world in which his characters inhabit. Shooting on-location in the Bronx for most of the film’s exterior scenes, Castellari brilliantly exploits the decrepit nature the borough was in at the time. While, like Escape from New York, there is the suggestion that world has entered into a sort of fascist, corporate ruled dystopia, this is not an outright post-apocalyptic future. What the film does best is construct a living, breathing reality. While watching the film, you get the sense that when the cameras shut off these lives continue. Castellari effectively achieves this by showcases glimpses or fragments of ideas without fully explaining them. It’s very much akin to Star Wars, where there is without a doubt a logical explanation for everything shown on camera, Castellari just doesn’t always bother explaining it to us. The joy, then, becomes imagining what, where, who, and why these things exist. Nothing is force fed to viewers. All of the diverse gangs — the motorcycle clad The Riders, the rollerblading, hockey equipped Zombies, The Tigers — offer enough visual idiosyncrasies to define their nature, without really offering any definite justification for their origins.
While Trash (Mark Gregory) is the “star” of the film, Fred Williamson and Vic Morrow, who plays a callous and bloodthirsty mercenary named Hammer, sort of steal the show. One wonders, with Williamson’s ego, how he took to a character in the film being donned his own nickname but, needless to say, Morrow imbues a sense of honor to it. It is a credit to these actors that what should for every logical reason be completely ridiculous, comes off as sincere. While Morrow and Williamson have often been the most talked about actors in the film, Christopher Connelly (Hot Dog) may offer the most earnest performance of all. Connelly’s role has been criminally overlooked and, while admittedly over-the-top, he really gives Hot Dog a sense of humanity that allows his character to believably reside between the poles of order and disorder. Additionally, the cult-favorite George Eastman, here playing the ponytailed leader of the Zombies, Golan, offers his usual manic performance but is only featured in the film for a few minutes.Its not that Gregory is bad — while a bit lanky, he has a physical presence that is necessary for the role — but his abilities aren’t really honed until the film’s sequel, Escape from the Bronx. Where in the original film he is stiff and seemingly uncomfortable — cast and crew members, including members of the Hells Angels, chastised him for his inability to even know how to walk, leading to his infamous river-side “strut” — by Escape he loosens up and starts looking like a real action star. On the whole, the fight choreographer is far better in Escape than it is in 1990, which could lend extra credibility to Gregory’s persona.
Escape from the Bronx starts up shortly after the point where 1990 leaves off. The gangs have (mostly) disbanded and been forced underground. The families left in the Bronx are being pressured to evacuate for the promise of pre-furnished homes in New Mexico. When the remaining families refuse to leave, the Manhattan Corporation enlist Floyd Wrangler — a sort of rehashed Hammer, this time played by another Italian cinema regular and favorite Henry Silva — to exterminate the infestation. Of those who perish, one couple includes Trash’s parents, which sets him off on a mission for revenge.Silva plays the antagonist role far different than Morrow. While Morrow hams it up, Silva relies on his normal wheelhouse of a sedate, nonchalant attitude mixed with the occasional freak out — “Sugar makes me CRAZY!” emerging as one of the most iconic lines from the film. Castellari’s only error may be underusing Silva, with even his demise seeming rather rushed. The other welcomed addition to the cast of the sequel is Giancarlo Prete, who plays Trash’s reluctant partner Strike. Prete has a far more engaging charisma than Gregory, something that Castellari seems conscious of, with Strike emerging as the film’s more active hero.
Stylistically speaking, Escape is a rather fluid continuation from the first film and even manages to improve a few aspects from the first. First of all, Francesco De Masi’s score is fantastic. While Walter Rizzati’s work for the original was excellent, De Masi really gives the sequel a bigger, more explosive feel. Cinematographically speaking, the films are comparable, despite being shot by different DPs (Sergio Salvati for 1990 and Blasco Giurato for Escape). Castellari is not only a champion of slow motion, he is perhaps only second to Sam Peckinpah in its use. Littered throughout the film are countless shots of ultra-violence depicted through Castellari’s over-cranked lens; a symphony of destruction, if we ever saw one.Whether intentional or not — although it is hard to imagine them as anything but — both films seem to pack a very explicit political message. With Eurocrime already on a fast rack towards its end, both Hammer and Hot Dog seem to represent everything good and bad about cinematic vigilantes that were extremely popular in 70s Italian crime cinema: Hammer the fascist and blood hungry selfish man on a mission, and Hot Dog the redeemable and justifiable vigilante forced into actions beyond his control. The films are also very critical of corporations and the State. Escape seems to understand the problem — one that still afflicts NYC — of gentrification. The brutal ridding of the citizens so that they can replace their home with luxurious high-scale developments is only so much of an exaggeration from the callous actions that actually affect lower class New Yorkers today.
It is with the third film in the series (actually released before Escape in Italy), The New Barbarians aka Warriors of the Wasteland, that the biggest changes in Castellari’s style can be seen. The New Barbarians, the black sheep of the “trilogy,” is the closest that Castellari gets to making something that could be arguably classified as a “Mad Max” clone. Yet, Castellari is too competent a director to really make pure trash cinema and there is still a lot going on here that can’t be seen in some of his contemporary’s films. The plot for The New Barbarians is a bit looser than the prior films, relying more on the genre’s established tropes. The film follows Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete) — the Max-esque loner — who is forced to band together with Nadir (Fred Williamson) in order to fight off a nihilistic gang hell-bent on crushing all the remaining members of the human race, in the wake of nuclear holocaust.
What is most noticeably different about this film, is that it would seem as if Castellari is working with a much smaller budget. Most of the film is shot on-location in desolate and/or secluded areas of Italy. While, as always, Williamson offer a fantastic performance, he is a bit underused — as is Eastman in one of his most absurd but entertaining roles. While The New Barbarians is a bit of a lesser effort by Castellari, there are enough moments of brilliance to keep the film both entertaining and engaging.
For each of these films, Blue-Underground offer up a 1080p, 2.35:1, MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer, and while quality wavers (due to original elements) we are pleased to report that they’ve have arrived on Blu-Ray in fantastic form. Even when the DVDs were released, Escape from the Bronx remained unreleased in a region 1 format, so its no small feat for Blue-Underground to offer the first ever digital release of Escape in North America. Off all the films, the transfer on 1990 stands out the most. The crisp and bright colors and well-intact grain structure without any signs of digital tinkering lead to one of the best looking Blu-Ray releases of the year. While neither Escape (the weakest of them all, looking a bit soft) or New Barbarians looks quite as good — most likely due to the original elements — they are both high quality releases that are representative of Blue-Underground’s great track record.
Similar to the video components, the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mixes all the releases are of fine quality. There are no signs of decay or other age related ailments. The biggest problem with these releases, which was also apparent on the Man, Pride and Vengeance release, is the inclusion of a rather quiet mix. In order to hear the film properly I was forced to turn my stereo up to a volume louder than is generally required for comfortable listening. This is, however, a rather small problem.
Strung out over the three films is a lengthy interview between Castellari and Italian genre super producer Fabrizio De Angelis. This piece is super engaging and is a must see for Italian genre cinema fans. The men have a candid and moving relationship and it’s a treat to see them remissness about working on these three films. Another fun piece is a short featurette tracking Castellari’s return to Paolo Ricci’s “weapon factory.” It is in this that we really see Castellari’s playful side, as Ricci takes him through his studio and Castellari rejoices by playing with the ‘toys.’ There are also interviews with stunt coordinator Rocco Lerro — who confirms the often dangerous nature of the set —, and Fred Williamson — who offers his usual answers but does seem a bit more candid than usual. Another featurette of interest, The Hunt for Trash, tracks a fan’s years-long attempts to locate Mark Gregory — who has since his departure from cinema been missing. Finally, there are the inclusion of trailers, stills galleries, and feature length commentary tracks for each film with Castellari himself.
It’s exciting to witness films that have formerly been mistreated or just ignored finally get the treatment they deserve. That’s what Blue-Underground has done with their release of the “Bronx Warriors Trilogy,” they’ve applied a seldom seen quality of care and love to films that a great deal of the world consider nothing more than schlock. These films are not, however, schlock. Castellari is an impressive and grossly underrated director. With Blue-Underground’s stunning transfers and special features added to already fantastic films, these releases are sure to be among the best of the year.