Action director Enzo G. Castellari (THE LAST SHARK) and producer Fabrizio de Angelis (ZOMBI 2) takes on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and MAD MAX in a trio of films available on individual Blu-ray/DVD combo packs from Blue Underground.
In 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, the Bronx has been declared a "No Man's Land" with the police having given up trying to enforce law and order and the territory divided up by a number of warring factions: the biker gang The Riders lead by Trash (Mark Gregory of producer Fabrizio de Angelis' THUNDER trilogy), The Tigers lead by The Ogre (Fred Williamson, MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS), the street hockey bruisers The Zombies lead by Golan (George Eastman, ANTHROPOPHAGUS), deadly mimes The Iron Men lead by a choreographer (Carla Brait, TORSO), and the sewer-bound Scavengers. When privileged schoolgirl Ann (director Castellari's daughter Stefania Girolami) escapes Manhattan for the Bronx and is rescued from The Zombies by Trash, she becomes his girl. When two of The Riders (THE HEROIN BUSTERS' Giovanni Bonadonna and "Miss Big Apple"-turned-porn-star-turned-Catholic Michelle Maren) are brutally murdered and a ring belonging to one of The Tigers found near them, ambitious Ice (Joshua Sinclair, KEOMA) urges Trash to declare war on The Tigers; however, Ann believes that the murders have something to do with The Manhattan Company, the arms producer she stands to inherit when she turns eighteen. It turns out that she's right as rogue cop Hammer (Vic Morrow, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) has been appointed by his crooked superior Fisher (Castellari's brother Ennio Girolami, TENEBRAE) on behalf of the company's vice president (director Castellari) to retrieve Ann. Hammer continues to play the groups against one another – including convincing Ice to make a deal with Golan – making it especially difficult if not suicidal for Trash to appeal to The Ogre for help when The Zombies kidnap Ann. When Hammer's plans to swiftly retrieve Ann are thwarted by a wised-up Trash and Ogre, he implements "Operational Burnt Earth".
While John Carpenter made his antihero the only decent person left in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS sees the lawless inhabitants of the Bronx as the lesser evil (at least in degrees) and the police and corporations as unambiguously evil. Morrow's Hammer is no Plissken substitute or even a "Man with No Name" in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (we get very little pleasure out of him playing gangs against each other), and is ultimately revealed to be a soulless sadist enjoying the carnage he inflicts during the fiery climax. Williamson gets by on screen presence (although it is very odd having a film in which a character other than Williamson is referred to as "Hammer" or when Gregory says to mentions "That scum Hammer" to The Ogre's face), but his character is wasted along with the potentially interesting whip-wielding Witch (Betty Dessy), Eastman's Golan, Brait's Iron Man leader, Castellari stunt regular Angelo Ragusa supposedly merciless Leach, as well as Christopher Connelly (MANHATTAN BABY) as truck driver Hot Dog. Gregory is a rather stiff lead (crying glycerine tears when one of his buddies is dying), but you root for him simply because his kills are more badass than Hammer's shooting. Girolami acted in a few more of her father's films and would also serve as assistant director on a handful of De Angelis' efforts before marrying American make-up artist Jeff Goodwin (who had worked on De Angelis' KILLER CROCODILE films) and would serve as assistant director on a American television series like DAWSON'S CREEK and AMERICAN GOTHIC. The cast also includes Castellari regulars Rocco Lerro (THE SHARK HUNTER) and Massimo Vanni (ZOMBI 3) as biker characters and stuntmen. The fights and stunt work are rousing, as are the pyrotechnics (although it seems as though the same guy is set on fire several times during the climax), but the lensing of Sergio Salvati (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) – with regular operator Roberto Forges Davanzati (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) – is not quite as distinctive as his work for Fulci or Dean Cundey's low-light cinematography for the Carpenter model.
Trash is back in ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, although it is not a direct sequel. The Bronx is a blight on the landscape, and GC (General Construction) Company president Henry Clark (Ennio Girolami again) has come up with a project that involves demolishing the area and replacing it with a high tech city. A supposed epidemic has the Bronx under quarantine so the press and the public do not know that the people being forced out of their homes to be relocated to solar homes in New Mexico are actually being rounded up and exterminated by "Disinfestation Annihilation Squads" overseen by sadistic expelled prison warden Floyd Wrangler (Henry Silva, CRY OF A PROSTITUTE). While the defiant citizens who refuse to leave their apartments above are being killed off, those left of the gangs are living underground under the rule of Dablone (Antonio Sabato, SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHID). When outlaw Trash takes out a squad helicopter hunting him down, Wrangler retaliates by having his parents (GHOULIES II's Romano Puppo and THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS' Eva Czemerys) murdered. Trash, with the help of a few gang members, in turn wages a small-scale war against the squads (who have rigged a few of their detainees with explosives) before escaping underground with journalist Moon Grey (Valeria D'Obici, MIDNIGHT KILLER) who snuck into the Bronx to expose Wrangler's human rights violations on behalf of GC and its president. Convincing Dablone that the squad will eventually come underground to wipe them out ("Nobody would sit on a john full of dynamite!"), Moon suggests that the only way to get GC to negotiate is to kidnap its president. With the help of eccentric tracker Strike (LADYHAWKE's Timothy Brent, aka Giancarlo Prete) – who masterminded underground robberies of the First National Bank and Tiffany's – and his munitions expert toddler son Junior (Prete's son Alessandro, IRONMASTER) help them abduct Clark during a demolition ceremony. As Wrangler deploys his squads underground to prevent them from getting back to the Bronx, Clark's vice president (Paolo Malco, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) starts to feel like it would be better for him if Clark does not survive.
With proportionally more action sequences, a massive body count (one hundred and seventy-four, according to super fan Lance Manley), and an even more paired down plot, ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX flies by fast and is suitably vicious enough for the viewer to ignore its rather thrown together nature. Gregory is a little more relaxed here while D'Obici's performance is more undone by her heavy Brooklyn-accented dubbing than the actress' own wide-eyed scenery chewing. Silva is going through the motions and getting by on gleeful malevolence, but Ennio Girolami's president is actually the more interesting baddie here. Prete's son is actually one of the least annoying Italian genre film child actors even with the young woman-as-little boy dubbing (even if the film does not fully realize the perverse potential of a child who takes such glee in watching adults stumble into his explosive traps). Porn starlet Moana Pozzi (EROTIC FLASH) appears as Dablone's right hand woman, blasting away a few squad men before her slow motion demise. Carla Brait returns as the leader of the Iron Men but is given no more to do here, and Vanni is again present briefly as another biker (although he probably doubled for more than a hundred of the squad members blown sky high, set on fire, or riddled with bullets). The scoring of Francesco De Masi (NEW YORK RIPPER) is jazzier than the funky themes of Walter Rizatti (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) for the first film while the cinematography of Blasco Giurato (CINEMA PARADISO) is more workmanlike.
The year is 2019 A.D., the nuclear holocaust has been over for nine years, and THE NEW BARBARIANS (or WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND as it was called stateside) are The Templars, lead by One (George Eastman) and dedicated to exterminating all survivors for "the crime of being alive" after the Earth "raped itself." They stalk the caravans of survivors with their weapons-equipped dune buggies searching for that last corner of civilization where things are as they were before, killing and raiding their resources. When ex-Templar Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete again) rescues wounded lone female Alma (Anna Kanakis, AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) from the clutches of the Templars and humiliates One's favored successor Mako (Massimo Vanni again) in the process, trusted aide Shadow (Ennio Girolami sporting the most ridiculous sixties female hairstyle) advises him to get rid of Scorpion once and for all; but One wants Scorpion's submission not just his life. Ambitious Mako decides that One's reticence to claim Scorpion's head means that he should be "demoted" along with Shadow (his main detractor). Mako elects to go after Scorpion himself, bringing him into the path of an innocent caravan of people who "believe in something called God" lead by Father Moses (Venantino Venantini, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who Scorpion and thorn-in-his-side fellow loner Nadir (Fred Williamson) have sought out to attend to Alma's broken shoulder.
Despite the ROAD WARRIOR-esque borrowings, THE NEW BARBARIANS is a Girolami western in a post-apocalyptic setting, with the hint of homoeroticism in lone gunmen and all-male gangs who have little use for women beyond the basics is exploded here (in a rather retrograde representation) with prominent codpieces, see-through bulletproof armor, and a gang of men (with very particular initiation rites) whose sense of continuity and succession is completely independent of procreation. Although the body count is not as high as ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, THE NEW BARBARIANS does linger on the gory details with some exploding torsos worthy of ALIEN CONTAMINATION. Stoic Prete and stunning Kanakis are ultimately less interesting than Eastman and mohawked Vanni, who easily rivals Eastman in the "crazy eyes" department during scenes of carnage (Girolami's hairstyle makes him hard to take seriously throughout). Williamson seeming only slightly less superfluous to the plot by way of his wicked bow and arrow kills (although the caravan fortunately contains DEVILFISH's Iris Peynado to provide him some "deep concentration service"). Zora Kerova (CANNIBAL FEROX) pops up among the caravan members, along with Castellari's son Andrea and daughter Stefania (Castellari himself has a cameo as a dying man). Like ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, THE NEW BARBARIANS shoehorns in a cute kid to participate in the carnage. In this case, it's neither Prete's son Alessandro nor Venantini's son Luca; rather, it is everyone's favorite smiling Fulci brat Giovanni Frezza (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) as mechanical expert Genius who fixes up Scorpion's car, outfits it with a phallic drill for some payback, and manages to hit several Templars in the neck with his slingshot. Despite the western shadings and a few neat camera angles, the photography of Fausto Zuccoli (who lensed ZOMBI HOLOCAUST by Castellari's father Marino Girolami) looks rather bland in all but a few night scenes and dark interiors that make good use of neon green gels. Ex-Goblin Claudio Simonetti (DEMONS) contributes the score this time around, and the synth cues provide able accompaniment even if they are not as atmospheric as his CONQUEST cues.
1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS was released theatrically by United Film Distribution Company (UFDC) and ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX by New Line Cinema in 1983 while THE NEW BARBARIANS was released the following year by New Line (as WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND). The former two hit VHS in 1985 via Media Home Entertainment and the latter from Thorn EMI. 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and THE NEW BARBARIANS received special edition DVD releases from Media Blasters with commentary by Castellari and interviews with Williamson. All three films received 16:9 DVD releases in the UK from Shameless separately and in a boxed set called THE BRONX WARRIORS TRILOGY with different extras. The single-layer 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfers of these Techniscope films – shot with spherical lenses on two perforations instead of four, resulting in a non-anamorphic scope image that was then blown-up and optically squeezed to four perforations for Cinemascope/Panavision-compatible projection – improve on the earlier DVD and video transfers (the latter goes without saying) but there's still more video noise than film grain as we have come to expect from lower-end transfers of Italian films on DVD and Blu-ray (ESCAPE looks a bit softer overall). Although ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (which opens with a gorgeous Fulvia Film logo) sports a Dolby Stereo logo, the audio on the disc is lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono as with the other two films (I'm somehow doubtful that ESCAPE or THUNDER made the same year were really released in Dolby Stereo).
All three films are accompanied by brand new commentary tracks featuring Castellari and son Andrea (who was twelve at the time of 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and spent his summers on his father's film sets), moderated by Severin Films' David Gregory. They discuss their initial trepidation at shooting in the Bronx (and how actor Sinclair's friend boxer Rocky Graziano made a few calls for them), working with real Hell's Angels off- and on-screen (as well as the unkind remarks they made about Gregory's awkward strut, which Williamson also touches upon in his interview), the mix of New York locations and Rome studio interiors (as well as some rundown Italian factories), as well as working with family and the resourceful producer de Angelis. Throughout the extras on the first two films, Castellari and others express bewilderment at why Gregory left acting (including a deal for him to work in the states for a year with his expenses covered by an interested producer). Castellari tells us that he was a loner at the gym, shy off-camera, and that he seemed more intimidated over his lack of acting ability rather than the physicality of the roles (Castellari assured him that he would teach him how to act). It is, however, Andrea's memories of how the seventeen-year-old Gregory was rather timid with the elder filmmakers but talkative and friendly with him that suggests that Gregory was just a kid and that he did indeed leave acting in his early twenties because fame did not grab him the way it might most of us.
On ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, Castellari reveals that Gregory was not as difficult to convince to return (having got a brief taste of fame). THE NEW BARBARIANS was actually in production while de Angelis was putting ESCAPE together in the wake of the first film's popularity. They also touch upon Moana Pozzi's pre-porn career, her affair with a socialist politician, simultaneously making adult films and presenting on a children's television show, running for parliament alongside fellow porn star Cicciolona, and the mystery of whether she actually did die at age thirty-three or might still be around. Castellari also fills in some more Italian trivia about the dell'Acqua stunt family (ZOMBI 2's poster boy Ottaviano dell'Acqua doubled for Gregory), the bit part of dialogue coach/occasional actor Tom Felleghy (NIGHTMARE CITY), as well as a more detailed discussion of how he plans the film's stunts and special effects in pre-production. On THE NEW BARBARIANS, Andrea starts off pointing out that the English title sequence is different with the Italian credits actually appearing over the opening montage sequence with the reveal of the dead astronauts. Castellari reveals that although the basic idea was that of de Angelis (suggested during the making of 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS), it was his own idea to do it as a futuristic western (pointing out the various western motifs as they appear). The budget was considerably smaller as was taken on as sort of a challenge or bet with de Angelis that he could do it (with the design and building of the cars requiring the most time and money while the laser guns were actual children's toys). They chuckle over Ennio's wig as well as friends Prete and Eastman's nervousness about filming the rape scene (as well as Castellari's instructions to the costume designer about the alterations to Prete's clothes for the scene). All three of the tracks can meander at points, but they all give a very warm impression of the making of the films and of the people involved.
1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS video extras kick off with the first part of "Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio de Angelis in Conversation" (14:09) in which they discuss how de Angelis initially asked Castellari to director ZOMBI 2, but the filmmaker was neither enamored of the horror genre or doing a sequel. They rehash some of the same anecdotes about working in the Bronx, how Castellari met Gregory, and how he had wanted to work with Morrow since seeing him in THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (and had worked with him before this film on THE LAST SHARK). "Sourcing the Weaponry"" (11:55) is an interesting visit by Castellari to the warehouse of effects artist Paolo Ricci (HANDS OF STEEL) with a look at hundreds of retractable weapons including props from all three of the films (from Trash's brass knuckle-handled knife to Genius' slingshot). In "Adventures in the Bronx", (7:20) actor/stuntman Vanni recalls how Gregory worked out at the same gym as himself and Castellari, shooting in the Bronx, as well as his punk hairstyle in THE NEW BARBARIANS. There are two theatrical trailers for the film, but they are just English and Italian variations of the same thing (2:42 and 2:40, respectively) while the UFDC trailer has not been included (although it is probably derived from the montage here). The poster and still gallery features roughly a hundred posters, video and soundtrack covers, and lobby cards for the film (the first to films formed part of a trilogy called THE RIFFS in Germany, with the third film being Bruno Mattei's RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR while THE NEW BARBARIANS was released there as METROPOLIS 2000). The disc also includes trailers for the other two films.
ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX actually features the third part of "Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio de Angelis in Conversation" (13:15) in which they recall how shooting in the Bronx for 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS was instructive because they realized just how many sections of Rome looked like areas of the Bronx, and how to blend locations with reverse angles in either country and physically masking some transitions (switching from the Bronx to Rome with a tracking shot not unlike the one Cundey did to get from The Statue of Liberty to a location miles away). The production was considerably easier because of the locations scouted for the first film and the greater concentration on action and special effects. They are both a bit lukewarm about Silva (and his toupee). De Angelis also reveals that it was easier to pre-sell the film to Japan and Europe and later America since they would want to see footage before buying. "The Hunt for Trash" (12:42) is an interview with superfan Lance Manley about his quest to find Mark Gregory during his two stays in Rome and sending some of the country's Marco Gregorios, Marco di Gregorios, and Marco de Gregorio's a tape recording and letter from Castellari expressing his own desire to reconnect with the actor. The international (3:15) and Italian (3:15) trailers are once again variations on one another, while the poster and still gallery has about eighty posters, video covers, and lobby cards. The disc also features trailers for the other two films.
THE NEW BARBARIANS features the second part of "Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio de Angelis in Conversation" (13:55), in which they discuss how the Italian distributor Goffredo Lombardo liked Castellari's idea for the film, but he and Castellari knew they would have to act fast because of the release of THE ROAD WARRIOR in Australia. They describe it as a movie "shot at home" without much interference or concerns over location shooting in the Bronx. They talk about the importance of jumping on popular trends but being different enough (of Castellari's THE LAST SHARK, he says producer Edmondo Amati insisted he add some more shared elements from JAWS). With only fifteen barbarians, he recalls how he had to use the camera and editing to make it seem like there were more in any given sequence (as well as how Eastman's and Williamson's heights required staging scenes in which they shared the frame with other actors more creatively). A cigar chomping Williamson appears in "Tales of The Hammer" (20:22), starting off of course with the origin of his nickname, his pro-footaball career and his concurrent work as an architect, as well as how he needed another outlet once he stopped playing football (which lead to him driving straight to Hollywood). He ran into Robert Altman who did not know anything about football and asked him to direct the football scene and acting in M*A*S*H, which lead to his low budget directing career concurrent with his rise as a blaxploitation star before expanding to Europe to sell his films and finding that his presence in films was seen as giving a film a better shot at American distribution. He discusses the techniques he learned from Larry Cohen and how he saw them employed in Italian films, acting on noisy sets since the tracks would be looped, and the aggressiveness of Italian stuntmen. While the disc does feature similar international (3:24) and Italian (3:26) trailers, it also includes a second Italian trailer (1:58) as well as trailers for the other two films. The poster and still gallery features roughly a hundred posters, lobby cards (mostly German), and video covers. (Eric Cotenas)
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