With a title so intriguing, and a poster so gnarly, it’s no surprise that 1990: The Bronx Warriors is one hell of a movie. Made in Italy and shot mostly in New York, it takes a tonne of influence from Blaxploitation and Spaghetti Westerns, but sets its story in a dystopian future. See, in the far off year of 1990, the Bronx has been declared a lawless zone, where proper society discards its trash, roamed by burly hockey players, punk bikies, hotrodding pimps, and facepainted tap dancers. Yes, it is all a bit similar to The Warriors which came three years earlier, but that only adds to the trashy appeal. Directed by the prolific Enzo G Castellari – creator of the original Inglorious Bastards and some great post apocalypse flicks – the film is positively dripping in style, while remaining totally silly.
You must be burning to know how the Bronx turned into such a rowdy, lawless place. Wait. Apparently the concept came about after producer Fabrizio De Angelis accidentally took the subway through it and was confronted by muggers. That’s more information than the story will give you – all we know is that there’s some sinister Manhattan Corporation and they are probably responsible for the whole situation. The Corporation’s rich and powerful president is not too popular with his daughter Ann – the director’s daughter Stefania Girolami – so she takes off and hides out in the Bronx. Here she meets our hero Trash, yep that’s his name, I want to say it’s Castellari being self aware but I’m not sure. Trash just happens to be the leader of punk bikie gang The Riders, and is played by 17 year old, Steven Tyler lookalike Mark Gregory, who went on to a short but stellar career of similar low budget stuff.
The Riders are embroiled in a struggle for control over the Bronx with hotrodding street toughs The Tigers, and their leader The Ogre – NFL and Blaxploitation star Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson. there are street politics to be settled and rather impressive funerals to be attended as chaos erupts in the Bronx. Ann’s presence brings further danger, as Corporation lackeys start shaking up the place, namely the sadistic cop Hammer – Vic Morrow of Bad News Bears and a plethora of television appearances. The other gangs of aggressive weirdos, including rollerblading hockey players, gaudily dressed minstrels, and dusty hobos, start to take advantage of the compromised situation to varying success. As a result, action breaks out frequently, featuring a smattering of slow motion and the occasional impalement as we draw towards the fiery inferno of a climax.
Trash himself is a joy to watch, mostly because Gregory – originally Marco Di Gregorio of Rome – can’t really act. If the legends are true, the 1990: The Bronx Warriors producers discovered him at their local gym, and the rest is history. His long, curly locks and tanned, unnaturally tense physique make him look at once mildly imposing, and a bit of a joke. The scene where he meets Ann feels played out in slow motion thanks to his wooden quality, and his monologue about death is golden, but perhaps he’s just way deeper into the part than we can comprehend. The poor bastard has been dubbed over in a thick Bronx accent, so we only get half of the picture anyway.
Strangely enough, most of the other major actors nail their parts, coming across quite professional. Girolami as Ann is honestly breathtaking to watch, she oozes golden era Hollywood in a way most can’t begin to emulate, you can almost see the gauze on the lens. Williamson is suitably badarse as The Ogre, and while he gets a criminally lean portion of the action, he still manages to be the embodiment of cool. Vic Morrow, as Hammer, pulls off the unhinged thing well, although sadly this was one of his last films before the horrific Twilight Zone: The Movie accident.
With the actors largely pulling their weight, 1990: The Bronx Warriors gets a lot of things right, almost clawing its way out of the trash heap entirely. The style is seriously cool, borrowed as I said from the Spaghetti Westerns with which Castellari had honed his craft, and 70s Blaxploitation. With mobile camera work and tight shots in abundance, regular collaborator Gianfranco Amicucci cuts everything together with flair. As a result there are some great sequences, including one massive scene on the East River where The Riders square off against The Tigers in full force, complete with diegetic drum score – eat your heart out Alejandro G. Iñárritu – all just to show the discovery of a dead body.
The locations and sets do a pretty impressive job making the Bronx a desolate dump, although I don’t know how much of a stretch that was. It should be said that some of the locations are definitely other parts of New York standing in, probably just because they look cooler, which is a good enough reason for me. The really rubbish elements of the movie mostly involve Dardano Sacchetti’s partially borrowed narrative. It’s all very basic and jumps chronological gaps without much context, failing to live up to its Shakespearean aspirations. Oh, and I have no clue what it is with Italians and envisioning the denizens of desolate futures in camp, Technicolor costumes.
1990: The Bronx Warriors is a film that commands your attention, not through clever narrative or well drawn characters, but for its impressive style and oddball vision. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into, from the crazy Bronx street gangs and their ridiculous getups, to the slick and stylish presentation that seems too good for the production. I do believe it was on the low budget side of Italian cinema – not that it was a particularly affluent industry at the time – but the location shots and quality cast make me question how accurate that assumption is. Whatever the case, Castellari and his Italian and American buddies balance the good with the trash, and the movie is totally caught up in its own crazy world.