Thursday, 2 April 2015

Post-Apocalypse All'Italiana

Mad Max fever is currently revving up on the Web, and with the fourth film in the series due for release this summer, I had an idea to check out a more modest vision of the apocalypse courtesy of two Enzo Castellari films, The Bronx Warriors from 1982 and The New Barbarians made the following year..

The Bronx Warriors, or to give it its slightly clumsy full title 1990: The Bronx Warriors is not strictly a post-apocalyptic film, rather it posited a future where whole tracts of urban neighborhoods have slipped into lawlessness and become no-go zones. Looking at the locations where Enzo Castellari and his crew filmed, it appears the future had already arrived, with the action framed against endless blocks of rubble-strewn, abandoned tenements. In the film, Ann, a young runaway and daughter of a wealthy industrialist takes refuge in the Bronx where she hooks up with Trash, the leader of a biker gang called the Riders. Ann's father who has been grooming his daughter to take over his multi-million dollar corporation sends Hammer, a ruthless, sadistic police lieutenant into the Bronx to retrieve Ann by any means necessary... Inventive, energetic and propelled along by a sure-fire confidence, The Bronx Warriors is one of the great Italian action films. Not nearly as grim or ultra-violent as similar films that followed in its wake, Castellari's film often feels like a Western in disguise, in fact the rousing climax has the gangs of the Bronx pitted against heavily armed riot police on horseback. As well as raiding ideas from Escape From New York, the film takes inspiration from The Warriors, with the Bronx kitted out with even more outrageous looking gangs, like the roller skating Zombies or the camp, toe-tappin' high-kickin' Iron Men. Leading man Marco de Gregorio at least looks the part if nothing else, while Fred Williamson playing Bronx kingpin The Ogre, and Vic Morrow, effectively appearing in Lee Van Cleef role bring much class to the picture., not to mention Zombie-leader George Eastman who effortlessly livens up every scene he appears in. An excellent beginning...

The ever industrious Enzo Castellari quickly followed up The Bronx Warriors with another post-apocalyptic film, and this time, it genuinely was, with The New Barbarians set in the nuclear ravaged wasteland of 2019. To say that The New Barbarians leans heavily on Mad Max 2 would be a kind way of putting it, the film a virtually remake of George Miller's film, right down to the customized vehicles and gloomy looking leading man. In the film, a nomadic loner named Scorpion driving a souped up Firebird car defends an isolated community against the Templars, a sadistic religious sect intent of purging the earth of the human race. Putting aside the film's shameless plunder of George Miller's film, The New Barbarians is severely compromised by the production's penny-pinching budget, the entire film taking place in the same damn stone quarry throughout (in some shots, the excavation machinery clearly visible), or the same stretch of abandoned road, all to numbing effect. Even the vehicles look strictly low-rent, a few dune buggies tricked out with spiked fenders, the occasional rotating blade or in the case of Scorpion's car, an impossibly dainty rocket launcher in the booth. And yet, The New Barbarians is strangely compelling, thanks to Castellari's heroic attempt to make something out of nothing - the idea of the Templars cashing in their horses for automobiles is rather good, and there's one particularly out-there moment where the subtle homosexual subtext of The Road Warrior is picked up and ran with - but I will leave that for unsuspecting viewers to discover themselves. Cast wise, Fred Williamson returns to the fold and he's easily the film's biggest asset, as does George Eastman, playing the Templar's leader with disarming intensity. Incidentally, the film comes with a health warning for the inclusion of Giovanni Frezza (or Bob from House by the Cemetery) playing a whiz kid mechanic. You have been warned.


  1. Excellent, Wes! A nice follow on from our lengthy conversation yesterday... I've a massive soft spot for anything Italian and exploitation, so it's no surprise that I love both of these films. Delighted you are in to them as much as I am. I think both Bronx Warriors films are perfect fun, though the sequel definitely trumps it in the silly action stakes. Some of the lines are side-splitting; "It could be a pile of shit out of someone's asshole!", and it's one of the few films that I'm very forgiving to on how much it steals from other, greater films.

    The New Barbarians is definitely the most bonkers out of the three apocalyptic films Castellari made at the time, and probably the only film in which the hero gets buggered by the bad guys. It really does have everything; gory violence, cheap vehicular destruction, Fred the Hammer... A perfect midnight trash movie!

  2. Thanks John. I must come clean and say this post was written quite a while ago as a review of the Shriek Show Post Apocalyptic set (which added 2019: After The Fall Of New York). I had two-thirds of the thing bashed out but I lost interest in completing it before I could get something down on the Martino film - which is a fantastic, rollicking picture by the way. Anyway, I blew some dust off it earlier today and stuck it up...