1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx are Italian post-apocalyptic action films directed by Enzo G. Castellari and starring Mark Gregory as Bronx gang leader, Trash.
The second one of these films was campy enough to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 under a different name. I’m going to discuss the 1990: The Bronx Warriors and its sequel together, since anyone interested in the one is likely to want to watch the other.
Casting in these movies included an unknown bodybuilder and the Hells Angels. American actors like Vic Morrow, Fred Williamson, and Henry Silva lent their talents to one or the other of these stories.
Early 80s and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
It was the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan was in office, calling the Soviet Union the evil empire. While in office, Reagan joked he had signed a bill banning the Soviet Union and he would start launching warheads in 5 minutes time.
Now to hear them talk now, Ronald Reagan was as horrified as anyone when his generals told him we could “win” a nuclear war that would have left 2/3rds of Americans dead. He was also flabbergasted when his saber rattling and a few ill-timed events (Beirut bombing, European war games, bad intel) left the Soviets believing we had launched nukes in 1983–and were minutes away from launching a counterstrike! This really happened, and when a few days later a CIA spy reported this to the White House, it led to serious disarmament talks.
The public knew nothing of this. In fact, the Cold War seemed to be at a fever pitch in the early 1980s. Post-apocalyptic films were going through a golden age. The Road Warrior was capturing imaginations and many copies and offshoots were produced around the globe. The Bronx Warriors was obviously inspired by Escape from New York, while Enzo Castellari appears to have also had a major fetish for A Clockwork Orange. Wrap that up in an Italian B-movie package and you get 1990 and Escape from the Bronx. I’ll start with the original, so let’s enter the dark future that is…1990.
1990: The Bronx Warriors Review
The original movie seemed to have a bigger budget and appeared to have been filmed in and around New York City. Inside scenes were filmed in Rome. This movie featured Vic Morrow, Fred Williamson, and the Hells Angels. It also had a greater sense of fun about it.
Now it may seem odd to describe a post-apocalyptic film as “fun”, but this movie took itself less seriously. The basic story involves the interplay between Manhattan and the Bronx. Manhattan seems to have survived whatever horrors this alternate-world 1990 went through, enough that you’ll see large amounts of traffic anytime you peer across the East River on the island. In fact, you would think it was any normal day in 1980s New York City–which of course it was. The New York skyline seemed unchanged by the wars which left America prostrate and the Euro-Asia-Africa bloc claiming victory in a war. Apparently, the Russians forgot to nuke Manhattan.
The Bronx didn’t get out so well. We’re told repeatedly how bad it is to live in the Bronx. It’s described as lawless and run by gangs. People from Manhattan wouldn’t be caught dead there–pretty much like in real life (unless they’re going to a Yankees game). The gangs certainly run things, but life isn’t as bleak as you’d expect from the description. For instance, in one scene, you see a group of 4-5 kids down the street playing basketball on a public court. That’s not how I expect nuclear winter to be, but maybe I’m just being pessimistic.
Manhattan is, naturally enough, home to the Manhattan Corporation, which supplies the world with 60% of its military hardware. The heiress to the Manhattan Corporation, Anne (played by Stefania Girolami), can’t take it an instant more, so she runs away from her gilded cage into The Bronx, hoping to get away from some undisclosed terrible situation. Anne is nearly captured by the Zombies, but is saved by Trash and his Riders (no spoilers–this is the first 10 minutes of the film). Before we get to that, let’s talk about the zombies.
Zombies on Wheels
I love the early eighties. This is when dudes on roller skates carrying hockey sticks and wearing painted white Nazi helmets were considered cool and menacing. I suppose if you were walking down the sidewalk and these people appeared, you’d probably be pretty frightened, since you would have to think these people were deranged. Still, you’d have to chuckle to yourself a bit. Adding to their sense of menace, the Zombies have white Old Navy jackets and yellow elbow pads. You have to be tough to pull off that outfit.
Trash and the Riders
Not tough enough for the Riders, of course. These guys look like the Hells Angels because, well, they are the Hells Angels. America’s most famous bikers got a walk-on role in The Bronx Warriors. Unfortunately for them, they had to follow decidely non-Biker actor, Mark Gregory (Trash).
Mark Gregory was cast as Trash because Enzo G. Castellari and he worked out at the same gym. Enzo Castellari thought he had the perfect look for an action hero. Trash certainly was buff, though he was awkwardly tall and he had this jaunty walk. I use the term “jaunty” because I can think of no other way to describe it accurately: too-good posture, stiff, just very odd. (He was less stiff, and less buff, in the sequel). Something about Trash seems effiminate. With his youthful face and long hair, Trash looked like he should be the frontman in an Eighties hair band.
From what I’ve heard, the Hells Angels were none too impressed by Mark Gregory. In his turn, Gregory apparently wasn’t much impressed by movie making. Termed shy by the director, Mark Gregory has since faded into obscurity, enough so that Enzo Castellari started a 2004 website (now defunct) to help locate his former actor.
Fred Williamson as Ogre
A more convincing gang leader is Ogre, head of the Tigers. Ogre is played by Fred Williamson, who gives his usual solid performance. One day, I’d like to see a study of action stars which tracks their survival rate in action movies. Fred Williamson always seems like a bad man, totally competent and likeable, but doomed from the start. That’s just my observation.
Maybe I just need to see more of the early Fred Williamson movies, though. I heard once he had three rules when working on films:
- he never loses a fight
- he never dies
- he always gets the girl.
Williamson claimed he sometimes waived those rules when he made Italian films, because he liked filming in Italy so much. There, he was a movie star, not a blaxploitation star.
Whatever the case, the gangs were fun in Bronx Warriors. Each one had a gimmick, right down to the tap dancing gangs. Again, several reminded me of A Clockwork Orange, but these were fun. A big part of the conflict is Trash’s eventually need to get across town (The Bronx) through several gang’s territories. That was good stuff, though the action left a little something to be desired at times. Also, I’m not so sure how tough Trash was supposed to be, because things like netting seemed to give him trouble.
Vic Morrow as Hammer
One of the big treats of 1990: The Bronx Warriors was Vic Morrow as Hammer. Hammer is sent by the corporation to get Anne back. As a man from the Bronx originally, he’s uniquely qualified to find the missing heiress. It also helps that he’s a psychopath. This was the penultimate film in Vic Morrow’s career, because he was killed on the set of The Twilight Zone movie when a helicopter accident (struck by the chopper’s blade) left him dead. To see Vic Morrow in all his glory, watch The Bronx Warriors.
All in all, this film was so silly that you had to like it. I feel like it’s vastly superior to the sequel, 1990: Escape from the Bronx, if for no other reason than it was less overtly political and more of a romp. I’ll review that other film in the next few days, so stay tuned.
If you’re interested in Italian B-movies, you should also read our post about spaghetti westerns.