My New Favorite Thing: Italian Action Films

1990-bronx-warriors-ridersIt all started at a New Year’s Day party this year. We packed up the kids and headed down, with everyone having a great time. There, on the wall I saw the poster to a film I’d heard about, but never fully watched: 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Soon after, I started looking around on Amazon Prime and found that both that film and its sequel Escape From The Bronx were on there along with The New Barbarians.

I added all three and watching the first one lead me down a tour of Italian cinema from the 70s and 80s that has encompassed sci-fi, action, adventure, crime, mafia and the awesomely bizarre. Even with the less than easy to follow plots, bad dubbing and frameworks that feel very similar to more famous American films, I love how these writers, directors, actors and everyone else just went for it. The key here is that, even though the springboards feel familiar, the dives are completely different making for a group of films awesomely enjoyable in their own ways.

1990-bronx-warriors-posterIt’d be pretty easy to classify Enzo G. Castellari’s 1982 post-apocalyptic film 1990: The Bronx Warriors as a basic combination of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and Walter Hill’s The Warriors with some of George Miller’s Mad Max thrown in, but it’s not like those films didn’t borrow from other genres and films to begin with.

In the future, the Bronx is basically forsaken and left alone until Anne, the soon-to-be-inheritor of The Manhattan Corporation decides she doesn’t want the job and goes there herself. Upon arrival she’s immediately attacked by the roller skating Zombies gang, but is soon saved by The Riders who, well, ride motorcycles. From there, it’s a wild romp as Trash (Marco Di Gregorio) tries to keep Anne safe while the evil Vic Morrow pits the gangs against one another to try and ferret her out. Honestly, you had me at “roller skating gang,” so everything past that — including another awesome Fred Williamson performance — is just gravy, but I had such a great time with this film it was only natural to move right on to the follow-up.

escape-from-the-bronx-posterEscape From The Bronx came out the following year and continued the story in an interesting fashion. A few years in the future, Trash now roams the Bronx alone without the backing of The Riders. In fact, all of the gangs have gone underground because The General Construction Corporation wants to ship everyone out of the Bronx and build a new city for rich people and they’ve hired the awesomely evil Henry Silva to do exactly that.

This, along with the fact that the movers — flamethrower-wielding stormtroopers dubbed Disinfestors — murdered his parents leads Trash to join up with a few other revolutionaries in order to kidnap the president and regain control of the Bronx from the GCC. Given the current political climate this plot that might have felt over the top crazy a few years ago doesn’t seem so out-there now. But don’t worry, it doesn’t get too heavy, Escape also features a gang of classicly trained dancers who also kick ass.

the-new-gladiatorsI intended to check out New Barbarians next, but it disappeared from Prime. Instead I found a film called The New Gladiators which was directed by Lucio Fulci in 1984. I’ve only seen Fulci’s horror offerings like Hatchet For The Honeymoon, so I was curious to see his take on the sci-fi genre. In the vein of The Running Man, the most popular shows in 2072 revolve around people getting hurt or at least seeming to. The idea for a new show is to gather a group of murderers and pit them against one another in violent games. I thought I’d watched enough of the movie to write more fully about it, but going over the Wiki synopsis makes me think I missed quite a bit. I do remember that Fred Williamson is awesome as are his fellow contestants. After that? I’m a bit foggy, so I’m writing about it here to remind myself later to watch it again.

raiders-of-atlantis-posterWhile I might not remember The New Gladiators, I just plain old did not fully understand Ruggero Deodato’s Raiders Of Atlantis from 1983. See, these experiments accidentally uncover the fabled city, but when a particular group winds up on an island, they soon find themselves chased by a bunch of motorcycle-riding freaks lead by a guy in a supposedly crystal skull mask who was in Miami not long before. Because….Atlantis?

There’s a kind of Indiana Jones-meets-Mad Max vibe as the hero group discovers a few mystical artifacts and try to figure out what they have to do with the story. In that way, we’re all in the dark for a time. And yet, I still liked the film. Maybe I’m just biased towards weirdness at this point, but even I had to rewind at one point to figure out just where the heroes were. But once again, I love the “throw it all in the blender and see what happens” approach to many of these sci-fi films.

manhunt-in-the-city-posterOf the bunch, I liked Umberto Lenzi’s Manhunt In The City the least. This 1975 film puts Henry Silva in the Charles Bronson role from Death Wish as the father of a murdered daughter who decides to take the killers out himself when the cops don’t do anything.

Like with Death Wish, I found this film hard to watch. I’m a dad, so the inciting incident is something I’d rather not see in the first place. Add to that the horrendous treatment towards a cross-dressing man at one point and the stark violence in general and I just didn’t have anything I could or even wanted to grab on to.

While Manhunt is definitely a better made film, it’s got no fun to it. Even when the other movies got dark, it wasn’t long before another weird gang showed up or something else unexpected happened. I guess I don’t feel as great about seeing the bad guys get their just desserts when I spend the whole film wallowing in the mire with them. That’s just not a headspace I want to get into, so I’m probably going to steer clear of these Poliziotteschi films in favor of their next-decade’s sci-fi counterparts.

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