“A Pile Of Shit Out Of Somebody’s Ass”… BRONX WARRIORS reviewed

BWQuad

DVD. RO. Shameless. 15.

Having failed to sign Enzo Castellari to direct his projected Dawn Of The Dead cash-in Zombi 2 (whatever became of that one?), indefatigable spaghetti exploitation producer Fabrizio De Angelis managed to bag his man for this delirious 1982 concoction (by prolific scripters Dardano Sacchetti & Elisa Briganti) of Escape From New York (from which Castellari also adopted John Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters), Mad Max and The Warriors, sprinkled with quotations from a hatful of other schlock standbys and even A Clockwork Orange… precisely the kind of cartoon actioner at which Castellari has always excelled. The result was “the film that established video rental as a major entertainment activity…” (in the U.S.) “… a true action classic” in the words of Video Home Entertainment scribe John Hayward. It obviously made a big impression on one video store clerk… Quentin Tarantino, who still (rightly) acknowledges Castellari as the superior film maker.

In 1990 the forces of law and order have given up on the The Bronx, where a kaleidoscope of feuding gangs vie for territory and influence. Meanwhile the evil Manhattan Corporation formulates its plans for the redevelopment of the beleaguered New York borough… plans that amount to gentrification by genocide. Ann (Castellari’s real life daughter Stefania Girolami), troubled daughter of the Corporation’s president (played by her actual Uncle Enio… getting all this?) seeks refuge from her dysfunctional family (an upmarket gang in its own right) in this daunting no-man’s land and hooks up with hulking Stallone-clone Trash (Mark Gregory, on his way from being a gym bunny to becoming a waiter), a guy whose pectorals make Dolly Parton look positively flat chested. “Nothing is worse than this hell-hole” he warns Ann in the… er, rugged way he has of announcing such things.

Nevertheless, love flowers among the ruins of The Bronx, where Trash’s gang The Riders (instantly recognisable by the luminous plastic skulls mounted on the front of their bikes) fight endless turf wars with their rivals. I’m reminded of a much earlier Castellari film, 1972’s The Mighty Hector (co-scripted by Lucio Fulci) in which he restaged Homer’s Iliad, believe it or not, as a contemporary gangster flick … check that one out if you get the chance.

BW Bike Convoy

Anyway, these Bronx gangs include a squadron of roller-skating Rollerball refugees led by one “Golem” (a pony-tailed Luigi  Montefiori), a detachment of dorky droog wannabes, a New Age traveller convoy named The Zombies, a bad ass tap dancing (!) troupe and Fred Williamson (“The Ogre”)’s Tigers, appropriately enough a pack of blackspolitation brothers plus one ballsy, whiplash-wielding honky super-bitch (Betty Dessy as “Witch”.) There’s a particularly hilarious moment, in a picture bursting at the seams with them, where delegates from all the gangs settle down on Fred’s leopard-skin couches to listen to a piano recital from Ann, her sweet music soothing their savage breasts.

But the fragile truce is soon under threat. An agent provocateur  is encouraging and exploiting divisions, striving to stir up conflict between the clans. Trash dismisses the threat, eloquently (“Ah, it’s just be a pile of shit out of somebody’s ass”)  but the Manhattan Corporation, pursuing their ambitious and murderous slum clearance programme, have employed the megalomaniacal Hammer (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad, the late Vic Morow), to set the gangs at each other’s throats. Can anyone foil these sinister machinations? Well, if anyone can … Trash can!

In his efforts to do so, though, he’s thwarted by ambitious factions in his own ranks, principally ambitious lieutenant Ice, playing the Harry Dean Stanton role from EFNY. Ice conspires, through the medium of surgically-booted gimp Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly)’s CB rig, with Ogre, unaware that Hot Dog is working for Hammer, if not exactly in his pay  …  “Don’t you ever  talk to me like that!” snaps Hammer when Hot Dog raises the subject of financial remuneration (Hm, reminds me of a few magazine editors I know.)

Hammer’s having an equally tough time with his boss. “If you don’t have the girl by 11 o’clock tonight”, rages the president: “I’ll have your head !” (Oops – Morrow’s next – and last – screen appearance would be in Twilight Zone – The Movie). Hammer responds by sending in the cavalry, armed with flamethrowers, as a final solution to the gang problem. “I’m Hammer – the exterminator!” he rants. “You’re the biggest bastard in the world” retorts Trash. “He’s doing this just so he can get his sadistic rocks off” observes Ogre, coolly lighting his big cigar from an arc of flame aimed in his direction, before sitting down on his leopard-trim throne to enjoy a good smoke as his kingdom crumbles around him… made in the shade or what?

“Let the enemy have no survivors this day … horsemen … horsemen! “ raves Hammer, playing up the fascistic overtones in a manner reminiscent of Castellari’s own potrayal of Mussolini in The Winds Of War. “Hammer is God !” he modestly declares, before Trash pulls him down off his perch and drags him out of town behind his bike, Western-style.

Western Style

From its ludicrous title sequence to this totally arbitary ending, Bronx Warriors is an unalloyed action film delight. Never mind that, thematically, it’s just a comic-book retread of Enzo’s usual gonzoid vision, best displayed in his 1976 masterpiece Keoma… witness the shared sympathetic treatment of society’s maginals, likewise the undercurrent of heroic homeroticism, as when Trash mercifully breaks the neck of a tortured lieutenant while hugging him to those pulsating pecs. I don’t want to pursue this angle too far but it does state on IMDB that Gregory “beat off 2000 other hopefuls for the role of Trash”…. wow, I wonder how many cameras Castellari would have to deploy simultaneously to capture that kind of action!

Nobody ever put it better than that eminent Castellarologist, Quentin Tarantino, to wit: “He’s a hack, but a hack who really knows what he’s doing … you’re in good hands, and you’ll have great fun.” Additional helping hands here include ace cinematographer Sergio Salvati, production designer Massimo Lentini and editor Gianfranco Amicucci. Walter Rizzati’s score is rather more coherent than the one for his notable other credit, Fulci’s House By The Cemetery (though I guess. if you’re reading a blog entitled House Of Freudstein, that you probably already knew that…)

BW Title Sequence

The Shameless DVD edition presents Bronx Warriors in all its anamorphic glory, revealing Castellari to be far more of a film-maker than you’d suspect on the evidence of previously released pan-and-scan travesties (I’m old enough to remember seeing these things in double bills at my local flea-pit when they first came out, over … shit, over thirty years ago!) Bonus materials comprise a Castellari introduction to the picture, an optional smart Alec “Fact Track” courtesy of Paul Alaoui, trailers and alternative credits sequence, plus the 25 minute featurette Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds, in which Castellari and Amicucci spill the fava beans on how to get more bang for your buck with multiple camera set-ups, slow motion, trick pans and by intercutting genuine Bronx exteriors with Italian lots and locations. Castrellari talks about employing the Hell’s Angels, how his friendship with middle weight boxing legend Rocky (Somebody Up There Likes Me) Graziano facilitated the Bronx shoot and, inevitably, the Tarantino connection.

Alternatively, if you think you’re man enough, you cold opt for the “Bronx Warriors Trilogy” steelbox, which also includes the 1983 sequel Escape From The Bronx (“Henry Silva was a nice guy…” opines Castellari in Warriors, Barbarians and Basterds: “… always talking about women and sex!”) and The New Barbarians (also 1983), with which Castellari opened a whole new can of  Italian post-Atomic worms.

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