Italian cinema has brought us many marvels in its time, including a range of Mad Max, The Warriors, and Escape From New York rip-offs. The wonderfully titled “1990: The Bronx Warriors”, directed by Enzo G. Castellari, written by committee, and produced by frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Fabrizio De Angelis, took the bold decision to try and do all three at once. The resulting film with the Italian flair that Hollywood stole for its Westerns and the cost-cutting technique of having the multinational cast all speak in their native tongues, is predictably low-budget craziness. But for all its flaws, of which there are many, it has a vibrant charm and bucket-load of ideas that will get you through to its straight-up ridiculous ending.
To set the scene, it’s The Future and Ann (Stefania Girolami), the 17-year-old heiress to the arms manufacturing giant, The Manhattan Corporation, has run away to the lawless freefire zone that is The Bronx. Predictably, on her first night there she gets attacked by a roller-skating and hockey stick-wielding quasi-Nazi gang, to then be rescued by the local pretty boy bike rider Trash (Marcio Di Gregorio). She then joins The Riders, which looks suspiciously like four named characters on stock Harley Davidson bikes with Halloween skull lanterns tied to the front and an indeterminate number of actual Hells Angels.
Because major multinational companies are run like medieval kingdoms, disaster will befall the Corporation if Ann doesn’t make the first board meeting after she turns 18, so the President of the company (Ennio Girolami), sends the violent ex-cop Hammer (Vic Morrow) to rescue her and/or kill her. The film then piles up the complications, which include some internal strife between Trash and his second, Ice (Joshua Sinclair), some tap-dancing killers, the occasional cannibalistic sewer dweller, and Fred Williamson as local king ping The Ogre. This gets us to the big shoot out at the end, which includes about fifty people on horseback with flamethrowers. That is something I’d not seen or thought of before, and I was open-mouthed at the audacious hyper-violent stupidity of it.
To space out the ridiculously cool bits, there is a fair amount of connective material to chew through. This is mostly handled in three forms: pithy exchanges between main and bit characters, lots of running around, and musical numbers. The talky parts kind of work, in that they are filled with clichés that fully establish the size and intent of people’s genitals and the odd line that adds to the plot. The running-and-driving-around moments are similarly serviceable, even if they frequently have visible regular New York traffic and people in the background, and even include the occasional crash that the director decided to leave in.
The musical moments are just outright weird, and really give an avant-garde edge to the film. The first major set-piece scene, about 20 minutes in, is a meeting between The Riders and Ogre’s roaring-20s-meets-Rocky-Horror-meets-The-Munsters gang in an open bit of waste ground. Whomever thought “it’s good, but what it really needs is a drummer off to one side, watching and improvising along to this event. Oooh… and have the camera frequently showing the action from his drum kit eye-view” needs to go down in cinematic history. The live music scenes are similarly barking, but by then you are used to the strange.
There isn’t much to say about the acting, as most of the cast either couldn’t act or couldn’t be bothered to. Fred Williamson has a solid presence, but that’s probably just because he is naturally enthralling, and Betty Dessy absolutely nails her only ever acting job as Witch. Admittedly, her role is to be mysterious and deadly whilst wearing some pretty expensive specialist leatherwear; but she elevates it to something far more than just a minion or a sex object.
To make up for the lack of acting talent, there is quite a lot of violence. It’s rather campy, and often involves too much manly grunting and wrestling to take seriously, but that’s not so bad given the overall vibe and, as expected, everything with Fred Williamson is 70s class. Fundamentally it wears its cheapy-rip-off status on it’s sleeve, and if you can laugh along with it whilst forgiving it’s more drawn out parts then you’ll find it a Treasure.