It seems odd but I guarantee you that every Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan finds a couple of movies Joel/Mike and the 'Bots beat up at was kind of fun. . .maybe even good! To me, I always had a soft spot for the Clu Gulagher TV pilot San Francisco International. But my favorite 'bad' MST3K movie had to be Escape 2000, the American title for what really is Escape from the Bronx.
The micro-budgeted film, released in 1983, certainly has its problems. Despite a pretty neat film score and a few striking visuals, the film ends up becoming one long bloodbath and any sense of story goes out the window. The beauty of the film is what director Enzo. G Castellari tried to do and while he might have failed at points, there was some idea in Escape from the Bronx that worked for me.
But what I didn't know, until much later, after the MST3K cut was shown in 1996, was that not only did Escape from the Bronx have an unrated Director's Cut (MST3K cut out a looooooooot in their version) but that Escape from the Bronx was also a sequel to a likely-Warriors rip-off called 1990: The Bronx Warriors.
So when I finally sat down to watch 1990: The Bronx Warriors last week, I was shocked to find myself enjoying a well crafted (if not poorly acted) and thoroughly interesting film, clearly made on a higher budget. Whereas Escape from the Bronx had to limit its use of location shooting in New York, Castellari, who also directed this film, utilizes the city constantly. Hardly a produced set is seen and one feels the atmosphere of an no-man's land due to the constant location shooting and grim production design (if it was even dressed up).
Now don't get me wrong, 1990: The Bronx Warriors has some kooky things going on and doesn't exactly hire the greatest actors in the world, but there is something infectious about something so unashamedly ultra-violent and wacky.
I do have to say, however, that I have never seen The Warriors so perhaps 1990 is a massive rip-off of that film and all that I find cute and wonderful about 1990 is just low budget rehash but even so, I saw this first and I loved it. I'm not corrupted by other viewpoints.
1990: The Bronx Warriors stands on its own. It certainly dates itself by making it the 'future' (of 1990) and maximizing the trends of '70s/'80s cinema (the film was released in 1982), such as Hell's Angels bikers, roller skates, and bright face makeup. But Castellari was no slouch director, providing vivid landscapes and a neat, if underdeveloped, mythology.
In the film world, the Bronx has become a land run by gangs while Manhattan remains isolated and mostly affluent. The Bronx is split up into territories with the major gangs being the Riders, led by Trash, our hero, and the Tigers, whose leader is the charismatic and bad mother Ogre. Intermixed are gangs too small to compete but individual enough to claim their own territory.
A Manhattan girl named Anne escapes to live with the Riders and becomes Trash's girl but soon, as gang war increases, Trash learns that Anne is the next heir to the mega-company The Manhattan Corporation. The MC uses a dirty cop, and former Bronx gang-native, named Hammer, to infiltrate the gangs, make them kill each other, and bring Anne back. As you'd expect, the Riders don't like this idea and Trash, traveling through the Gauntlet of gang territories, seeks a union with the Tigers to kill Hammer and protect Anne.
In terms of casting, Castellari had something going when he hired seventeen year old Mark Gregory as our hero Trash. While Gregory has the range of a pile of mahogany wood, he has a unique voice, a very unfamiliar build (ripped and wiry), and a wonderful face, managing to be both baby-faced yet aged in one glance.
He certainly has a presence and, given some coaching, he'd be a movie star. And it isn't like 1990 is a demanding picture. If he was to be charismatic or three dimensional, then Gregory failed. But if he was to be likable and a hero someone can root for from beginning to end, he succeeded. It is hard not to like Trash.
Other actors fill in the roles with various success. I found myself absolutely smitten with Stefania Girolami who played Anne and happens to be Castellari's daughter. She is so epically beautiful that it hurts to think about her sometimes. But either due to poor dubbing (the film is originally Italian) or to being just as wooden as Gregory, Anne comes off as a bit stiff.
Veterans take on some of the other roles. Hammer is played by Vic Morrow, the actor who would, just a year later, die in a helicopter accident on the set of The Twilight Zone Movie. He is so ridiculously evil that you wish for his ouster. You know it is coming and the expectation is met in a big way.
The Ogre is played by Fred 'Shaft' Williamson. Naturally, he is just so damn cool that it is easy to forget he sits on thrones made of tiger skins and wears really outlandish purple shirts. And The Ogre's lady, or right hand woman, or whatever she is, named Witch, is played by one-time actress (this was her only film) Betty Dessy. She also made me feel funny inside.
Much like Escape from the Bronx after it, 1990 has some really neat major and minor characters that help pad the scenery. Trash's Iago-like lieutenant Ice is played with smarmy charm by real-life doctor Joshua Sinclair. And a brief appearance, in both films, by beauty Carla Brait, is memorable as is the gang she leads.
The best part about 1990: The Bronx Warriors is that Escape from the Bronx actually makes some sense now and characters/scenes/discussions don't seem out of nowhere and completely insane. But Escape failed to capture the cheesy essence of 1990's gangs, instead compiling them together, with no backstory, as one large group. In the end, while Escape has some great, memorable characters, both large and small, the uniqueness of each gang was lost.
Is 1990: The Bronx Warriors a perfect movie? No. I don't expect you to watch it and find it to be a masterpiece. But it has a lot to be appreciated be it some excellent visual work by the director, some great location work, excellent fight scenes, and the inevitably dated moments that add to the film's charm.
And the film speeds by so fast that the movie is over before you know it. I actually watched the uncut Escape from the Bronx right after and doubled my fun (SPOILER: for those who love 'Toblerone' from the MST3K version. . .he gets killed in the uncut version!!!!). Just take off the thinking cap and enjoy some good old fun. That's as deep as 1990: The Bronx Warriors gets and that's all you need.
*sadly I found this video when I typed in 1990: The Bronx Warriors and upon viewing this cool scene, all these videos saying movies predicted 9/11 came up. I didn't view this entire video but any views about 9/11 spoken by these 'likely' conspiracy theorists is not mine. So if anyone is offended or this video contains something (and I will watch it eventually) please let me know.