Monday, July 13, 2015

Ripoffs of the Wasteland: THE NEW BARBARIANS (1983) and Trashtastic bonus film ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (1983)

(Italy - 1983; US release 1984)

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Written by Tito Carpi and Enzo Girolami (Enzo G. Castellari). Cast: Timothy Brent (Giancarlo Prete), Fred Williamson, George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori), Anna Kanakis, Thomas Moore (Enio Girolami), Venantino Venantini, Massimo Vanni, Giovanni Frezza, Iris Peynado, Andrea Coppola, Zora Kerova, Fulvio Mingozzi, Stefania Girolami, Paul Costello. (R, 91 mins)

Affectionately but often mistakenly considered by fans and historians to be part of the non-existent "BRONX WARRIORS trilogy," Enzo G. Castellari's THE NEW BARBARIANS is also the only actual ROAD WARRIOR-inspired post-nuke of the three films in question and has no relation to the other films aside from being directed by Castellari. It was shot between 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982) and ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (1983), but rather than post-apocalyptic, the two BRONX films were closer in setting and tone to Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS (1979) and John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), with their then-futuristic setting (the sequel ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX takes place ten years after the events of 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS) perhaps misleading people into lumping it in with all the post-nukes being made at the time. THE NEW BARBARIANS was Castellari's only entry in the Italian post-nuke cycle, and while it features all the expected crazy cars and futuristic, rocket-launching dune buggies, post-nuke despots, nomadic heroes, and that same desert portraying the same scorched-earth wasteland, it also stands alone in its subgenre. Taking what others might use as a subtle subtext and bringing it to the forefront as a major plot point, THE NEW BARBARIANS is the CRUISING of Italian post-nuke ripoffs.

Set in 2019, several years after the nuclear holocaust, the world is a desert with scattered bands of survivors trying to rebuild and restart the human race. That doesn't work for One (Luigi Montefiori/George Eastman), the tyrannical leader of the Templars, the "high priests of death" and the "warriors of vengeance," a brutal, militarized squad of hilariously-coiffed psychos bent on making the living pay for the crime of being alive. It is One's goal that "the seed of man will be canceled forever from the face of the earth." It's telling that there's only men in the Templars, and that One's goal is zero population growth. Enter Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete, billed as "Timothy Brent" and looking like a post-apocalyptic Bert Convy), a nomadic warrior with a giant plastic bubble on top of his car. Scorpion tries to help a wandering group of survivors that includes Alma (Anna Kanakis of 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK), and gets help from two other post-nuke loner mercenaries, the tough-as-nails Nadir (Fred Williamson) and a fix-it-all kid mechanic (THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY's Giovanni Frezza) who also helps build a bullet-and-laser-proof body torso shield for Scorpion in his final battle against the Templars.

Action-wise, THE NEW BARBARIANS is pretty much business as usual: there's a ton of wrecked vehicles, car chases, explosions, smashed faces, heads are sliced and blown off, and there's no shortage of amusing dummy deaths and silly contraptions, like Scorpion's clear, illuminated, portable fuck-pad that comes in handy when he meets Alma. It looks like a portable, see-through bounce house, but Castellari intercutting the sex scene with Scorpion and Alma's prior discussion of their lives over a campfire is a less explicit homage to DON'T LOOK NOW and an interesting precursor to the similar and very praised George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez love scene in Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT (1998). You get the feeling that there's some strong sexual undercurrent to THE NEW BARBARIANS with Castellari's abundance of weaponry protruding and extending from speeding vehicles like some kind of post-nuke Cialis commercial, but that's just a warm-up for what happens later. Where the film differentiates itself from overcrowded Italian post-nuke scene is its open depiction of the homosexual villains. One, clearly crushing on Scorpion, keeps trying to get him to join the Templars, but is only met with rejection. Their sexual preference--or at least the preference of One, who seems to rule his men by force and coercion--is not from innate desire for other men but to avoid the possibility of procreation and to have the world end. Late in the film, One gets so fed up with Scorpion that he has him strung up, and forcibly "initiates" him into the Templars via anal rape, a ceremony the rest of the Templars seem to know all too well. It's only after this humiliation and emasculation (along with some vaguely homophobic ballbusting from Nadir) that Scorpion rises like an avenging angel and decides to take out the Templars once and for all. It's here that THE NEW BARBARIANS vacillates between a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western with Scorpion, Nadir, and the kid mechanic forming the requisite unholy alliance, and a post-nuke DELIVERANCE as Nadir and the kid step aside and let Scorpion handle One on his own. Scorpion's final revenge on One is about as twistedly funny as this subgenre would ever get: a car chase with Scorpion barreling up on One, and an erect drill-like mechanism penetrating the back of One's ride and right through the lower part of the driver's seat, literally plowing through One's ass and ripping it apart.

(Italy - 1983/US release 1985)

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Written by Tito Carpi and Enzo G. Castellari. Cast: Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D'Obici, Antonio Sabato, Paolo Malco, Timothy Brent (Giancarlo Prete), Thomas Moore (Enio Girolami), Massimo Vanni, Alessandro Prete, Romano Puppo, Eva Czenerys, Andrea Coppola, Moana Pozzi, Carla Brait, Thomas Felleghy, Martin Sorrentino, James Sampson, Paul Costello. (R, 90 mins)

THE NEW BARBARIANS opened in Italy in July 1983 and it would be picked up by a pre-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET New Line Cinema, who rechristened it with the much snappier WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND for its January 1984 release in US theaters. ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX was released in Italy in August 1983, just a month after THE NEW BARBARIANS, and like that film, New Line would also acquire it for the US, rolling it out in January 1985, minus some of the more excessive gore to secure an R rating. ESCAPE is an an enjoyable follow-up to BRONX WARRIORS, though it's not quite as good. Set in the year 2000, it involves a plot by an evil corporation overseen by Clark (Castellari's brother Enio Girolami, billed as "Thomas Moore") to gentrify the Bronx and relocate its denizens to lovely, scenic New Mexico. In truth, he's ordered armed "disinfesters" led by renegade cop Floyd Wangler (Henry Silva, in a slightly reworked version of Vic Morrow's Hammer the Exterminator from BRONX WARRIORS), to corral and exterminate the remaining residents. After his parents are killed, Trash (a returning Mark Gregory), who's now a nomadic warrior thanks to his entire gang being wiped out in the previous film, teams up with mercenary Strike (Giancarlo Prete), his dutiful son Strike Jr (Prete's son Alessandro), affable gang leader Dablone (Antonio Sabato), and crusading reporter Moon (Valeria D'Obici) to take on Clark, his ambitious second-in-command Hoffman (Paolo Malco), and mad dog Wangler, who spits coffee, berates everyone, and acts insane, because he's played by Henry Silva. Like its predecessor, ESCAPE isn't really a post-nuke outing, but everyone seems OK with letting them into the club. With less location shooting in the Bronx and more set work done at Cinecitta, ESCAPE is able to have a more dystopian feel than the urban war-zone immediacy of BRONX WARRIORS. Gregory was only 17 when BRONX WARRIORS was shot, and though it's just a year later, he looks a bit older and seems much more composed and comfortable compared to his awkward presence in the first film. ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX was featured on MST3K under the title ESCAPE 2000 (not to be confused with the Brian Trenchard-Smith film) and indeed has no shortage of amusing elements, from unconvincing miniatures to constant explosions to Silva's overacting to Trash's parents having a huge Mark Gregory-as-Trash poster adorning their living room wall.

The so-called "BRONX WARRIORS trilogy" has just been released in Blu-ray/DVD combo sets by Blue Underground (to their credit, they don't use the "trilogy" moniker) in impressive new transfers and bonus features. Castellari previously recorded commentaries for the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD editions of 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and THE NEW BARBARIANS from a decade ago, but has recorded new tracks for these editions. There's a lot of repeat info, but Castellari, even with his heavily-accented English (his son and former production assistant Andrea Girolami, completely fluent and with barely an accent, is on hand to occasionally help him find the right words), is such a likable presence and entertaining raconteur and has enough new material that they're worth hearing. This marks ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX's first appearance on DVD or Blu-ray in the US, and it's the uncensored version with all of the New Line-trimmed violence intact. All three titles feature an "In Conversation" featurette with Castellari and producer Fabrizio De Angelis in 2015, discussing the films and reminiscing about the productions, with plenty of interesting anecdotes for fans.

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