STREAM WARRIORS is a weekly feature on Daily Grindhouse where a different contributor recommends a few things to check out on streaming services and around the net to watch. The platforms being used are U.S. versions (unless otherwise noted), content availability does change between countries. This week, Brett Gallman weighs in with some suggestions.
In uncertain times, I like to turn to tried and true certainties. For example—if something was a hit during the grindhouse’s golden era, exploitation filmmakers would find a quick, cheap way to cash in. So when THE ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK proved to be crowdpleasers, a slew of post-apocalyptic ripoffs followed, many hailing from across the Atlantic, where intellectual property was treated as a suggestion rather than a law.
Decades later, some of these gonzo visions of the future have become past or present, though I’m not sure any of them were nuts enough to dream that America would be ruled by an incompetent game show host. Instead, these visions were much more fun: bursting with lasers, motorcycles, gore, extradimensional dubbing, synthesizers, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. Here are five choice cuts if you’re looking to escape reality and become a warrior of the streaming wasteland.
1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982)
You’ll want to start here, with the Enzo Castellari movie that started it all (if you don’t count the films that inspired it, of course). The first of three post-apocalyptic head-bashers Castellari would direct, it’s also one of the best of this cycle. Peering eight years ahead into the ’90s, THE BRONX WARRIORS imagines its titular borough to be a no man’s land ruled by warring gangs. Williamson is Ogre, a cigar-chomping warlord caught in the middle of a battle between local thugs and a weapons manufacturing conglomerate when the latter’s heiress seeks refuge in the Bronx because she doesn’t want to be complicit in their bloodshed.
THE BRONX WARRIORS offers the haywire déjà vu that defined this era of Euro genre films, crossing the streams between ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE WARRIORS and boasting an array of garish costuming and even more colorful personalities. It also goes one step further than the usual nonsense by investing in the characters, even if they do sport names like The Hammer, Trash, and Hot Dog. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of flamethrowers and sword-fighting, but the real highlights are the weirdly tender moments, like a Viking funeral that ends with a pair of bikers’ ashes scattered into the Hudson River.
ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX (aka ESCAPE 2000) (1983)
The last of Castellari’s trio, this sequel to BRONX WARRIORS is his magnum opus in this movement. Nominally set a decade later, it catches up with surviving gang member Trash (Marco Di Gregorio), now a loner without a cause, at least until another corporation descends on the Bronx, this time to “disinfest” the inhabitants and rebuild it as an upscale borough. A shining example that grindhouse filmmaking often aspired to deliver more than mindless carnage, ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX is a scathing indictment of gentrification. It just happens to also feature a lot of flamethrowers, explosions, and exploding flamethrowers.
Like its predecessor, this one deftly blends Castellari’s action movie panache with his sincere compassion for the ragtag underdogs simply fighting to preserve what’s left of their bombed-out, derelict home. It’s not often that one of these movies anticipates what’s coming, but there’s a glimmer of the ’80s cynicism that would guide ROBOCOP in Castellari’s depiction of corporate overlords that prioritize profits over people, a notion that unfortunately rings true and reverberates through the ages, whether imagined or real.
2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS (1983)
Because there’s never going to be a more appropriate year to watch this one, you absolutely must check out Joe D’Amato and George Eastman’s vision of Texas in the year 2020, where roving motorcycle gangs terrorize what’s left of civilization. Only a ragtag group of Texas Rangers (not, it should be noted, Texas Gladiators) are left to uphold law and order in this MAD MAX riff, which admittedly jumbles up the formula bit by killing off our apparent hero instead of his wife and child when “The Black One” (less Lord Humungous and more S.S. High School Principal) and his minions enslave a town.
Since D’Amato was arguably the most disreputable of the Italian sleaze dealers, it’s no surprise that 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is distasteful as hell, its non-stop action matched only by its directors’ insistence on filling the scumbag quotient. To my knowledge, it’s the only one of these to ape THE DEER HUNTER‘s Russian roulette sequence on its way to forging an unlikely alliance between Texas Rangers, slave girls, an indigenous tribe (that constantly yips like a pack of ’50s B-movie Indians in case you’re wondering if cultural sensitivity was a priority), and one badass granny with a shotgun.
Streaming on: YouTube
(it should be pointed out that Daily Grindhouse doesn’t encourage pirating. There hasn’t been an official release of 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS in Region 1 since VHS days and this YouTube link has been up since February 2018)
WARRIORS OF THE YEAR 2072 (aka THE NEW GLADIATORS) (1984)
Lucio Fulci was a few years removed from career-best efforts when he threw his hat into the wasteland. Blending many of the familiar elements audiences came to expect from this sub-genre, NEW GLADIATORS tosses a bunch of convicts (chief among them: Jared Martin and Fred Williamson doing another tour of wasteland duty) into the new Roman Coliseum, where they’ll battle to the death with an assortment of weapons and vehicular mayhem on live TV…eventually.
A detour through a technophobic, corporate conspiracy subplot briefly threatens to derail this one, but fret not: the Maestro comes through when it matters the most with severed heads, roasted gladiators, and rag-dolled stunt dummies. You also have to admire the audacity of trying to replicate BLADE RUNNER on a budget that could best be described as “robust high school science fair project inexplicably scored by Riz Ortolani.” Between the media-obsessed culture and a villainous goon who insists he’d go to hell if it would help his ratings, this one might also hit a little bit too close to our own reality.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime (as NEW GLADIATORS)
EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 (1983)
The item on this list that dares to dream the biggest (or at least the one that slapped the biggest number onto its title), EXTERMINATORS FROM THE YEAR 3000 is all about the vehicular carnage. Just like you turn to the basest of slasher movies to delight in the watching a psychopath hack up victims, you turn to this to indulge the simple pleasures of watching exploitation filmmakers recklessly smash shit together and set it on fire.
All you need to know about the plot is that it’s expressly ripping off THE ROAD WARRIOR, right down to featuring a shameless—but hilariously amateur—take on Lord Humongous and his loyal followers. I’d say they chew the scenery with their mystifying dialogue, but director Giuliano Carmineo doesn’t exactly leave too much of it intact after his deranged cinematic demolition derby has blown it all away in a flurry of flames and gore. Enjoy the wreckage, mother grabbers.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
(Below is a YouTube playlist of some Italian post-apocalyptic films)
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