I know have beaten this drum again and again on this site, but I'll say it again: the 1980s were the single greatest decade for genre movies in history. A few mainstream successes made horror, sci-fi and fantasy extremely popular and profitable both at the cinemas and on the burgeoning home video market, where a demand for new product allowed a lot of films to be made and find an audience. There were big-budget Hollywood genre movies being made, but then there were the indie knock-offs of those same movies being produced by the likes of Roger Corman and Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. Then a step even below that were the Italian entries, rip-offs of American genre pictures that didn’t mind being imitative and, in the process, boiled so many of their predecessors down to their most outrageous elements. It was a great time to be a movie fan.
Part Road Warrior, part Escape from New York, part The Warriors and all crazy, Enzo Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic action movies the director made between 1982 and 1983. It stars Marco Di Gregorio (aka “Mark Gregory”) as Trash, leader of the gang known as The Riders, one of a few gangs that rule the wasteland formerly known as The Bronx. When a young heiress named Anne (Stefania Girolami) escapes into the Bronx, Trash must take her under his wing and keep her safe. She stands to inherit the monolithic Manhattan Corporation and her father will do anything to get her back; that means sending in a mercenary called Hammer (Vic Morrow in his second-to-last role) to retrieve her and wipe out as many gang members in the Bronx as he’s able to.
The sequel, released one year later as Escape from the Bronx (aka Bronx Warriors 2, aka Escape 2000 [not to be confused with Escape 2000, the American re-title of Brian Trenchard-Smith's Turkey Shoot]), is another bloody, derivative, dystopian effort from Castellari that doesn’t reach the same heights as its predecessor. But even though lighting doesn’t strike twice — assuming we’re willing to consider 1990: The Bronx Warriors as “lightning” (I am willing to consider it lightning) — the sequel is still a good deal of fun. Consider it a copy of a copy of a copy.
Escape from the Bronx functions as both a sequel and a remake of the first movie, much the same way John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. does for Escape from New York (the film from which this one is most obviously borrowing, down to its on-the-nose title). There is a kidnapping, only here it’s the president of the GC corporation instead of a young heiress. Henry Silva is playing the exact same role as Vic Morrow; they’re even dressed in the same costume. It all ends with an epic shootout filled with slow motion bodies falling off of things (Castellari loves his slow motion). The only thing missing is Fred Williamson. To be fair, that’s a pretty big hole to be filled.
While Escape from the Bronx isn’t quite as strong a movie as 1990: The Bronx Warriors or The New Barbarians, it’s still a worthy entry in the canon of early ‘80s cult action. As someone who has watched a lot of exploitation movies this month, this one still stands out for its energy, its stunts and its body count. I won’t say I’m tremendously disappointed that there was never a third “Bronx” movie -- I don’t think there was much gas left in this particular tank -- but I know I’ll be coming back to Castellari’s post-apocalypse trilogy again and again…even if The New Barbarians has nothing to do with these other two.