The Films (4/5 (1990), 4/5(TNB), 4/5(EFTB))
Mad Max: Fury Road hit theaters just over a month ago, and just in time to celebrate the latest entry in George Miller's post-apocalyptic series those fine folks at Blue Underground have seen fit to open their vaults, and unleash three post-apocalyptic wonders from director Enzo Castellari (Inglorious Bastards, Cold Eyes of Fear) on to Blu-ray. It is interesting to note that 30+ years ago when the 2nd Mad Max film made it's way to theaters internationally, and created waves around the world. The Italian film industry, did one of the things they did best, they created various knock-off's to the film to cash in on the film's success. This trend lasted into the mid to late 80's, and the 3 Castellari film's unleashed this week were some of the earliest.
Now, I should clarify, that the success of Mad Max, and it's first sequel seems to have been the instigator of the Italian post-apocalyptic trend, however, only one of the films in this release slate feels inspired by Mad Max, and that is the second film chronologically in this sequence, The New Barbarians. The other 2 take the post-apocalyptic setting, but feel like they are spun-off from the New York featured in John Carpenter's Escape from New York and Walter Hill's the Warriors.
The first film of the 3 is 1990: The Bronx Warriors. The film involves Ann(Stefania Girolami), the daughter of a weapons manufacturer who feels immense guilt knowing that she is the sole benefactor of her Father's violent empire. One day she runs away, and escapes into the Bronx. Why the Bronx? The Bronx in 1990 has become the epitome of lawless post-apocalyptia. It has essentially been declared by the government to be off limits, and anyone who enters its borders to be on their own. Soon after entering the Bronx. Ann is attacked by one of the gangs that populate it, the Zombies, but another gang, the Riders, and their leader Trash (Mark Gregory) come to her aid. She is then given their full protection, and Trash's full attention, of course being the only heir to a large empire her Father has not given up on her, and has sent a mercenary named Hammer (Vic Morrow) into the Bronx to retrieve her.
This film and the third film released by BU in June 2015 constitute a narrative series. Both involving the same location (The Bronx) about a decade apart, and the same protagonist Trash aside from that they feel miles different. The Bronx of the third film feels more lived in, as if the people of this world have resigned to their fates post-apocalypse, and have been working to restore order to this little slice of the world. Trash, even though the film was shot 18 months later looks much older, and is no longer the muscle bound heart throb of the earlier film, the film also has a more melancholy feel to it.
The earlier film felt like Castellari, mashed up The Warriors and Escape from New York, and made his own low budget beastie with Escape from the Bronx, it almost feels like an original post-apocalyptic attempt by the director having just made 2 films that were derivative of other films. Escape from the Bronx involves a company, the Manhattan Corporation coming to the realization that the Bronx is a prime piece of real estate being adjacent to New York, and has decided to demolish the properties there, and start over. Unfortunately, it is far from barren, and so they have to either evict people and send them to New Mexico, or kill them. Trash, of course, does not buy into the New Mexico option, and thus begins the fight back against the corporation which gets himself, and those close to him in hot water. Trash grabs a few buddies, kidnaps the company president in an attempt to keep the Bronx totally free from intervention.
1990: The Bronx Warriors is entertaining all the way through, it has a solid pacing that easily engages the viewers. The production design for the film is right out of the Walter Hill/John Carpenter play book with the back drop for Castellari's post-apocalyptia taking post of it's influence from Carpenter, and the diverse array of gangs from Hill, of course, he manages to do quite an excellent job in diversifying from both, and making his own thing independent of the homage’s, and the film though being what it is is never not entertaining.
Escape from the Bronx is notorious for being used on an episode of MST3k, but then again they used quite a few Italian post-apocalyptic movies on the show if I recall. Escape from the Bronx like it's predecessor, has great design, and a ton of excellent action for connoisseurs of the genre. Castellari keeps a steady pacing, and some interesting atmospheric choices.
The second film in the sequence, and the only one independent of the Bronx theme also happens to be the only truly inspired by Mad Max. The New Barbarians takes place in 2019(after New York has fallen), a nuclear war has devastated Earth, very few remain, and those that do, fight over the remaining resources, and oddly enough still have time to get political. The main force in this world is the Templars, a group led by One (Anthropophagus' George Eastman), One is trying to force a New World Order concept on the denizens of this world by burning books, and kill off the rest of existence (aside from the Templars). He is opposed by Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete), who used to work alongside One but rebelled. Scorpion is assisted by some new partners a boy mechanic played by House by the Cemetery's Giovanni Frezza, and another wanderer Nadir played by the legendary Fred Williamson.
The film is sort of neglected in the straightforward plot department, and is more akin to the Italian post-apocalyptic version of a Looney Tunes episode. The film is essentially one action set piece after the other, and that's fine. It's all staged well, and the effects come off nicely. The performances from the main cast are solid, and though Williamson doesn't have the biggest part, he is always entertaining to have on screen.
Audio/Video (3.5 (1990), 4/5 (TNB), 3.5/5 (EFTB))
1990: The Bronx Warriors is the first up, and looks quite excellent on its North American Blu-ray debut. The film is presented by Blue Underground in a 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving the film's original aspect ration. Detail here is excellent all around, solid colors, blacks are solid, and flesh tones are accurate. There is a nice level of grain present here.
The New Barbarians is presented in a 2:35:1 MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer, detail is excellent here, blacks are solid, flesh tones are accurate, and there is organic film grain present on the transfer.
Escape from the Bronx due to the nature of it's production features many of the positives present on 1990. There is good detail here, excellent colors, when given the chance, solid blacks, a nice grain field. All 3 transfer features a bit of production related softness, there is damage from the source material.
All 3 films feature an English DTS-HD MA track with optional subtitles. The tracks sounds quite good with dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with any of the 3 tracks.
Extras (4/5 (1990), 4/5 (TNB), 4/5(EFTB))
All 3 of the post-apocalyptic titles from Blue Underground have some similar features on all 3 titles. First up all 3 titles have commentary tracks moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films with director Enzo Castellari. All 3 films have part of an extended interview between Castellari and producer Fabrizio De Angelis, and of course, trailers, and photo galleries. Outside of that there are documentaries, and interviews specific to each releases that really make each upgrade special. The New Barbarians has a highly entertaining interview with Williamson, Escape from the Bronx has a documentary with a superfan of the film as he attempts to track down star Mark Gregory (no relation to the aforementioned David), and there is much much more spread across the 3 discs.
One of 2015's major Blu-ray highlights if Blue Underground's releasing of Enzo Castellari's loose "Bronx Trilogy". I have an addiction to Italian post-apocalyptic films, and between this and their release of Rats: Nights of Terror last year, these guys have done quite the job helping to fulfill it. The A/V on these discs is quite excellent, and the exclusive extras are elaborate, entertaining, and informative. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.