Mad Max (1979)

There's not much to say about this classic post apocalyptic film.  For a stunt/revenge flick it's got a surprisingly intriguing setting, memorable characters, and a great story that leaves you thinking about the fine line between justice and vigilantism (alternately: AWESOME STUNTZZZ).

There are two things that are really interesting about this movie.  The first is how the setting is revealed extremely naturally, with very little exposition.  It's obvious that society has broken down to some extent, but there is no boring text crawl at the beginning of the movie telling us what exactly happened.  Gangs roam around terrorizing people, and the police are basically undermanned and powerless.  A legal structure still exists but you get the feeling that it is just a desperate attempt at pretending that society can still function in a civilized manner.  On the other hand, people still have jobs, can purchase goods and services, and technology in general still exists.

The second really interesting thing is of course the examination of the fine lines that exist between justice and vigilantism, and protecting society from predators and hunting them down in cold blood.  You often get the sense in this movie that the police force is merely another gang- albeit a gang that is concerned with tracking down murderers and rapists.

So these two aspects of the movie give you a lot to think about.  How is the rest?  Pretty great actually.  Performances are great all around, dialog is natural, and the movie alternates expertly between high-octane car stunts and slow panning nature shots.  Even the uniforms that cops all wear are awesome.

There is a single negative thing I have got to talk about.  The soundtrack can be pretty awful.  In general it just stays in the background and you don't notice it much, but during the last part of the movie- when Max becomes Mad Max and hunts down the remaining gang members- it just ruins the whole thing.  These scenes should be tragic- as a character mentions earlier in the movie, no one believes in heroes anymore, and basically the last hero in the movie has lost his way and no longer trusts the system.  But then the soundtrack is playing triumphant hero music every time Max takes out a bad guy.  It takes a movie that is really quite intelligent and reduces it to a stupid revenge flick over the course of five minutes.

Although the movie is kind of ruined during the last few scenes, it is otherwise perfect and should not be missed by anyone interesting in genre films.  This movie went on to spawn two sequels- one really excellent, one okay... and also influenced a bunch of Italian ripoffs and the excellent Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the Northstar Japanese comic/cartoon.  If you have any interest in that stuff and have not seen Mad Max, you owe it to yourself to watch this classic.


1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

1990.  The Bronx.


Everyone has given up on the Bronx, leaving it to be run by a bunch of novelty gangs, including the barbaric rollerskating guys, and the formidable tapdancing Broadway gang.  But those guys are nothing compared with the generic motorcycle gang, the Riders, led by Ice and Trash.  They are one of those movie gangs that are actually just a bunch of fun-loving guys in a bad situation with hearts of gold.

Trash and his gang end up saving a girl who has escaped to the Bronx from her rich father, but her father will stop at nothing to get her back- including hiring an ex-Bronx psycho named Hammer.  Hammer starts playing the gangs against one another and before you know it there is a full-scale war as the Riders attempt to reach the base of the Tigers, crossing over the territory of multiple bizarre gangs.

So obviously this is a low budget ripoff of The Warriors (1979).  Usually this would be a disaster,
but there if there is one thing 80s Italy was good at, it was ripping off movies on low budgets.  And as a result, this movie is really very good!

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way.  The gangs are admittedly ridiculous.  The acting is all over the map; like most Italian productions in the 80s, it's likely that some actors acted in English, and others had their Italian acting dubbed over in English.  Trash is a bizarre character: he's supposed to be a badass fighter with a heart of gold, but he looks totally awkward at all times, like the actor was never comfortable with the role but is trying his best to work with everyone.

That is literally all that is wrong with this movie.  Everything else is amazing.  The sets looks fantastic, the costumes (while bizarre) look great, and the plot is surprisingly straightforward for an Italian exploitation movie. 

I think a lot of thought actually went into making this movie.  You get a few scenes showing gang rituals/culture and each gang has its unique quirks.  Most Italian exploitation movies just string together a bunch of the most memorable scenes from the movie they are ripping off.  While Bronx Warriors does this to an extent, it doesn't feel forced at all and thus comes highly recommended.

Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Stumpy "Stumpy" Preston is an incompetent gambler who loses every single game he plays during the movie (or gets caught cheating).  Bunny is a pregnant prostitute.  Bud is crazy, but in that lovable way.  Clem is the town drunk, but also in that lovable way.  Combing their formidable powers, the four are able to survive a vicious attack on the town but since everyone else is dead they have no choice but to travel the land until they find something.

Along they way they run into both friends and enemies, including a seriously psychotic guy who might be a little of both (mostly the latter).

So why is there a western movie on this blog?  Well, it just so happens that this movie was directed by Lucio Fulci, the Italian goremeister and after watching all of his actual horror movies
I decided to give this one a watch.

It's a pretty good movie to be honest with you.  It's a little nonsensical (kind of like all of Fulci's movies...) but that really just adds to the charm.  It's a very dark western- everyone has got their flaws, and lots of innocent people die horribly.  With a couple of minor changes this could easily become a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic movie.

The tone is a little uneven.  One minute our heroes are a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' while they shoot their guns at the sky and dead birds rain down from the heavens.  The next minute, someone is getting skinned alive.  It's kind or reminiscent of Cannibal Holocaust (though not nearly as brutal and not as effective).

It's pretty violent for a western, but Fulci fans will be let down by what few gore effects are here.  Gunshot wounds are pleasantly wet and chunky, but the skinning scene is only effective due to the acting, since the effect is so lame.  Yes, at this point in my movie hobby I am rating movies by how effective their gore effects are.

I watched the English dub and it was fine.  Accents seemed to change from scene to scene and there was a lot of unconvincing screaming, but nothing too bad.

It's no Unforgiven, no The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, no El Topo.  Maybe not even Young Guns.  But it's an entertaining 90 minutes of gritty western movie.