The Warriors (1979), or Can YOU Dig It?

2 08 2009

Whatever happened to the days of colorful, exciting gang warfare? Whatever happened to the days where a gang called the Satchmos or the Rufflebums could rule a Borough of New York with an iron first by doing little more than dressing street appropriate and carrying melee weapons? It seems that nobody cares how fashionable you are when you’re doing illicit street activities, but rather how much firepower you have, and when all you have is a bat with nails in it and a broken beer bottle to defend your turf, you’re kind of powerless against anyone with a gun. Nowadays, its just Bloods and Crips, Bloods and Crips, with a little Latin Kings thrown in their for variety. No cool outfits, no badass battles. Just boom-boom-dead, click-click-coroner. Today’s feature, the cult classic The Warriors, brings us back to that magical moment in the late 70s when it was okay to be in a gang and not be armed to the teeth. A time of honor, a time of courage, a time of brutal street violence.

The time: 1979. The place: New York City. The Gramercy Riffs, NYC’s most powerful gang, has called a meeting of all the street gangs. Their leader, Cyrus, urges the gangs to unite as one, telling them that they outnumber the police 3 to 1, and could sack the city easily. But chaos breaks loose when a member of the evil Rogues shoots Cyrus, grabbing the attention of the NYPD. In the ensuing chaos the Rogues shift the blame to an unassuming gang called The Warriors. Everybody is pissed at the Warriors now, and their leader is overwhelmed and probably dead after the hubbub. So the second-in-command, Swan, leads them back home to their turf in Coney Island. Along the way, every gang in town is looking to demolish them, and the only way it looks like they’re going to make it home is by making a trail of bodies all the way back.

The Warriors is set up like a video game. It’s actually a perfect action-brawler template. To get home the Warriors have to fight successively harder gangs until finally they fight the gang that started the whole mess. What a great idea! Seriously, I had a blast watching this. The concept is the best. Fashionable street gangs with afros beating the hell out of each other. Where can you go wrong? It’s dynamic, it’s fresh, it’s something that had never really been done before.

Directed by Walter Hill, famous for 48 Hrs., this is an aesthetic roller coaster ride through the almost dystopian streets of late-70s New York. I can honestly imagine it being like this, though, if you’ve seen the photos or watched the documentaries, but it still doesn’t even seem real. The trashed subways, the brazen street violence, the filthy streets; all of it seems to erupt on the screen like an angry city, full of agitated people. Perhaps I’m reading a lot into it, but it’s still an effective film to evoke a certain time and place.

The gangs are the most important thing, though, and they are pretty fun. The Turnball ACs (shaved heads), The Lizzies (all female), The Baseball Furies (baseball-themed), all of these gangs were well thought-out and fleshed out. Everybody has their niche, their theme-related snide remarks to The Warriors, and their own special gang attacks. It’s like Double Dragon with actual names and corresponding personalities to the various street gangs. If you like brawling gang-on-gang action, but with distinct outfits to remind you who the good guys and bad guys are, The Warriors is one step ahead of you.

It’s not perfect. It’s pretty superficial, the acting is only average, and the soundtrack is even more dated than the outfits. But The Warriors succeeds by having a fun that emanates from its very concept. Combine that with an interesting peek into the world of cliche 70s street gangs, and you have one entertaining movie! Check it out wherever old movies are sold! This could be one of your favorite action movies and you don’t even know it! I recommend it, with a stirring 7 1/2 Turnball ACs out of 10! CAN YOU DIG IT?

Tomorrow we celebrate the Fouth of July a little late with Independence Day! Until then!!!

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