For starters, Shriek Show's box cover lies brazenly when it describes 1990's setting as "Post-nuke New York City." There's no evidence of a nuclear attack, as all the landmark skyscrapers (including the World Trade Center towers, of course) are still standing, the better to lend epic scope to Castellari's location footage. Nor is 1990 about scarcity or the depletion of resources, as The Road Warrior is. There's no evidence of shortages and over in Manhattan civilization seems to be still puttering along quite nicely. The real problem, as a title card explains, is that government has lost the will to enforce the law and defend public safety in its worst neighborhoods. We may be meant to assume that New York can't afford to do so anymore, but it's just as dystopian to imagine a wealthy elite deciding to leave the rabble to their fate while shoring up their defenses in gated or otherwise segregated enclaves. We've seen this kind of dystopia as recently as George Romero's Land of the Dead, and we're likely to see it again.
George Eastman as "Golan," --which sounded like "Golem" to me). The Riders -- could they really not come up with a more intimidating name? -- look for leadership to a man named Trash, the hero of our film.
1990 often leaves you wondering how post-apocalyptic things really are in a more-than-intact New York City (above) but if you want an explanation of societal breakdown, look no further than the malt liquor can on this stooge's desk (below).
Gregory isn't the only thing that's just sort of wrong with 1990. Frankly, the entire cosmic order is out of whack when Fred Williamson is in a movie and a character named Hammer is played by someone else. While Fred is assigned the role of "the Ogre," and attended by a tall blond whip-wielding "Witch," "Hammer" is the handle of the actual star of the film, Vic Morrow. Hammer is a Bronx-born mercenary (Trash: "He's an asshole who thinks he's God") who's under contract to the Manhattan Corporation, the firm responsible for 60% of world arms production. All that power comes into the hands of an heiress, Anne, on her eighteenth birthday, but she's run away to the no-mans-land of the Bronx, where she seems to be the only civilian apart from the occasional comical drunk. Assaulted by the rollerskating Zombies, she's rescued by Trash, whose consort she becomes. Hammer has to retrieve Anne and deliver her back to Manhattan despite her disinterest in warmongering. His plan includes provoking a general gang war, though I suspect the real reason to do that is so he can lead a flamethrowing cavalry into the Bronx to destroy them all.
It's good to be the king, even of the Bronx, as Fred Williamson proves in this strangely interactive shot from 1990
So Hammer wanders around the Bronx assassinating folks and planting gang spoor to sow distrust, despite Trash's judicious skepticism ("You fuck," he answers one hothead, "it could be a pile of shit out of someone's asshole."). When the Zombies finally succeed in snatching Anne and all too easily laying out Trash, Hammer tries to buy her from Golan (I still like "Golem" better) while an all too rapidly recovered Trash goes on an anabasis to the Tigers, fending off subhuman Scavengers and Fosse-ite dancing fighters along the way, to recruit Ogre and Witch for a rescue operation. But Anne's rescue by Trash and the Tigers is only the prelude to Hammer's blitzkrieg, codenamed Operation Burnt Earth, the nearest thing to an apocalypse we'll get from this movie and, actually, a genuinely inspired gonzo gotterdammerung presided over by a transfigured, barking mad Morrow, for whom only The Twilight Zone was left after this. It turns out that Trash was right about this Hammer person, who we last see howling, "HAMMER! HAMMER IS GOD!" before being proven wrong.
The heroes of 1990: The Bronx Warriors fight mercenaries, "Zombies" and all ... that ... jazz!
Hammer commands! The horsemen of the post-apocalypse obey!
The final ten minutes of 1990 have an exhilarating and sometimes hilarious intensity that exposes just how halfhearted and misconceived most of the movie was. Castellari seems uncertain of the tone he wants to set and clearly had a hard time taking much of the story seriously. There are moments when he apparently wanted to impose a kind of musicality on the film, editing to the beat of a drummer who just happened to turn up at his location during a gang summit and opening the film with an almost glamorous montage of gang weapons, makeup and fashion. You could believe that the film he really wanted to make was Streets of Fire. As it is, there's an obvious artistry to 1990, which is really a meticulously art-directed picture thanks to Sergio Salvati's cinematography and Massimo Lentini's production design. It's pictorially ambitious in a way that later genuine post-apocalypse films wouldn't be. But as far as the genre goes, Castellari's New Barbarians (which I've seen only in its grungy American form) is a more aggressively imagined and more viscerally disturbing film than this one. I intend to watch the better version from the Shriek Show box set soon. Until then, I'll restrict my recommendation of 1990 to those looking for a lark through the slums of the post-Seventies collective consciousness on a purely tourist basis.
Here's an English language trailer (with Dutch subtitles), uploaded to YouTube by aylmer666:
And here's a sample of Mark Gregory walking and talking, sort of, uploaded by grumblenonymusbosch. Anne is played by the director's own little girl, Stefania Girolami: