Cult Film Review: The Warriors

The real beauty of Walter Hill’s 1979 gangbanger The Warriors is in its simplicity and sense of naivety.

Away from the fear and violence of any gang that will have actually roamed the streets of New York in the 70s, The Warriors is more West Side Story than City Of God.

Each gang, instead of wearing grubby street clothes, is easily identified by uniforms that must get a little tiresome after a while. No matter how cool the Baseball Furies look, putting on and taking off all that facepaint must carve hours off their working week.

Oddly, the film’s naiveté is still present despite The Warriors being a fairly gritty motion picture. “You got the stuff?” mutters one Warrior to another during the opening montage. What could he possibly be talking about: Heroin? Guns? The Lindbergh baby? Not quite. It’s a mere can of graffiti; at one time a substance seemingly handed out on compulsory issue by the authorities if you stood on the street long enough.

The underlying theme of the Cult Film Review series is to ask *why* the film in question has endured for so long. The Warriors’ innocence and total disregard for the actual reality of gang life that means it heads toward its fifth decade in rude health. What’s not to love about the Native-gimmicked Warriors, led by their War Chief, Cochise? How you could not look at the Turnbull A.C.’s spluttering death bus and not want one for yourself? And we’ve mentioned them already but nobody… NOBODY… doesn’t think the Baseball Furies aren’t awesome.

Anyway, some background on the whole thing. After a brief introduction to the strong but tense chemistry of our eponymous heroes, we’re taken to a meeting of all of New York’s gangs. Our host for the evening is Cyrus, leader of The Riffs; essentially the street version of Han’s in-house henchmen in Enter The Dragon. They’re tough, carry big numbers but are just a tiny bit useless in the face of stern competition. A lot like Storm Troopers then.

Cyrus wants to unite the gangs, take the streets and even implement taxation tariffs on different territories. But before Cyrus’ grand economic masterplan can be put in place, he takes a bullet courtesy of Luther, leader of The Rogues and for reasons never explained, the Warriors’ nemeses. Hey, they’re gangs. They’re bound to have some beef hanging over here and there. Incidentally, David Patrick Kelly’s masterclass in treacherous whining that is Luther never gets a mention when the historians dust this one for prints. Next time you watch this movie (i.e. right after reading this), keep your eye on him.

The Warriors, facing the blame for murdering the new Warren Buffett, have to get home to Coney Island before the gangs, the police, the Riffs and bad luck contrive to destroy them. One of the greatest set ups ever? Perhaps.

The Warriors’ second greatest attribute is the weird and colorful cast of characters littered throughout. On the home side, Swan is the new leader installed against his will, Ajax is the smart-ass muscleman who calls everybody “wimps” but smacks the crap out of anybody in his way (though he loses points for basically sexually assaulting a woman in a park for no reason) and Mercy is the gutter princess who tags along for the ride. Incidentally, her nipples are on show for the entirety of her turn in this movie. It’s very distracting.

It’s got everything you (should) want in a movie: incredible fight sequences that utilise different speeds, some of the most imaginative characters in decades and the odd sense that, if gang life was actually like this, you’d be tempted to join.

It could be considered fair to say that The Warriors is lacking in the recognition it deserves. It’s rare that it appears in any notable list, or is even trumpeted by any of the more vocal and popular critical voices. One can read The Warriors as a US attempt to marry the kung fu hijinx of the Far East with the brash and noisy comic book narrative already long established in America. The comparisons to West Side Story and Enter The Dragon are not accidental and make perfect sense.

So while The Warriors may have taken extensively (not A Bad Thing remember), what did it give in return? Well, aside from years of quality entertainment you mean?

The 2005 video game adaptation of The Warriors was warmly received by both critical and commercial camps. The game’s sandbox style of play wasn’t too far removed from the movie anyway; it was ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy. Did The Warriors’ loose cinematic setting and ‘staged’ narrative, where each sequence stacked the odds and upgraded the viciousness of the gang attacking them, go on to inspire megahits like the GTA series?

There’s probably a million people who would argue against that, but it bears thinking about. CAN YOU DIG IT…SUCKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA?

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