Rates: * * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? A regular on ‘Best Cult Movie of All Time’ lists.
Sometime in the near future, gangs have claimed the streets of New York, but co-exist uneasily. One of their leaders, the charismatic Cyrus, proposes a truce; if the gangs combined their collective strength, they would be unassailable. But like many men of peace, he is gunned down. The Warriors are blamed, and have to spend a very long night on the run, with all of the city inflamed and out for vengeance.
Walter Hill’s ultra stylish cult favourite is a journey to a very particular time and place. NYC in the 70s: before it cleaned up and modernised, when the subways were covered in graffiti, and it was dangerous to go out at night.
The shooting of this movie was especially arduous; in order to capture the after hours, empty streets vibe, it was filmed for only a few hours each night, somewhere between midnight and dawn. But this taxing method has left a dramatic result. The city feels empty; like all the decent, clean cut people have barricaded themselves inside, and left the city to the thugs. For a bustling metropolis like New York, this is especially effective; it feels like ‘The Purge’.
Part of the fun is the sheer volume of gangs involved, and how elaborate their world is. Every neighbourhood has one, each has their own theme (my fave is probably the ‘Baseball Furies’, who dress like the Yankees by way of Kiss), and not all of them are treated equally; an especially funny moment arrives when the Warriors clash with ‘The Orphans’, a bare bones gang dismissed by everyone as ‘small time’. The Orphans leader is infuriated: he didn’t even get invited to the big gang meeting in the Bronx!
Like a lot of cult movies, there is a rich and nutty back story to the making of. Thomas Waites, playing ‘Fox’, seems set to be a story focus, but early on his character is suddenly thrown under a train and killed; in real life, the actor, originally meant to be the lead, clashed with the director who then made a snap decision to write him out of the movie. Another piece of trivia: the enormous supporting cast was filled out with real life gang members; which lead to actual violence as the production moved through different gang’s territories.
Cult status was assured with the inspired, over the top, look. The thrift store punk costumes are wild, and Walter Hill’s direction adds considerably to the film’s energy. The opening credits are a bravura ten minutes of cinema, cutting rapidly between the subway system, various character’s amping themselves up, and the boardwalk at Coney Island, rendered like it has been painted in glow in the dark neon. An amazing sequence. The film also sports a nifty framing device, making it look like a story from a pulpy graphic novel; periodically the frame freezes, switches to a comic strip panel, and then moves rapidly sideways to a different part of the ‘book’, to resume the action.
The second half of the film is just one long chase sequence, but this is well staged, and the street battle showdowns are inventively varied. I especially enjoyed ‘The Lizzies’, an all girl gang who lure a few Warriors back to their lair, before dramatically, and violently, turning the tables on them. The female characters in this film, do not mess around.
And boy, can you see how venerated this movie is. Without even thinking about it very hard, I spotted bits and pieces that would be later referenced or re-used in ‘The Matrix’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, the John Wick films, different GTA’s, all of Guy Richie’s filmography, and ‘Rick and Morty’. I’m sure there are a tonne of others.
An exciting, weird, and funny movie, and a lively trip back to a more rugged era. This New York is long gone, but we have movies like this to remember it.