While wandering the Huntington Beach Swap Meet, I usually come away with some great cult flicks for the chopping block. And when those DVDs or VHS tapes aren’t scratched and ruined, or the wrong film entirely, it’s a true win. That’s how I came to own my copy of Lucio Fulci’s New Gladiators (1984).
Not to be confused with the 2002-released New Gladiators documentary made famous because of Elvis Presley’s hand in the production, Fulci’s film is a Running Man-style outing that predates the Schwarzenegger vehicle by three years. Originally titled I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (Warriors of the Year 2072), the movie takes place in a future Rome where television stations broadcast progressively more gruesome TV shows in an effort to rake in the ratings.
One of these stations provides the flick’s necessary villain, while another briefly-touched on station rocks a future-version of Fear Factor, where a person’s brain is plugged into a VR machine and forced to endure their own horrific death; if they don’t flip out, they win a nice vacation! That concept, while a lot more fresh than the death-sport one was, (even back in ’84), is shown only once, and the film’s titular gladiator brawls are all fought on motorcycles ala Deathsport.
Hmmm, you may think, how can a film whose budget was likely taxed by the gas money it took to get to location manage to create engaging bike-fight scenes?
Short answer–it can’t. The bike-fights (excluding the kickass chariot race) are closer to synchronized dances than fights, with collisions only occurring by what I assume were true accidents. There are some staged skewerings and a couple of mannequin-decapitations, but they’re not as impressive as the throat-slitting death scene simulated in the aforementioned VR show. The lack-luster action proves that Fulci’s real interest wasn’t in the sci-fi elements this film is mainly made up of, but rather in his more typical gothic settings. He does find a few opportunities to use his preferred locales even here, having his characters tromp through Roman gladiator dungeons and even a gothic church. Still, the gore can’t compete with many of his other cinematic offerings; the laser face-melting scene is a perfect example, as it’s a rehash of the much better acid-melting scene in The Beyond (1981).
The acting in New Gladiators is probably better than many of Fulci’s outings, with cult fave Fred Williamson (Black Cobra) playing the requisite tough-guy, and Jared Martin (Dallas) taking the lead as the nice guy that shouldn’t be on death row.
I’m a sucker for fight-to-the-death movies, and I’m not ashamed of it. However, New Gladiators actually has a plot, albeit one that doesn’t become apparent until the final half hour, and that plot has more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey than Death Race. Perhaps that’s why the gore is low and there isn’t a nude scene in sight. Perhaps the promise of an actual story drove Fulci and those involved to say: “We don’t need all that. The plot is what’s important here.”
Or maybe not. There are a few cut’s that make you wonder what was edited out, until you realize your were just supposed to know who was killed and where they were. The city, purportedly Rome circa 2072, is presented in HO scale and given the Blade Runner treatment, complete with ads on buildings and flying cars. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a quality enough print of the film to even read what those ads say, if we were ever meant to. Even Troma’s apparent Director’s Cut of the film is grainy and washed out, especially on an HD display.
So, is it worth it? If you want to see Fulci’s take on the death-battle genre, or you enjoy the likes of Bronx Warriors (1982), you’ll find the trip to Rome worth it. Personally, I thought it was great just to see an almost fully developed plot in a Lucio Fulci film, and recommend it to anyone that fact intrigues.
Sleaze Rating: 2/5
Sexy Rating: 0/5, unless you find motorcycles designed by Liberace sexy.