2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators (1984)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 6, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Analog Man can not live on DVD and Blu-ray alone. In this ongoing column we blow the dust off our VCR's and travel back to an ancient time where VHS tapes ruled the earth. Our mission? To re-discover those forgotten gems that are yet to receive the digitally enhanced 7.1 channel surround sound treatment...

Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Howard Ross, Eleanor Gold, Cosimo Cinieri, Claudio Cassinelli, Hal Yamanouchi
Screnplay: Elisa Briganti, Cesare Frugoni, Dardano Saccheti, Lucio Fulci
Country: Italy
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I loves me a good post-apocalyptic film. Hell, I even loves me a bad post-apocalyptic film, so give me a post-apoc flick directed by Lucio Fulci just at the point where he was teetering into a creative abyss, and starring a whole bunch of top-shelf Italo-exploitation players like Hal Yamanouchi, Al Cliver and the awesomeness in human form that is Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and I should be in heaven, right? Right? Hmm.

"The year is 2072 and decades of war have become part of mankind's inheritance. Violence is a way of life and the masses crave it. In an attempt to profit from this addiction to violence, the two major international television networks began broadcasting programs based on pain, brutality and human destruction. These programs became so popular that an intense rivalry for ratings arose between the two networks. It grew into a battle more terrifying than anyone could have imagined."

That's right kids, it's The Running Man, or Endgame, if you prefer (and I do), all over again! Our hero Drake is a winner on TV's own "Kill-bike", and he's shortly to become a man in demand. The idea? A bunch of folks ride about on motorbikes and try to kill each other – pretty simple, really. The only main contender for the TV horror-show crown? "The Danger Game", a show where folks are submitted to imaginary violence transmitted directly into their brains and have to resist the urge to panic – no-one ever wins it. And we thought our reality TV was nasty.

Cortez, the network boss, is a ruthless bastard who wants his ratings to improve. More to the point, evil network head bastard Sam wants the ratings to improve, and so instigates the casting call for a new show, where gladiators duke it out to the death, just like they did in ancient Rome. Cortez has 40 days to get the whole she-bang together, the alternative to which isn't much of an alternative, if you catch my drift.

Just an aside: it's worth mentioning that the exterior shots of the city are hilariously funny – miniature work only succeeds when there's a budget involved (could someone please tell that to Antonio Margheriti?), and the hovering network satellite darting about between sky-scrapers (an upside-down Xmas tree, basically) is about as convincing as the paper-plate flying saucers in Plan 9 From Outer Space. Budgetary restraints are probably one of the reasons why this film doesn't fall trippingly off the tongue when discussing Fulci's salad days like The Beyond, City of the Living Dead or Zombie Flesh Eaters. This film looks so cheap it makes Enzo Castellari's The New Barbarians look like Star Wars by comparison. Yes, the effects are that bad. I think that the whole effect was meant to suggest Bladerunner, it more suggests retardation to me, but hey, let's give this film a chance. I'm not averse to low budget special effects if the story's cool and there's some cheesey over-acting to be had, as well as lashings of the ultra-violence.

Cortez has to go and visit the network computer, Junior (strangely reminiscent of Mother from Alien, but never mind), in order to work out who the unlucky contestants will be for this new death-match game. Basically, it's a bunch of Death Row crims (the first three we see – Cliver, Yamanouchi and The Hammer! Woo-hoo!) fighting for a reprieve of their sentence, and because the computer seems to think that there ought to be the audience sympathy vote, our boy Drake gets drafted, too – not that he knows it...yet. Drake's lovely young missus, Susan, gets topped by a pack of real arseholes, who look like a very dodgy New Romantic pop band (imagine the indignity of being killed by Spandau Ballet?!), and it doesn't take much exercise of the old grey matter to work out which poor shmoe cops the bum rap for it.

Drake is delivered to the arena and promptly has a bracelet which monitors his position and health (kind of like a HUD in a video game) seared into his flesh. It's about this point where I should mention the dialogue, which is about par for an Italo-exploitation flick from the 80s:

Drake: Cortez! Go to hell!

Cortez: I would... if I thought it would raise my ratings.

Yes, it's that good throughout the film. This is also the point where we get introduced to another of the film's villains, the guard Raven (Howard Ross mugging it up like nobody's business), who just loves torturing his charges as much as he's able to without impairing them for the up-coming game. Delivered to the prison for the contestants, Drake is met by Monk, an old campadre from the Kill-bike days, who's horribly disfigured and has fibre-optic eyes. The rest of the boys, hardened criminals to a man, aren't terribly pleased to see Drake in their pen, and they certainly let him know it. At the same time, we get to see Fred Williamson as Abdul indulge in some "training" for what has been referred to as "The Battle of the Damned" - basically he gets to indulge in some Fred-fu against some knuckle-heads in kendo masks under strobe lighting. Hal Yamanouchi (Akira) is up next, and I always find it funny that he appears to be kicking some serious bottom in action scenes when by his own admission he knows nothing about martial arts.

It's worth mentioning at this point that the action scenes in 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators simply aren't very good. I've watched a whole bunch of Lucio Fulci's films, and he's a hell of a lot more capable than this in terms of staging an action sequence (check out what he did with the truly awesome Franco Nero and his Amazing Moustache in White Fang if you need further proof). It almost seems to me that this is Fulci's Jess Franco B-film – his heart's just simply not in it and he's here for the paycheck only. That's a sad thing to say, but it seems to be true – a movie like this should be driven by the action scenes, not carrying them.

Drake is put through the hate stimulator the same as Abdul and Akira, but because he's our square-jawed hero, he's able to resist its clutches and maintain his integrity. Aww, he's such a good guy. Such a good guy in fact that the rest of the prisoners give him a real welcoming committee and beat the snot out of him when he returns. However, he eventually earns the respect of his fellow crims when he stands up to Raven's bully-boy antics, while standing up for Kirk (Cliver – you know you love him, you've seen Endgame and Zombie Flesh Eaters – you've also possibly seen Devil Hunter, so let's draw a veil over that).

Okay, I just had to include this in the review as my favourite line of dialogue from the whole movie:

Drake: Okay Raven, now I want you to zap me with your magic stick.

What the fuck?! If that's not the gayest line that's ever been sprayed forth from the fountainhead of the homo-erotic Italo-post-apocalyptic genre, I'll eat my knee-high leather boots, and my leather jeans to go with 'em.

Especially notable specious line of dialogue:

Cortez: Computers...we built them to be our slaves, but we're turning out to be theirs.

Social commentary? I'd like to think so, although it's so heavy-handed that it rubs up against that appalling line Robert Kerman gets given at the end of Cannibal Holocaust, where he asks who the real primitives are. Ouch, bad script-writing appals.

Cortez: Your job will be to put yourself between Sarah's nose and my plans.

You don't get dialogue like that every day. Drake and the boys attempt a break-out, but sadly enough they haven't the nous to work out that they're being played for chumps, and that Raven's behind the whole thing, allowing them to "escape". Their punishment? Being held over a hot floor, and if they drop, they'll "sizzle like fried eggs", as Raven tells them. And then it's down for the "Battle of the Damned" gang-bang, having established the gang mentality of the boyzz. Oooh, those company critters better look out! Sarah, the only one of the company to have a conscience, has gone to the head of the company, but is confounded by computers, and an odd fellow playing piano.

That odd fellow was the computer's creator, and how about his death? And the death of the other chick? Our boy Monk seems to have been handy to both crimes – so his status as a non-combatant is called into question. Treacherous motherfucker? I think so. And so we get to the Gladiator stuff up close and personal – after all, it's what we're here for. And there's plenty of the trademark Fulci gore, but the trademark Fulci-oomph seems to be lacking. It sort of makes for a movie experience that's entertaining, but not really engaging. The Running Man style ideas keep coming, with the notion of taking out the broadcast tower, which is located conveniently in the middle of the broadcast zone, and it's Sarah that points this out (thankfully not securing the evidence in her pussy as in the Schwarzeneggar flick).

The fellas rally around the flag, as it were, and so the final act comes in to play, and so I bow out of the commentary game, given that what you'd otherwise get is a series of massive plot-spoilers. All I can say is what this movie is trying to tell you is: don't trust computers. Badness will ensue.

As far as post-apocalyptic films go, this isn't too bad, given the pretty woeful special effects. As an action film, you might want to go and have a look elsewhere; they aren't great action scenes, lightweight and poorly choreographed, despite some impressive blood and gore; Fulci seems keen on beheadings here. As a Fulci film, it does kind of mark the beginning of his slide into creative stagnation – it's quite odd that only a few years after the stellar heights of Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, and City of the Living Dead, the best he could manage were also-rans like this, Manhattan Baby and Conquest. Maybe that's just karma making him pay for having made New York Ripper. Anyway, 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators is not just a "for completists only" film, unwatchable to the greater majority of viewers, it's simply like I said – a half-way decent sci-fi flick which stars some pretty neat actors, but suffers badly due to its budgetary restraints, poor fight scene choreography, terminally bad script and lack of directorial spark. Entertaining cheese, is the best I can rate it.

Oh, and if you don't believe me about the inaction, and the static nature of the so-called action scenes, then how about this from Stephen Thrower's amazing FAB-press Fulci-pedia Beyond Terror: "the limp action sequences waste the efforts of some dependable exploitation stalwarts." That's about as succinct a precis as I coud hope for.

2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators seems to be almost the ghost of a Fulci film. All the right elements are there, but they're a pale, washed out version of what went before. Gore? You bet, and some pretty sweet stuff, too – the Pit and the Pendulum-style neck-slice at the start of the film is pretty awesome for starters, but the verve of his best films simply isn't here. His heart just simply does not seem to be in it – it's sad to watch a master just go through the motions, and that's unfortunately what we get here. A damn shame – this could've been so much more.
Movie Score
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