|Submitted by Iain McLachlan |
(Sep 28, 2004)
ANNO 2020 – I GLADIATORI DEL FUTURO
Alternate Titles: 2020 – I GLADIATORI DEL FUTURO, TEXAS 2000; 2020 – TEXAS GLADIATORS; 2020 – FREEDOM FIGHTERS; ONE EYE FORCE; SUDDEN DEATH; YEAR 2020 – THE GLADIATORS OF THE FUTURE; 2020 – TEXAS FREEDOM FIGHTERS; 2020 – GLADIATORS OF THE FUTURE; 2020 – THE RANGERS OF TEXAS.
Color by L.V.
RT: 95 mins
Pro Co: Continental Motion Pictures
Dir: Kevin Mancuso (=Aristide Massaccesi, Luigi Montefiore);
Pro: Aristide Massaccesi (uncred)
Wr: Alex Carver (=Luigi Montefiore); Aldo Florio.
Phot: John Larson (=Aristide Massaccesi);
Film Ed: Caesar White;
Pro Des: Robert Jenkins.
Mus: Francis Taylor (=Carlo Maria Cordo);
Assist Dir: Mike Soft (=Michele Soavi), Ofelia Garcia.
SFX: James Davis, Robert Gold, Peter Gray;
Make-Up: Patrick Russell, Barry Hills;
Armourer: Frank Ukmar (=Franco Ukmar).
Cast: Al Cliver (=Pier Luigi Conti), Harrison Muller, Daniel Stephen, Peter Hooten, Al Yamanouchi, Sabrina Siani, Donal O’Brien, David Green, Isabella Rocchietta, Janna Ryan (=Geretta Geretta), Iris Reynado.
Aristide Massaccesi is seen by some as the renaissance man of Italian trash cinema.
Entering the film industry as a teenager in the early 1950s, Massaccesi eventually developed into a useful cinematographer, his name being seen on several spaghetti westerns from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, as well as projects like Massimo Dallamano’s Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? (1972), Luigi Batzella’s Il Plenilunio delle Vergini (1973) and Alberto de Martino’s L’Anticristo (1974). He began his directorial career during the formative years of the 1970s, by acting as second-unit director on movies like Steve Carver’s Roger Corman production The Arena (1973), before graduating to helming his own pictures with La Morte Ha Sorriso all’Assassino (1973), apparently the only time he has been credited as director under his own name. Apart from the occasional stint as a cinematographer, film editor and producer, Massaccesi began to concentrate on turning out a wide range of exploitation titles, under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms, ranging from hard and soft-core porn to women in prison dramas to sword and sorcery to gore epics, often mixing and matching genres to suit different markets, with his contributions to the “Black Emanuelle” series and “video nasty” Anthropophagous (1980) probably being his best-known accomplishments.
Of course being a filmmaker with his eye firmly on trends in the market place, Massaccesi quickly took advantage of the boom in post-apocalyptic action-adventures generated by the success of George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), and especially its sequel Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior. To this end, in 1983, with his long-time collaborator George Eastman/Luigi Monetefiore (Rosso Sangue 1981), he put together a brace of movies in this vein, Bronx Lotta Finale and the production under review here, Anno 2020 – Il Gladiatori del Futuro.
Texas, sometime in the 21st century, following a nuclear war. A group of mutants have attacked and taken over a mission, torturing and killing its members. Ex-Texas Rangers then launch an assault on the place and wipe out the mutants. The Rangers then begin searching for survivors. One of them, Catchdog, discovers a woman hiding in one of the mission’s room and attempts to rape her. He is thwarted by one of his colleagues, Nisis, who beats him as punishment. The rest of the Rangers expel Catchdog for violating their code of celibacy. Nisis decides to stay with the girl, called Maida, after she reveals that three days journey away is a community of people dedicated to maintaining peace and civilisation. Some years later. Nisis is now living with Maida in a commune, and they have a young daughter. The community they live with is based around a disused oil production terminal that has now been turned over the creation of a new fuel source. On a hillside above the encampment, a group of outlaws have assembled on motorcycles, led by the Rangers’ erstwhile comrade Catchdog. Inside the terminal, a malfunction causes excessive pressure to build up in the processing equipment. Nisis, manages to save the day, just before the plant blows up, by careful manipulation of some safety valves and switches. Just then, the security devices surrounding the compound’s perimeter, are activated, and the outlaws launch an assault on the community. The residents manage to successfully defend themselves against the attack, with Nisis recognising the leader of the outlaws as his erstwhile Ranger colleague. He attempts to shoot Catchdog with a scoped rife, but instead shoots dead his female companion. Catchdog and his cohorts beat a retreat, but shortly afterwards a large black armoured vehicle appears. A man who appears to be the commanding officer gives the order to attack, and from within a group of helmeted and uniformed figures, each carrying metal shields. They advance on the terminal, with Nisis and his people mounting a fierce defence. Unfortunately the shields appear to be protected by some sort of force-field, and soon the defenders are routed and dispersed. Nisis is knocked unconscious by a stray bullet and the remainder of the outlaws invade the terminal and scatter the survivors throughout the terminal, killing most of those that they find. Nisis regains consciousness to discover the compound in chaos, and goes looking for Maida and his daughter, eventually finding them in hiding. Just as they are about to make their escape, they are captured and Nisis is forced to watch while his wife is raped by one of Catchdog’s henchmen. Outside the black-uniformed leader of the invaders, assembles what is left of the commune’s inhabitant’s and lectures them about his plans for the future of the terminal…
If nothing else, Anno 2020 – I Gladiatori del Futuro is further proof that the western genre did not in fact go into terminal decline during the 1970s and 1980s, as was commonly supposed, but instead was incorporated into and thrived within other genres. In mainstream cinema, this becomes fairly obvious in crime thrillers, typified by the likes of Don Siegal’s Dirty Harry (1971) and Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1973).
However, the western influence has been especially acutely felt in the field of science fiction, the most high profile example being George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977). Within this field, the subgenre where traditional western elements really came to the fore is that of the post-holocaust action flick. There had been earlier examples of this phenomenon, Robert Clouse’s The Ultimate Warrior (1975) and Richard Compton’s The Ravagers (1979) being among the best known, but it really came into its own with the international success of George Miller’s first two entries in his Mad Max trilogy, and especially the wave of spin-offs emanating the Philippines and Italy, typified by Cirio H. Santiago’s Stryker, Romolo Guerrierio’s L’Ultimo Guerriero (both 1983) and Sergio Martino’s Mani di Pietra (1986). Aristide Massaccesi’s film is another good example of this absorption.
Several sources maintain that that the screenplay by Luigi Montefiore for Anno 2020 – I Gladiatori del Futuro was in fact adapted from a 1968 western called I Cinque della Vendetta, directed by Aldo Florio and on which Massaccesi served as a cinematographer, hence Florio’s co-screenwriting credit in some quarters, although he receives only a directing credit on the earlier work. The premise contained within the Florio production involved a group of five gunfighters rescuing their former comrade’s wife from prostitution, then revenging his death at the hands of ruthless land baron. Here that premise is relocated to a post-nuclear Texas of the future, with the number of protagonists reduced to three, and their opponent now the leader of a neo-Nazi military force sweeping the country. The plot point of having to rescue the wife from bondage is retained.
A well-worn theme in western fiction, both cinematic and literary, is that of a group of outsiders, especially outlaws, professional guns and post-Civil War Confederates, having to regroup in order to perform a task, such as the rescue or revenge of someone close to them. In the case of Massaccesi’s film, the protagonists appear to be former Texas Rangers (although this is never explicitly stated, their being referred to as “Rangers” implying as such), now reduced to acting as vigilantes.
Other elements reworked from the traditional western environment that many viewers will recognise include the heroes being caught in a stand-off by the villains in a canyon, the western style of dress adopted by many of the characters, notably Stetsons, jeans and boots together with old-fashioned six-shooters and rifles, and the appearance of a group of American Indians. At one point, there is even a saloon bar brawl, which would not seem out of place in traditional Hollywood western from a far earlier era, with a sheriff (complete with badge) showing up to arrest the heroes.
Also, while portions of the film take place in what appears to be a genuine disused industrial facility, the rest of the exterior sets used for this production are obviously redressed standing sets previously used in one of the many spaghetti western productions shot at De Paolis studios until the late 70s, as a more economical alternative to the better-know Cinecitta complex. Aficionados of Italian oaters will undoubtedly recognise many of the locations used in this production, underlining the impression of it being a displaced item from that genre.
Material from particular western titles can be readily detected while watching Anno 2020 – I Gladiatori del Futuro, among them lead Ranger Harrison Muller (She 1983) challenging the owner of a Russian roulette game to a match, in order to win back both Al Cliver’s wife and his friend’s dogtag, echoing an early sequence in Sergio Leone’s Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu (1965), where Clint Eastwood confronts a fugitive in a gaming room, Peter Hooten (Non Aprite quella Porta 3 1990) fighting an Indian brave in order to obtain his tribe’s help in storming the villains’ compound, taken from John Farrow’s Hondo (1953), a John Wayne vehicle, and the climax where the Indians launch an attack on the industrial complex, saving the heroes, apparently inspired by the finale to Harald Reinl’s sauerkraut western Winnetou I (1963). A Russian roulette scene, ending with a bandana-wearing gambling blasting his brains out, is obviously a reference to Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978).
Unlike its companion piece, Bronx Lotta Finale, which featured some interesting science fiction concepts, this movie’s genre elements are almost entirely incidental, creating the suspicion that a more straightforward remake of I Cinque della Vendetta was planned at some earlier stage by Montefiore, before his screenplay was quickly rehashed to exploit the standing sets and production facilities left over from the other work. Among the few concessions to sci-fi cinema are verbal references to a nuclear war, the appearance of some green faced mutants (who generally act more like the typical Italian movie zombie from this period, as typified by the works of Lucio Fulci, L’Aldila 1980), and a sequence taking place after the saloon brawl where Hooten and Muller are sentenced to hard labour in a salt mine that has to be checked by Geiger counter for radioactivity,
Other indications that the story does in fact take place in the future are the presence of thermal shields used by the invaders, impervious to bullets and other modern weaponry, but vulnerable to more traditional implements like axes, arrows and spears, the industrial complex creating new energy sources using waste material and assorted futuristic vehicles, actually conventional 1980s motor cars with additional panelling. The invaders’ choice of punk-style clothing and make-up was probably first seen in Mad Max 2, and has since become a cliché in the subgenre.
Anno 2020 – I Gladiatori del Futuro suffers from a variety of shortcomings associated with its co-director Aristide Massaccesi, notably cringe-making dialogue exchanges, scrappy and generally inept plotting and howling obvious continuity blunders. Together with wildly uneven narrative pacing, these would make the film an extremely unpromising prospect for the typical viewers. There are, however, compensations.
Massaccesi’s background does show itself in a number of sequences, with initial assault on the compound featuring some imaginative camera angles, along with some stylish camera tracks, such as where Nisis (Al Cliver, I Guerrieri dell’Anno 2072 1984) regains consciousness after being wounded, with a long track back revealing the extent of the devastation the invaders have caused, the camera dollies to and fro along the line of the barricades while the commune’s inhabitants await an attack, and gain a highly mobile camera where the lead villain (a suitably scary looking Donal O’Brien, Zombi Holocaust 1980) gives a speech to the conquered commune members. In addition, the scenes in the salt mine are atmospherically shot.
It should be noted that the script does contain one good twist in that the plot appears to be setting up Nisis as the hero of the piece, only to have him killed off in the first 25 minutes.
While conventional movie watchers may well be put off by the shortcoming inherent in this production, exploitation fans are made of sturdier stuff. While the dialogue sequences do present difficulties, Massaccesi’s production proves surprising for such a venture by being packed with incident. Whenever the makers sense that the narrative pace is beginning to flag, or the screenplay has simply run out of ideas, a violent fight or other action sequence is introduced, making the resultant film more enjoyable, in this respect, than many of its contemporaries in the same genre, Cirio H. Santiago’s canon being the obvious example.
Massaccesi reportedly turned over the more elaborate action material to his collaborator Luigi Montefiore. If some of the one-on-one martial arts fights are clumsily staged, an example being that between Cliver and Daniel Stephen (Warrior of the Lost World 1983), in the opening scene, most of the other extended fights are well done, including that involving the Rangers and the mutants in the mission, using machetes, an energetically handled fight in a saloon, ending with most of the set destroyed, and the hand-to-hand combat involving Hooten, an Indian brave and a buried knife.
Also featured are a variety of stunts involving motorcycles and dune buggies. These are executed in a generally workmanlike fashion, with bikes seen jumping ramps, cars chasing across the tundra, and assorted stunt personnel being blow off their rides or overturning. At one point a full body burn is performed.
In keeping with the exploitation roots of the project, the violence shown in Anno 2020 – I Gladiatori del Futuro is somewhat exaggerated, with knives and arrows embedded in eyeballs, a character being electrocuted at an electricity junction, graphic throat cuttings by machete, bloody bullet hits and a shotgun blast to the face, all backed by suitably gross sound effects courtesy of Cineaudio. The women on both sides prove to be as ruthless as their male counterparts, as both Janna Ryan (Rats – Notte di Terrore 1984) and Isabella Rocchietta (Frankenstein Unbound 1990) cold-bloodedly shoot anyone who crosses their patch. Sabrina Siani (La Conquista 1983) also proves to be adept with a shotgun, eventually despatching Daniel Stephen with a couple of well-placed shot. Siani has a major following among fans of European trash cinema, and the sight of her posing with a machine gun, with her top undone, may be reason enough to purchase this title.
Although presented as a tough, resourceful individual character, the rules of exploitation filmmaking dictate that Siani has to suffer a number of indignities before the conclusion of the movie. Here she is graphically raped in front of her trussed up husband, and generally brutalised, as are a number of other minor female characters. Because of Massaccesi’s shortcomings as a director this scenes are nowhere as shocking as he would undoubtedly have hoped, the final result being merely distasteful, although their existence at all will undoubtedly offend some audience sensibilities.
In an apparent reference back to his best-known work, Anthropophagous, the climax of the film has Donal O’Brien attacking Muller and Siani with a pistol, protected by a thermal shield, only to be felled by an axe to the stomach.
Although he continued to work with Massaccesi, both as an actor and screenwriter during the 1980s, Luigi Montefiore had to wait until 1989, before receiving his first solo directorial credit, for DNA Formula Letale/Metamorphosis, made by Massaccesi’s production house, Filmirage.
Like Montefiore, assistant director also performed as an actor for Massaccesi, before graduating to screenwriting chores (often uncredited) for the director, before making his directorial debut (produced by Filmirage) with the highly regarded giallo Deliria (1987), scripted by Montefiore.
©Iain McLachlan 2004
Chroma-Noize cult sci-fi and horror movie reviews: www.geocities.com/bigfatpav2000