Set “sometime in the future” (although precisely when director Walter Hill suspected white high-tops and ankle-stranglers might become de rigeur again is anyone’s guess), The Warriors is based on such an infuriatingly simple premise that you’ll spend half of it chewing yourself for not being born 20 years earlier and writing the bloody thing first. Inspired by the Greek tale of an army behind enemy lines, Sol Yurik’s original novel uprooted the tale to a Mad Max-esque Noo Yawk Siddy overrun with warring street tribes.
A fragile truce unites the gangs at a huge open-air peace rally, where Luther – David Patrick Kelly’s cackling, loony-eyed leader of small-time skiprats The Rogues – assassinates main speaker Cyrus (Roger Hill) and points a hammy finger at Coney Island outfit The Warriors. All Hell is duly unleashed, our heroes escape through a rickety fence and the stage is set for a 27-mile journey home that’d make London to Leeds on a glass spacehopper seem a breeze.
Being a director’s edit, Hill has shifted focus on the comic-book aspects of Yurik’s novel rather than the cynical and violent society-bashing some initially took it for. A decent cast-and-crew interview session reveals the motive: while Kelly and stand-out Warrior James Remar chuckle their way through self-congratulatory anecdotes, Hill looks visibly upset at a public reaction to the original that saw gang brawls in theatres and enforced censorship of his promo art.
So the film’s fantasy element is shoved to the fore – with a heavy reliance on some supremely unfashionable cutting techniques (corner-to-corner wipe, anyone?) and lurid pantomime enemies, it frequently feels more Willow than Gangs Of New York. And it’s entirely fitting. The main reason The Warriors works is you’d have to be Mary Whitehouse not to end up rooting for these waistcoated meatheads and their faintly ridiculous quest. (In fact, thanks largely to Lynne Thigpen’s role as the unseen, street-talking radio DJ keeping tabs on their progress, the Odyssey-like spectre of Kowalski’s journey in Vanishing Point looms largest on the neon horizon.)
Anyone who’s ever felt a long way from home, take note – The Warriors makes you realise that rush-hour snarl-ups really aren’t worth popping a vein over.