Movie seasons come in waves. Movie moods come in waves. I'm not talking about summer being blockbuster season or the winter being awards bait. I'm talking about movies that make seasonal sense to watch during certain times of year.
I want to address the best summer movies. Movies that are about long days and about living for night.
Today's entry concerns THE WARRIORS, a brutal trip through 1979 New York City.
THE WARRIORS is one of the best summer movies about bad people having a bad summer night
The Warriors instantly identifies itself as a hyper-real New York City. Everything glows in smeared graffiti. It's a weird heat-dream covering the map of New York. The streets are the same, but the population is apocalyptic. Here, gangs of themed, uniform-wearing weirdos occupy sections of turf around the city. They war for reputation, giving themselves names like the Gramercy Riffs, the Rogues, the Baseball Furies, the Hi-Hats, and the Electric Eliminators. They're violent, cruel, bizarre, and terrifying. Their currency is notoriety and territory. It reads like a midwestern mother's nightmare.
Some gangs paint their faces and wear top hats. Some wear Yankee uniforms and beat people with bats. Some get around on rollerskates.
The movie itself follows the gang, The Warriors, summoned from their home base on Coney Island in Brooklyn to the Bronx where a massive gang summit is taking place. In a montage of their train ride, we discover despite being our "heroes," most of them are vicious, mean motherfuckers, sniping at each other, friendship be damned. No matter what, they have a rep to uphold, even among one another.
The best summer movies exude a mood.
The movie's mood has a constant, uneasy feeling, like you're hanging out with kids you know you shouldn't. It's a brilliant setup for a story that is going to go deep into a summer night.
Things go sideways when the Warriors arrive at their gang summit and the man organizing the meet, Cyrus, is shot dead. Hundreds of gathered gang members scatter as the cops appear, who are almost a gang unto themselves, as far as the film is concerned. Luther, the leader of the Rogues, and Cyrus' true slayer, accuses the Warriors.
The point Cyrus was attempting to make before being killed was that if unified, the New York gangs could overrun the entire city and take it from the police. The moment the Warriors are accused of Cyrus' murder, the entire gang population of the five burroughs are baying for their blood. A 100-block chase down Manhattan follows as the Warriors try to get from the Bronx back to Coney Island.
How awesome is that? A gang of jerks have to survive a Manhattan nightmare, the entire city turned against them. Like another one of our other best summer movies, The Warriors is a zombie movie with good taste. Every inch of the city, the Warriors encounter a new, strange gang with a gimmick, and they have to fight, or run, or parlay their way through. They don't leave Coney Island often, so they don't know the lay of the city all that well. They constantly have to refer to subway maps and deploy spotters to even find subway stations in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Extra-brilliant is that on top of the fact that the Warriors are capable and mean, they're also idiots. They get into fights with other gangs when they shouldn't. They get distracted by an all-women gang. They bicker over their own hierarchy and who should be in charge.
This version of New York is the disgusting, filthy New York of Taxi Driver, amped up far past reality's boundaries. It's an imagination flailing at what might be out there in the city night's stinking streets. The film was made in 1979, with the New York City blackout still fresh in people's minds two years prior in 1977. The blackout brought riots, looting, arson, and summer time insanity. While the film was based on a 1965 novel, the feel of lawlessness from the '77 blackout is oppressive in The Warriors movie.
The Warriors have to fight for every inch to get back to Brooklyn before dawn. This is one of the best summer movies, go watch it, it's a classic.