The Coolest Gangs on the Big Screen

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Street gangs.

They’re colourful and funky. Who here remembers Swan and Ajax strutting their stuff on the dark streets of 1970s New York in The Warriors? And the other gangs, remember them? The Baseball Furies? The Electric Eliminators? Of course you know what I’m talking about.

Well what about dystopian street gangs? Remember the Duke of New York (aka Issac ‘Chef’ Hayes) lording it up over a twisted, futuristic version of the Big Apple in Escape From New York?

Then there’s the apocalyptic gangs. You must recall the wild antics of the Toecutter and his merciless motorcycle gang, the Acolytes, as they caused havoc on the streets of pre-apocalyptic Australia in Mad Max. And remember how after that, the series went full batshit post-apocalyptic, serving up the likes of Lord Humungus and then Tina Turner in a platinum blonde wig?

Yes indeed. It’s time to give props to a few of the films that have inspired The Future of London books that I’ve been writing lately. I’ve wanted to do this post for ages and before anyone gets antsy,  I’m not saying these are the best ‘gang’ movies out there (or maybe I am!) The above three films are dear to my heart that’s all. So take a few moments to appreciate these classics.

By the way, if you’re hoping to see Marlon Brando and The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club here, you’re out of luck.

 

The Warriors (1979)

“I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle.”

So many one-liners worthy of repeating.

Remember Cyrus and that speech? ‘Can you dig it?’ Or how about the  ‘Warriors, come out to play’ scene? Now if you’ve got a few empty beer bottles lying around the house, I do suggest you put on the long-haired wig and partake and clink along with the scene at home. You know, it doesn’t matter how many times I see David Patrick Kelly acting like a spaced out, born-again hippy in the Twin Peaks reboot. He’ll always be Luther to me.

There’s a clear difference between Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel and Walter Hill’s 1979 movie. The novel is grittier and darker. It’s angrier too and it feels a lot more real, more like a piece of social commentary than the fantastical, theatrical movie that followed fourteen years after the book. The characters are different too. Both are brilliant but this is one of those rare instances where I prefer the movie over the book. (Jaws is another)

The film is cool and super-dated but in a good way that reeks of the 1970s. It’s creative too with a wide variety of uniquely dressed and titled gangs who take over the city streets at night. If that isn’t enough, the soundtrack kicks bottom. In fact, while you’re reading the rest of this section, you should check out the excellent theme song. Caution – it’ll make you want to strut.

The Warriors – just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about here – follows the adventures of a New York street gang who get wrongly accused of murdering a major gang leader (Cyrus) at a mass meeting designed to unite all the city’s gangs. For the rest of the movie, The Warriors are chased across the New York, battling through hostile, gang-infested territory as they try to to make it back to their own turf in Coney Island.

The film has gathered a well-deserved cult status over the years and here’s an extra bonus fact you may or may not know: the original novel was based on an Ancient Greek text, Anabasis, by the philosopher and historian Xenophon. In Anabasis, a band of Greek mercenaries are fighting their way back home through hostile Persian territory after their leader (Cyrus) is killed.

Now I’m sure Xenophon’s text is well worth a look but if you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter, why not check out The Warriors?

 

Escape from New York (1981)

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.”

This movie is a dystopian classic.

Some observers have commented that the walled city prison in Escape from New York is an allegorical endorsement of how to treat poor communities that are riddled with crime and deemed beyond hope. Others shoo away such lofty, English-lit heavy interpretations like an annoying fly that lands on your dinner plate. After all, if Isaac Hayes is playing a character called The Duke of New York, shouldn’t you just sit back, smile and enjoy?

Yes.

Escape From New York is set in an alternate 1997, one in which the Big Apple has been transformed into a maximum security prison that holds over three million convicted criminals. When Air Force One goes down over the city and the President (played by a distinctly non-American Donald Pleasance) is taken hostage, it’s up to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to get the POTUS back out in one piece.

The Duke’s gang are known as the Gypsies. There are other gangs in the city too including the Turks, Skulls, and Crazies. But it’s the Duke and his followers who rule the roost in this fictional 1997. These are the guys after all, who drive around the city in limousines with matching chandeliers attached to the hood.

The Duke doesn’t give a shit about anything. He wears a Naval Officer’s tunic and shades. He uses the President for target practice – “You’re the Duke of New York. You are A-Number One!” There’s Romero, the Duke’s hissing sidekick and the man with the electric shock hair and gaunt features. Romero is post-apocalyptic New York personified, a man so futuristically punk that if he wandered onto a Mad Max set by mistake he wouldn’t look out of place, not for a a second.

The supporting cast is top drawer too, including the legendary Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, and Adrienne Barbeau. The soundtrack is another of Carpenter’s own efforts, a tense and futuristic synth score that captures the mood perfectly.

Here’s an interesting, in-depth fan breakdown on Escape From New York if you want to read more about the movie. Well worth a look.

 

Mad Max (1979)

“The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.”

Who remembers the opening of the original Mad Max? The Nightrider is tearing along the Aussie highway in a stolen MFP (Main Force Patrol) vehicle. He’s easily getting the better of the numerous cops chasing after him. Looks like he’s going to win the day. He eludes all pursuers and then…

…and then Max Rockatansky gets in on the chase.

Cue a fantastic, low budget Australian movie and the start of a long-running franchise that will go on to introduce some of the punkiest post-apocalyptic gangs onto the big screen.

In the original Mad Max, the antagonists are a vicious motorcycle gang led by Toecutter. This gang, also known as the Acolytes, are a psychotic mob (possibly of Italian heritage – look at their names!) who engage in frequent road wars with the cops and bring terror to the local communities. Toecutter (portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played Immortan Joe in the fourth Mad Max movie) takes a terrible revenge on Max for the death of his friend, The Nightrider. It’s Toecutter’s revenge that leads to the moment where family man Max Rockatansky finally becomes the Road Warrior.

Other memorable gangs come along in the later films. Who can possibly forget The Humungus (or Lord Humungus if you prefer) and his punk rock biker followers in The Road Warrior? And although the third film is arguably the weakest of the four, I do still like Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and her Bartertown cronies. And there’s also the aforementioned Immortan Joe and his War Boys in the excellent Fury Road.

The entire Mad Max universe is the perfect scenario for inventing imaginative gangs, many of them lingering on the border between the post apocalyptic and horror genres. You have to love it.

 

The Future of London Series

As I mentioned in the intro at the top of the page, The Future of London books draw heavily on the above movies for inspiration, especially as I go forward with the series and things get a little wilder. Gangs such as The Bedlamites, The Obituaries, The Sleeping Giants, Ferals, and Ghosts of London – all of these are inspired by the likes of the above movies. And for that, I salute them.

The Future of London Box Set (Books 1-3) is out now.

‘This is the best thing I’ve read in months. The best this year.’ – Amazon Review

Amazon Link

Non-Amazon Links

 

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