The New Gladiators 2001 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
No figure in the horror film genre is as divisive as Lucio Fulci. After watching one or two of his films, viewers tend to move into one of two camps. One side hails Fulci as a master of terror, a man who upped the gore quotient in his films while creating wonderfully atmospheric pictures. For these people, Fulci is right up there with the likes of Dario Argento as one of the best filmmakers ever to emerge from Italy. The other camp sneers at these claims, pointing to the plodding pace of his films, the use of extreme gore to camouflage plot holes, and the director’s inability to draw good performances out of his cast as evidence of mediocrity. Initially, I enjoyed Fulci’s films, specifically “Zombie,” “City of the Living Dead,” and “The New York Ripper” because I did not know any better. When I came on the scene, you went to Fulci to feed your craving for gore. What a difference a few years exploring the genre makes! While I will not go so far as to remove Lucio from my play list altogether, I have seen enough of his films to realize he is not a cinematic genius. He is at best a competent director, at worst an abysmal one, and there are plenty of examples of bad filmmaking in this director’s filmography. Included in his canon of mediocre movies is one of his forays into science fiction, the 1983 movie “The New Gladiators.”
Forget the Fulci of horror with this movie. Instead, cast your mind back to the days when Italian directors went on a sci-fi bender, pumping out product to ride the success of Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” and the Mel Gibson vehicle “The Road Warrior.” Fulci dove on the bandwagon with this “shocker” about a futuristic society that uses televised gladiatorial combat shows to keep the masses in line. I know what you’re thinking: Schwarzenegger’s “The Running Man” and reality television, right? Maybe, except most of this film’s focus has little to do with either of these two concepts. Jared Martin plays Drake, the champion racer in the “Thrillkill” program who just happens to murder some goons roughing up his wife. He’s arrested, convicted, and sentenced to television’s latest program, a new gladiatorial combat program advertised as the successor to the Coliseum games of ancient Rome. Martin ends up in a jail/training program with Abdul (Fred Williamson), Akira (Al Yamanouchi), Kirk (Al Cliver), and a few other miscreants. Also in the picture is Cortez (Claudio Cassinelli), a ruthless television executive, and Raven (Howard Ross), the sadistic guard in charge of training the “contestants” with cheesy ray gun effects and laughable punishments.
The training programs look positively awful. In one series of scenes, Fulci has his actors fighting while strobe lights flash. Why? Who knows, but it looks ridiculous. The extreme training eventually unites all of the personalities, with Martin’s character emerging as the unofficial leader of the group. By the time Drake swallows a device that allows him to melt metal, I knew I was watching an absolute clunker of a film. The contest does take place, but it’s the tamest gladiatorial combat scenario I have yet witnessed in a sci-fi film. All you see are a bunch of guys riding around on bikes hacking away at one another. A bit of the old trademark Fulci gore livens things up briefly, but not enough to salvage the film. The scenes, shot in extreme close up to hide glaring flaws in the set pieces, are interesting only when you compare them to other movies. And wait until you see the conclusion! What a groaner. I won’t spoil the fine points for you, but at one moment a satellite blows up in space, which we see on a computer monitor. Fine, but should we see smoke rising off a celestial object? I think not, Mr. Fulci! There’s simply no excuse for this sort of sloppy special effects work, even in low budget Italian boilerplate. What did he use as a stand in for that satellite, a Christmas ornament?
Surprisingly, I liked several things about the movie. That scene where we see the convicts suspended over an electrified floor was hilarious. Too, the set pieces for the city, which looked like cardboard cut outs adorned with holiday lighting, worked in an odd way. The best part of the film was a glance at a rival network’s show about people who sign on to face their fears through some sort of computer simulation. We see a lady reclining on a bed as a giant pendulum swings closer and closer to her throat. Nifty! They ought to try that out on one of the reality shows on our television networks. Overall, “The New Gladiators” is too ridiculous to take as a serious entry in the science fiction genre. The ideas behind the shoddy pacing, acting, and effects work, however, does seem highly prescient considering what came after. In that regard, Fulci’s film is worth watching if you don’t mind laughing too hard at the whole thing. By the way, Riz Ortolani scored the movie.
Troma released the DVD version of the film and made a mess of it in the process. Supposedly “restored” for our viewing pleasure, the picture is a fullscreen transfer of what looks like a murky VHS tape. Extras include an interview with Dario Argento (?), several schlock Troma trailers, an intro from Lloyd Kaufman, and an interview with Fulci’s daughter (the director passed away in the 1990s from diabetes). Fans of the Italian science fiction era-roughly the early 1980s-should probably check this one out. Rent it first, though.