Junkfood Cinema: After the Fall of New York

By  · Published on March 12th, 2010

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; the other white meat. Yes, this is the questionable truck-stop diner of the information super highway. Each week I serve up greasy, fattening cinematic Grand Slams in the hopes that your otherwise healthy viewing habits may be corrupted. These are the films that aren’t going to register very highly on any legitimate ranking systems; be that tomatoes, stars, or thumbs. They are however representative of my unbridled love for schlock and I refuse to believe we are only allowed to enjoy “award-winning” films. The key is to go into these films with the full awareness that they are bad, and enjoy them despite their lack of substance (much like junkfood). To sweeten the deal, each week there will be a tasty, if mal-nutritious snack suggestion that will tie in to the film in some way.

This week I am taking JFC back to its roots! Long ago, not that long ago at all actually, I launched this column with a nod to Italian Knockoff Cinema by reviewing 1990: Bronx Warriors. If you’re smart enough to abstain from gorging on this column every week, and in which case shame on you for cheating on your intellectual diet, let me briefly summarize this subgenre of film. Basically in the early 1980’s the copyright laws in Italy were apparently as stringent as the littering laws at Woodstock. So if Hollywood records a major success with a movie like The Warriors, the Italians will shamelessly rip it off and create 1990: Bronx Warriors. Or, if say Escape from New York exhibits major bang at the box office state-side, they give us today’s film: After the Fall of New York.

As you would expect, given the intro, the story here involves a nuclear cataclysm that has reduced New York City to a rusted, burnt-out shell of its former glory. The world has split into two all-encompassing factions: the Euraks (a unity of Europe, Asia, and Africa) and the Pan-American Confederacy. The Euraks launched the nukes that leveled most of America, including New York, and their troops now hold sway over that once-great city. Their first order of business was to kill as many of the surviving inhabitants as they could; a vicious, daily hunt was established. Somewhere in the span of time between the fallout and the continuing warfare, the human race has lost its ability to breed and there are no fertile women to be found; very Children of Men…if you replace thoughtful social commentary with Cocoa Puff silliness. But the Pan-American Confederacy has received intelligence that there may be one last fertile woman hidden somewhere in NYC. They decide to send in a dangerous mercenary, who is currently making his living as a participant in various blood sports, in an effort to retrieve her and escape with her to space in order to repopulate the human race.

What Makes It Bad?

The very fact that it is an Italian Knockoff Film automatically limits its production value to something akin to the Sarasota Community Theater production of West Side Story. And we do get the requisite post-apocalyptic setting that, to the casual observer, may seem apt considering the source from which this film plagiarized. But the fact is that 97% of Italian action films from the 80’s take place after the end of days. Why? Is it because Italy, moreso than any other country, has an unhealthy obsession with Armageddon? Not even close. It has everything to do with the fact that post-apocalyptic films are dirt cheap. Think about it. Dilapidated buildings, burnt out cars, and giant piles of rubble are not only part and parcel with a post-apocalyptic environment, but are also dirt cheap to film. Why pay for an expensive sound stage when a failed house project or junkyard will do just fine? I mean come on, it’s already set up for you and, if you are crafty, you won’t even need to obtain any expensive permits to shoot there!

Further emphasizing After the Fall of New York’s minuscule budget is the opening sequence. This would be the sweeping crane shot establishing all the horror and devastation that has befallen the once great city of New York. The problem is the decimated skyline of NYC is represented by the world’s worst model. It seems as though New York’s ultimate demise came at the hands of the art director’s 3-month old Corgi who chewed up the model the night before principal photography. If the skyline debacle isn’t enough of a eyesore, check out the models in the foreground. I don’t know which once I liked better, the plastic buildings leftover from the latest Godzilla film or the Statue of Liberty made entirely of marzipan. You could make a case for the possibility that it was slightly melted by the radioactive fallout, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t look like it was created in the Play-Doh Landmark Factory.

Let’s talk about music; there really isn’t any per se. I imagine that the process of scoring this film involved several trips to the keyboard section of Sears in 1983. The “composer” pressed the demo button on all the Casio’s and occasionally pressed keys to make trumpet…ish sounds. I know what you’re thinking, “but Brian, isn’t that kind of the sound that defined John Carpenter’s scores as well?” First of all, shut up. Secondly, the main difference here is that Carpenter’s music had a discernible beat whereas After the Fall of New York turns its nose up at the idea of cohesive rhythm.

So much of this story makes absolutely no sense. The fact that the villains are an amalgamation of Europe, Asia, AND Africa with all races being professed as being merged into one. Funny, because I only see white people. Or how about the guy who is setup as the big boss who has his eyes gouged out the first time he’s on screen. For the rest of the film, he delivers his edicts from a hospital bed as they replace those eyes. Then, right as they take the bandages off, he gets killed. Sorry for the spoiler but for the love of Triskets, can you think of any other movie where the chief villain is incapacitated in his first scene and is ironically killed the minute he gets better? You remember that scene in Escape from New York where the Duke gets swine flu and doesn’t show up until the end when he’s stabbed by Kurt Russell? No! Because it doesn’t make any freaking sense!

Why I Love It!

This movie is too bizarre not to be enjoyed. Sure it rips off the basic elements of Escape from New York, but what it adds to try and distract us from that amounts to some of the craziest nonsense I have ever seen. Michael Sopkiw, the K-Mart Snake Plissken, is a complete wash as a hero. First of all, the guy’s wearing a jacket that’s half standard leather and half Medieval chain mail. So he’s both ready to duel the dreaded black knight and to parrrr-tay! It’s the mullet of 80’s menswear! But just when you think that maybe the costume designer made this choice to make him extra manly, note the sequins on the back of the jacket and the studs on the jeans. So he’s all kinds of bedazzled and also wearing the trademark headband which effectively negates all bolstering of masculinity.

There are entire colonies of subterranean midgets; one of whom becomes the guide for our intrepid heroes and takes part in the least noble self-sacrifice ever recorded on film. There are entire tribes of mutants who look like Lon Chaney had indecent relations with Xera from Planet of the Apes and then dressed the offspring up as Arabian knights. I dare you not to scratch your head when you get to the scene featuring the hunting party in the sewer. This party is comprised of the deformed denizens of New York who are in various stages of makeup tests…er, I mean radiation poisoning. They are very pro-rat murder and very anti-midget. Collective groups of weirdos seem to be a recurring theme in Italian post-apocalyptic films, so lucky us! I was a little perturbed by the clown robot, clearly a real actress doing bad robot mime, which dispensed human slaves to the winner of the battle royale at the beginning of the film; not down with clowns folks!

Enough of the weird for weird sake, let’s move on to the weird for awesome sake. This movie, with the exception of Sopkiw’s wardrobe of course, is a furious ball of macho. The film opens with a raid by the Eurak enforcers, heretofore referred to as the Knights of the Holy Order of NFL, involving guns, blades, and even a flame-thrower kill or two. It is a hell of a way to establish the violence level in a film from the word go and I thoroughly enjoyed the disregard for introducing who the hell these people were before watching them get roasted. Or how about the fact that the first time we see our hero, he’s embroiled in a savage demolition derby while wearing a jousting helmet. Awesome! The scene that shoots for macho and falls hilariously short would have to be the car chase near the end. Our heroes get their hands on one of the last functioning automobiles in existence and fit it with giant steel plates to protect them against the invading baddies. This sounds like the setup for a truly badass chase, but the car has the major disadvantage of being a station wagon now loaded down with reinforced steel. So it’s really more like watching your Aunt Gertie avoid shopping carts in the Costco parking lot than a legitimate stunt sequence.

One of the more ridiculous aspects of the film, which amounts to a running gag throughout, is that one of the three desperadoes sent on this mission has a terrible secret. I feel a moral imperative to warn you that I will be “spoiling” a major plot point in the next few sentences, but the fact is that it’s frightfully obvious from the get-go what the big reveal about this particular character is. Just before he is introduced, the president of the Pan-American Confederacy awkwardly denies the existence of cyborgs. At various points during the film this character, named Ratchet (getting warm to the surprise?), leaps over ten foot walls effortlessly, survives a barrage of gunfire, talks about having a body-heat sensor built into him, and is unaffected by supersonic weapons that make the heads of everyone else in the room explode. Oh, and he can be seen in the background casually lugging giant sheets of 2-inch-thick steel by himself. So when the moment finally comes wherein bargain-basement Snake Plissken confronts Ratchet and accuses him of being a cyborg, he’s officially the last pony to cross the finish line. It is one of the least effective reveals in cinema and watching Sopkiw figure it out is like watching skin form on atop a bowl of nacho cheese.

Junkfood Pairing: Italian Soda.

I don’t why, but Italian post-apocalyptic films always make me thirsty. Maybe it’s the fact that all bodies of water in these films look polluted and people swig booze out of dirty old bottles. Suddenly, inevitably, I am reaching into the fridge for a cold, contaminate-free beverage. In this case, Italian soda has all of the recognizable features of American soda with different flavors to give it a unique taste. In the same fashion, the Italians took the familiar features of Escape from New York, added concentrated crazy, and produced something wholly unique.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.