Like many Italian filmmakers whose careers were launched in the 1960s, Enzo G. Castellari’s early work would be in the western genre, which had been revived in Europe following the surprise success of Sergio Leone’s Per un pugno di dollari, released in the United States as A Fistful of Dollars. Within the next few years Italian producers financed a slew of what would become known as spaghetti westerns, resulting in such pictures as Django, Al di là della legge (Beyond the Law) and Le Justicier du Minnesota (Minnesota Clay), many featuring a cast of both European and American actors.
Castellari’s first contribution to this genre would be his 1967 debut 7 winchester per un massacro (Renegade Riders), a movie that would fail to achieve the same kind of recognition as its contemporaries but would bring the director to a wider audience. Following the acclaim of his war movie The Inglorious Bastards Castellari tried to capitalise on the success of John Carpenter’s sci-fi action flick Escape from New York with his own cult classic, 1990: The Bronx Warriors.
Enzo G. Castellari looks back on both 1990: The Bronx Warriors and its two loose follow-ups, Escape from the Bronx and The New Barbarian.
Having initially worked on several westerns during the 1960s, did you find the transition between genres to be relatively easy?
The transition from the western genre (a genre I adore and I grew up during my young childhood) to the poliziesco is very simple. You have to substitute the horses with the cars and the Winchesters with the machine guns. The stories are very similar to each other. The bad and good guys are the same.
The 1970s was a time when Italian cinema was at its most successful. What was it about these movies and this era in Italian history that appealed so much to foreign audiences?
Movie directors like Martino, Fulci, Lenzi and not to forget Castellari were welcomed through out the world. Their stories were acclaimed successfully. We worked without any kind of restrictions and in total freedom. Our movies had a lot of rhythm, action, great special effects and wonderful stuntmen.
How did The New Barbarians first come about and how different was your original vision for the story compared to the movie that was released?
The New Barbarians was just a simple challenge that the producer and myself wanted to create for the public. We wanted to tell a western style-story putting together a post-atomic genre, using the same ingredients and the same themes but with using different clothes, weapons and different cars. As you can see, the western genre is and will be my favourite.
Are you a fan of action movies and do you enjoy filming stunts and dangerous car chases?
Obviously there is no film or characters in a story which does interests the public. I just added, to the already approved and written script, a lot of action, car chases and many special effects, using a lot of joy and facility with my stuntmen friends. For me, creating and directing action scenes is very, very easy.
One common method with Italian movies was to cast American stars in the main roles to help market the movie overseas. Is it difficult having cast and crew of different nationalities working on the same set and does the language barrier become an obstacle?
After watching Fred (Williamson) in M*A*S*H. I had great sympathy towards him and I wished to have him cast in one of my movies. When the occasion arrived, with my Inglorious Bastards, I asked the production to have him in my movie. The diversity of languages, nationalities or cultures does not involve the film crew, but only the cast and the director. Except if we go filming in foreign nations there are mix crew members. I shot all my films in English and therefore there have not been problems in the past, because I speak Italian, English, French and Spanish.
One VHS release stated that ‘After Mad Max came The New Barbarian.’ What do you think cinema is so obsessed with exploring the idea of a post-apocalyptic society?
Naturally Mad Max has influenced my realisation of The New Barbarians. It has not influenced myself, but many other movie directors. As I mentioned before, The New Barbarians has a pure western genre style. Cinema is not obsessed with the post-apocalyptic society. It’s just another form of filmmaking and film story. The movie directors which I adore and influenced my making of action films are Sam Peckinpah, Sidney J. Furie, Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Steven Spielberg.
The New Barbarians, 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape from the Bronx are often referred to as a trilogy. Did you intend for all three movies to have a connection or is it merely because they are of a similar genre?
In reality the three films has one connection that links all of them: I directed them, one after the other. In six months, we wrote, prepared and filmed three films in great quickness. Having the same movie editor throughout the films, I could easily move from one film to another by editing at night. It was a great stress and abnormal work, but we all, at the end, gained from the world success of the trilogy.
One appealing aspect of the films is that they do not take themselves too seriously and even have a camp element to them, making them enjoyable instead of trying to be too brutal or shocking.
My main goal is to direct films for the public. That means to give strong emotions, pure enjoyment mixing fear; shocking scenes followed by pleasant moments. If only one of the many spectators watching my movie can forget for just a minute his daily problems. Well, I have reached my main target. Cinema is entertainment, it’s a daily escape, a pleasant break between many bad moments of our life.
These films have been compared to the movies John Carpenter was producing at that time.
The fact that my movies have been and still are compared to the ones of Carpenter, it fulfils me of joy and it does not disturb, even if it is the truth.
In some ways these movies resemble a comic book, did you intend for them to be over the top and even playful?
There is a comic side on everything I shot. My natural human side would direct me to film only comic films; the humour moment gives more value to the dramatic sequences that precedes and that which followed; it is a little relaxing pause to give the spectator a fearful, agitated and painful moment.
With the movies finally being released together in a box set, do you think the new interest in the trilogy may convince you to make a sequel and has anyone expressed interest in remaking any of them?
I do not think that Quentin Tarantino has already thought about that. I wish it were so.