Adapted from a Sol Yurick novel (which was loosely based on Xenophon's "Anabasis") The Warriors demands a certain level of disbelief from its audience. The universe that The Warriors inhabits is established as a futuristic one, but there is a distinct 70s vibe that it’s impossible to shake off. Nevertheless, that 70s feel definitely gives the film a very distinct visual flair, one that really makes the whole scenario play out like an urban nightmare.
The film opens exquisitely, as Hill introduces various gangs through the credits. A vibrant night-time New York gives the audience a sense of atmosphere, with music from Barry Vorzon only heightening the experience. The plot is straightforward enough – a gang lord named Cyrus brings together the city’s gangs in hopes of consolidating power. He is assassinated as he is giving his speech by the psychotic Luther – leader of The Rogues. Luther frames The Warriors for committing the crime. What follows is a hunt, as The Warriors need to get back to their turf on Coney Island while being chased by the city’s gangs and the New York Police Department.
Taking the trains back home proves to be more difficult than expected, as gangs patrol the streets and police sweep the terminals. As The Warriors hoof their journey, they encounter gangs like The Orphans, The Furies, The Punks, The Lizzies, etc. The fights between The Warriors and these gangs are often quite exciting, with Hill framing his action sequences with the appropriate level of grit and candor. What’s most surprising about Hill’s direction is how he chooses to stylize certain scenes over others – fight sequences are based within reality in terms of physical expectations, while a love scene involving the lead characters is shot underground with a whizzing train illuminating the scene. I mean, it looks absolutely terrific, but it’s certainly the type of scene that calls attention to itself.
I saw Walter Hill’s updated version of the film, which includes comic book transitions in certain scenes. The technique comes across as extremely hackneyed, and does nothing to build the cloud of tension. The positive aspect to these transitions are that you at least get a sense of what the scene was before their unnecessary intrusion – but why even have them at all?