It was with sadness that I absorbed news of author Sol Yurick's death on Thursday morning. His obituary in the New York Times offered us a window shopping sized glance into the life of this extraordinary man, who used the sadness encountered while in the employ of the welfare department of the 1960s to fuel a number of novels containing a deeper social message. His most well known work is also his first, and the one for which we're lamenting his loss today on Shock-O-Rama. Sol Yurick wrote The Warriors, in 1965, grafting the rampant and troubled youth gang culture he saw around him onto the (then) lesser known Greek tale Anabasis by Xenophon. Although much of the structure and many of the elements of the novel remained intact for the film (screenplay by David Shaber and director Walter Hill), the violence was toned down to appeal to a wider audience, and a comic book adventure aspect was heavily written in. This thematic shift led to Yurick being quite dismissive of the film for decades, as it deviated so greatly from the specific message he put forth.
The film we eventually got depicts a gritty gang, falsely accused of murdering the leader of the city's biggest outfit, having to fight and flee their way back to the safety of Coney Island, their home turf. This directly aligns with both Anabasis, the tale of 10,000 Greek mercenaries stranded behind enemy lines on the losing side of a conflict and forced to battle and march their way to safety, and with the source novel, which has the same basic plot structure as the film. We don't see the rape committed by the book's protagonists, though the group in the film insinuate they would force themselves on Mercy (and Ajax gets particularly rough with an uncover police woman played by Mercedes Ruehl). Our movie heroes also don't murder an innocent bystander, as the novel characters do. Another change (one whose significance could be argued in a few directions) is that the gang in the film are multicultural, with white, black, and Latino members. The gang in the book (actually called the Coney Island Dominators, not The Warriors), are all black and Latino. Interestingly, Walter Hill wanted to go with an all black gang, but Paramount refused to let him. There are many more changes, but most of them are cosmetic, with names of characters and gangs being altered.
Despite the grit and grime depicted in the film, the novel goes further, truly reveling in the worst parts of humanity. This is the thrust of what Yurick felt was lost in translation; his social commentary was removed, leaving more of an escapist action piece in its stead. Hill makes an attempt at exposition on the plight of poor, disaffected, youth gang culture toward the end of the film, but it's heavy handed and quickly forgotten amidst what is commonly considered the best scene in the film. How can anything else stand up to the pure poetic menace of Luther (David Kelly) clinking bottles together as he taunts the exhausted and haggard Warriors? Still, the linage remains intact, from Anabasis, though The Warriors, to The Warriors. The general framework is there for a compelling story, the details just shift to fit the narrative needs of the storyteller.
This was even the case as Rockstar games adapted the film into an open world, beat'em up video game in 2005 (a mix of Double Dragon and GTA), which coincided with Paramount Pictures' first (and only as of this writing) DVD release of the film. Sadly though, the form it was released in (The Ultimate Director's Cut) brings the film more inline with Walter Hill's original comic book-esk vision. It takes the theatrical version and inserts transitions between scenes that see the frames freeze, transform into a comic panel, move to the next page, then transform back into film frame, before resuming. It's doubly sad as this is the only way for young viewers to see this amazing cult classic (outside of rare 35mm repertoire screening in a local theater). The video game itself was clearly made with passion for the source film, bringing in most of the surviving actors to voice their characters, and replicating imagery as faithfully as the original Xbox would allow. The first two thirds of the game take place in the three months leading up the the events of the film. We're able to see the formation of The Warriors gang, and how each of the film's protagonists joined up. Any fans of the film need to find and play this game, as it massively expands on the world, and is considered cannon by director Walter Hill. The last third of the film allows the player to experience the events of the film. It was a massive success for Rockstar (most famous for the Grand Theft Auto series of games), and is broadly considered the best video game adaption of a film ever made (most times those adaptions are terrible, being nothing more than cheap cash-ins).
No matter how deep you wish to delve into the surrounding minutia, The Warriors (film) is a venerable cult classic that offers much to repeat viewers. If you haven't experienced it, now's the time. If you've seen it a billion times, perhaps give Yurick's original novel a go. His passing will doubtlessly cause of surge of new attention and sales (as it does when any artist passes), it's simply a shame that this was necessary to goad long time fans into exploring further. Honor the man who inspired this amazing film by exploring the rabbit hole further; dig into some of his other works and see exactly what he was about. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe it's time to dust off the original XBOX and return to Coney, the big CI!
Shock-O-Rama Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature
Sometimes you've got to let go of control, giving it over to someone else for the evening. All domination/submission allusions aside, let me program your Saturday night. This week's Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature is for all you Amazon Prime members out there. I've cooked up a scorching double bill that will fill your night with fright, but take care to be in bed before the sun rises kiddies!
Our first film is a little slice of unlife tale, Near Dark, following the harrowing misadventures of a dysfunctional vampire family. Patriarch Lance Hendrickson is careful to keep the family in line, using his charm and charisma to keep them out of worse trouble. Bill Paxton puts in the only sort of performance he knew of in the 80's: loud and crazy. This one's a unique take on the vampire subgenre, and the show down sequence should
have you bursting into flames for more!
Our B picture tonight, Planet of the Vampires, comes curtsey of the maestro himself, Mario Bava. Pop the corn and settle into this weird science fiction film, which clearly influenced Ridley Scott's Alien. Keep an eye out for the remains of a long dead, gigantic alien pilot, fourteen years before Dan O'Bannon penned it! See if your goosebumps can be contained by the retro vinyl X-Men space suits the actors pretend make sense!
Don't forget to come back and let me know in the comments what your thought of these two back to back. And feel free to suggest next week's Screaming Saturday Double Feature service (Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.