DVD | Review by Dan Taylor
known for his paint-the-screen-red gorefests,
Lucio Fulci cuts loose with THE NEW GLADIATORS
a futuristic gladiator film with family
branches jutting back to DEATHRACE 2000
and DEATHSPORT (both from Roger Corman's
New World and starring David Carradine)
and the quintessential futuristic sports
film, ROLLERBALL ("Jonathan! Jonathan!").
While efforts like ZOMBIE,
HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, THE BEYOND and CITY
OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka GATES OF HELL)
went a long way to establishing Fulci as
the godfather of Italian splatter, the director
would occasionally direct something slightly
out of character. For example, CONTRABAND
delivers a tale of smuggling and double-crosses
while CONQUEST taps into the post-CONAN
In the same way, THE NEW GLADIATORS
is Fulci's attempt at the futuristic gladiator
film and it predates Governor Ahnold's
THE RUNNING MAN by four years!!! Sure, it
took five years for it to make it to these
shores, but that's beside the point.
The flick opens with a rousingly
ridiculous pan of a cheesy model of futuristic
Rome. It's as convincing as a late night
talk show backdrop, but ten time more entertaining.
And then, we get "the rundown."
Because it's the future and
violence is the big thing, there are two
popular television shows. One is called
'Death Bike' and it's exactly what it sounds
like: a bunch of guys on motorcycles kick
the shit out of each other until one guy
is left. The other features psychological
torture that proves entertainment is at
its finest when they're trying to scare
you to death! Due to slipping ratings, the
WORLD BROADCASTING SYSTEM has dipped back
into ancient history and resurrected the
idea of gladiators for 'The Battle of the
Damned,' which is sure to be the greatest
sporting event ever! 12 convicted killers
battle it out and the survivor gets their
freedom. For the others... well, I guess
the phrase "Sucks to be you" would
To jack up the ratings, Cortez
(the guy running the whole show) decides
that he needs a people's champion. So, they
hire Drake (played by Jared Martin, later
seen on the syndicated 'War of the Worlds'
)... a pasty-faced, sunken-chest ween we're
supposed to believe is the world's greatest
'Death Bike' champ. He's in prison for the
murder of the guys that offed his young
bride in an effectively chilling scene.
Along for the ride is Fred Williamson, who
amassed a small fortune acting in these
As expected, 'The Battle of
The Damned' is the flick's price-of-admission
highlight competitors get gouged,
set on fire, decapitated (in loving slow-mo)
and generally abused. My only complaint?
The uniforms and darkness of the set make
it difficult to tell one competitor from
the other at times.
Like THE RUNNING MAN, THE
NEW GLADIATORS features a mission to knock
out a satellite, a maniacal man in charge,
framed competitors, a "people's champion"
and more. Either Fulci ripped-off Stephen
King (though neither film has the short
story's nihilistic ending) or Paul Michael
Glaser and Steven de Souza actually had
the nerve to rip-off Lucio Fulci.
Boggles the mind, don't it?