It takes off from the last image of Fellini's Roma, the leather-jacketed cycle gang circling the empty piazza as i gladiatori moderni della Città Eterna, out of which flows Lucio Fulci’s funky satirical proposition of the New World Order as a battle of the networks. The Coliseum tarted up with Super Bowl lights is the axis of the futuristic vision of Rome (rather charmingly imagined as a TohoScope maquette), war has given free rein to the public’s bloodlust, "pain, brutality and human destruction" make up the preferred topics on TV. Holographic torture is no longer enough, the Global Vision sweepstakes now gives clubs and swords to death-row inmates and turns them loose in garish-lit arenas. "A pretty grim view of humanity," protests one of the control-room scientists (Eleanora Brigliadori). "Grim but true" is the computerized retort. Petri's The 10th Victim is the chief predecessor, Jared Martin’s presence as a sort of James Caan stunt-double cements the Rollerball reflection, Fred Williamson with scrap-metal chariot and headband evokes not only the Mann-Kubrick gladiatorial school from Spartacus but also the televised bloodletting of the gridiron. (Others in the lumpen proletariat include a Japanese warrior named Akira, a misshapen combatant with a surveillance camera behind his blank pupil, and a former technocrat gone Zen.) Fulci endows this Battle of the Damned with all the rotten TV effects it deserves, from epileptic strobe cutting to tinted filters and Wrestle Mania howling, and then throws in a melting face or two as a matter of personal style. "Champions can be fragile," says one of the corporate overlords, with eyes already scanning the horizon for RoboCop, The Running Man and pay-per-view specials. With Howard Ross, Cosimo Cinieri, Claudio Cassinelli, Al Cliver, and Hal Yamanouchi.
--- Fernando F. Croce