“Where is this woman can make babies!?”
— Big Ape (George Eastman), asking the question that everyone’s wondering in
2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983)
“Giara, if love had any meaning in the world, you would be the one I love.”
— Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) in 2019: After The Fall of New York (1983)
New York City was a frequent location for Italian exploitation films and why not? Seeing as how most of the Italian exploitation films of the 70s and 80s were specifically designed to pass for an American product (with the actors and directors often credited under Americanized pseudonyms), it would only make sense to use America’s best-known city. Interestingly enough, these films rarely portrayed New York as being a very pleasant place. There was always either a mob war or a zombie invasion or police corruption or a madman with a knife to deal with. This portrayal of New York as Hell-on-Earth reached its logical conclusion with Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper but even films less extreme than Fulci’s still presented New York as representing every negative thing that has ever been thought about Americans.
After the international success of the first two Mad Max films and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, there was a handful of Italian films that were meant to portray what life would be like in New York after a nuclear apocalypse. (In most cases, life would not be pleasant.) Of the films that made up this odd, yet undeniably energetic genre, 1983’s 2019: After The Fall of New York is one of the best.
Every post-apocalyptic film opened with the task of explaining who went to war with who. In this case, the war was started 19 years earlier by the European-Asian Alliance. After reducing America to atomic rubble, the Euracs (as they’re called) set up their headquarters in New York. When 2019: After the Fall of New York opens, the few radiation-scarred survivors have been reduced to living in the sewers and eating rats. The Eurac army rides through the streets atop white horses, capturing survivors and subjecting them to terrible medical experiments. Consider this: 2019: After The Fall of New York was an Italian-made film about evil Europeans (including, presumably, soldiers recruited from Italy) invading America. If you ever had any doubt about how determined the Italian film industry was to appeal to American audiences, 2019: After The Fall of New York should erase them.
Despite losing the war, there is still an American government. The President of the Pan-American Confederacy (played by Edmund Purdom, who regularly showed in strange movies like this one and Don’t Open Til Christmas) is determined to savage what he can of American society before relocating to either Alaska or the moon. Just in case you had any doubt that this movie was made a long time ago, the supporters of the Pan-American Confederacy are called the Confederates. And they’re the heroes of the film…
It turns out that there is only one fertile woman left on Earth. And the Confederate President is determined to take her to the moon to harvest her eggs and use in vitro fertilization to restart the human race. However, she is currently in a state of hibernation in New York (which, we are told, protects her from the radiation. That doesn’t really sound quite right but we’ll just go with it). President Purdom wants her rescued before the Euracs track her down!
Meanwhile, Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) is in Nevada, where he makes his living by winning violent car races. After his latest race, he is rewarded with a sex slave but, because he’s a good guy, he lets the slave go free. (Before leaving, the slave does tell Parsifal about the existence of cyborgs, which is information that comes in useful later on.) No sooner has Parsifal done his good dead then he’s grabbed by some Confederate soldiers and taken to see President Purdom. Purdom doesn’t quite say, “I heard you were dead,” but he might as well.
Working with the one-eyed Ratchet (Roman Geer) and a bitter former academic named Bronx (Vincent Scalondro), Parsifal enters New York and tries to find the woman while staying on step ahead of the Eurac commander (Serge Feuillard). Along the way, Parsifal gains allies like a little person named Shorty (Louis Ecclesia), a kickass warrior named Giara (Valentine Monnier), and former circus performer turned gang leader, Big Ape (George Eastman).
That’s right, George Eastman is in this movie. If you know the least bit about Italian exploitation cinema, you will not be surprised when George Eastman shows up. You also won’t be disappointed. Eastman (whose real name is Luigi Montefiori) was a regular presence in everything from Spaghetti Westerns to grisly thrillers like Anthropophagus to flamboyant gialli like Delirium to post-apocalyptic thrillers like Raiders of Atlantis and this one. As always, Eastman is a lot of fun to watch in the role of Big Ape. Nobody played hulking menace with quite the flair of George Eastman at his best.
Along with Eastman, 2019: After the Fall of New York also some cult appeal because it starred Michael Sopkiw. The handsome Sopkiw had a short film career, starring in four Italian films and working with directors like Lamberto Bava and Sergio Martino, before retiring from acting. The briefness of his career and his backstory as a former sailor-turned-marijuana smuggler-turned-model have given Sopkiw a certain enigmatic mystique among fans of Italian exploitation. 2019: After the Fall of New York was Sopkiw’s first role and he brings a lot of enthusiasm to the role.
As directed by Sergio Martino, 2019: After The Fall of New York is full of interesting oddities that set it apart from your typical Italian post-apocalyptic thriller. For instance, a radiation-scarred man is occasionally seen wandering through the rubble, playing a trumpet and, at one point, serving as a chorus to the action. Another character, in a scene reminiscent of a Fulci film, has his eyes graphically ripped from their sockets and spends the rest of the film preparing for an eye transplant. Two of Big Ape’s followers are dressed up as gorillas and Big Apes even gets a chance to show off his skills with a scimitar. Perhaps my favorite random detail is that the Euracs do their evil plotting in front of a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica. It’s just so wonderfully weird.
In fact, the whole movie is wonderfully weird. 2019: After The Fall of New York is Italian exploitation at its best!