A Street-Gang Movie Called The Warriors Triggers a Puzzling, Tragic Wave of Audience Violence and Death
"If someone comes to a movie with a gun, who's at fault?" asks Warriors' film editor David Holden. Someone did just that at a drive-in showing on the night of February 12 in Palm Springs, Calif. and killed a teenager. Some 165 miles away, on the same night, an 18-year-old bled to death in a darkened theater in Oxnard, Calif. after being knifed by an unruly gang. And three nights later a Boston high school student was murdered outside a subway station, allegedly by two young men who had just come from the film.
Paramount Pictures, the movie's distributor, has scrapped its lurid advertising campaign (above) and offered to pay for extra security at any of the 670 theaters where The Warriors opened four weeks ago. Yet a mere handful of moviehouses have accepted Paramount's offer, and only about a dozen (including the two in California where the killings took place) have canceled the film. The reason is obvious: The Warriors grossed more than $10 million in its first two weeks.
Hollywood producer Tony (The Sting) Bill is not surprised by audience reaction. "It makes sense that a movie that basically glorifies violence would attract violence," says Bill, who happens to be producing one of at least four other gang-related films that are nearing release. (Bill insists his film, Boulevard Nights, is antiviolent.)
People connected with The Warriors professed surprise. Co-screenwriter David Shaber says it is "like Sesame Street compared to a film by Sam Peckinpah." Paramount VP Gordon Weaver observes that the violence is "the sort of thing that happens at rock concerts, high school basketball games and any place where diverse groups meet. It could have happened anywhere."
Here is a report on three places where it did:
Admission was only $1 at the Esplanade triplex in Oxnard, Calif. the night Tim Gitchel, his brother and two friends drove 10 miles from Ventura to catch the 10:10 showing. Just as The Warriors came on, the four youths suddenly found themselves battling at least 15 blacks who were suspected of drinking and smoking grass during the previous show. The fracas spilled into a walkway while Ed Treiberg, a patron who has worked with juveniles, looked on in horror. "They were caught up in a battle fever," says Treiberg of the assailants. "They just had the look of crazy in their eyes." Two of young Gitchel's companions were stabbed and Tim died from a knife wound to the heart. An 18-year-old construction worker, he was ambitious and hard-working and planned to attend college to study law. "Tim didn't hate anybody," recalls his mother. "He loved life." His family plans to file a civil suit against Paramount and the theater complex.
Four hours before Gitchel died, Marvin Kenneth Eller and several friends drove into the Palm Springs Drive-In to see The Warriors. At the movie, 19-year-old Kenny argued with a youth who blocked the way to the bathroom. Garbage cans flew; several shots were fired from a small-caliber handgun. A bullet went through Eller's skull, and after four days on the critical list he died. The unmarried father of a one-year-old son, Kenny worked for his father as a roofer.
Martin Yakubowicz, 16, a high school sophomore, left his $2.90-an-hour job in Back Bay Boston—putting bindings on skis—half an hour early that Thursday so he could be home in Dorchester in time to bring his mother a surprise gift. He boarded the subway near Symphony Hall and changed trains at a transfer point, where he encountered six youths—two of whom were friends—who had just seen The Warriors. They left the subway together, and, as Marty headed for a bus, a fight broke out and he was fatally stabbed.
The Warriors is still going strong at Boston's Saxon Theatre, which, says the assistant manager, "hasn't done such good business since My Fair Lady."