On February 15, Martin Yacabowicz, 16, was riding on a Boston subway at about 10 p.m. when he got into an argument with six young men he knew; one of them had a knife strapped to his right leg. A few minutes later, a knife had been plunged into Yacabowicz' stomach; he staggered off the train and collapsed at a bus stop, where he was found by two policemen and taken to a hospital. He died at 5:15 a.m. Police have charged two young men with his murder, and say they were among the six and that they had all been to see a movie called "The Warriors," advertised as "Boston's Number One Newest Hit."
On February 12, at 10:20 p.m., in the lobby of a movie theater in the Esplanade Shopping Center in Oxnard, Calif., Timothy Gitchel, 18, his brother and two of his friends, all white, were asked for a quarter by one of a group of 20 black youths. They got into a shouting match; Gitchel got a bloody nose. The fight escalated, and a few minutes later Gitchel, who had been stabbed in the heart, staggered into another area, and died. The movie: "The Warriors."
"The Warriors," a $4 million feature made with unknown actors which opened on Feb. 9, grossed $3.5 million in its first three days. At least five incidents of violence have followed in its wake, although a Paramount spokesman denies any direct link. In addition to the deaths in Oxnard and Boston, there was a fatal shooting in a Palm Springs drive-in, a subway rampage in New York, and a rock and bottle throwing incident at a drive-in in Oxnard.
Paramount spokesman Gordon Weaver said that as a result of the incidents the company had withdrawn its advertising, and offered to pay for extra security at any of the 670 movie theaters playing the film. Two theaters, in Oxnard and Palm Springs, have canceled showings of "The Warriors."
"We canceled the advertising because it was turning into a media event," Weaver said. "We didn't want to have a situation where a news commentator would finish a report on one of these incidents and then an ad would come on saying 'now playing at your local theater.'"
(Last night, however, the AP quoted Weaver as saying Paramount had decided to resume advertising but that the ads would be different -- telling prospective patrons only that the film was being shown and where they could see it. "We wanted an ad that could never be construed as being exhortative," he was quoted as saying.)
Weaver said he did not believe that the movie inspired the violence, and cautioned that in the incident in Palm Springs the participants had been involved in another fight unrelated to the movie, and that in Oxnard the blacks had seen the movie but the whites had not.
"What happens is when you have an event where you have large groups of people from diverse backgrounds meeting in a common forum, it perhaps provides a setting for something antisocial to happen. I've seen enough bloody noses at high school football games to know that... You have to look at the number of films released every year and say do people act out their fantasies? That does not seem to happen."
Massachusetts state Sen. Michael LoPresti complained in a letter to the Boston area district attorney that the film "depicts youth crime in a glamorous manner." LoPresti asked to have the movie banned in Boston; assistant district attorney Paul K. Leary said the office would view the film and see if it was violating any local statutes.
"It's a very violent picture," said the assistant manager of the downtown Boston theater where the six youths had allegedly seen "The Warriors."
"It's fantasy violence," said Weaver. "The violence is not real violence, it's pop-gun violence. Obviously, heads get bashed in, but it's not done in an ugly way."
"These are the Armies of the Night," read the advertisements for "The Warriors." "They outnumber the cops five to one..." It takes place in New York City, and involves the efforts of a gang (the Warriors) to reach their home turf via subway after being mistakenly blamed for the death of another gang's leader.
"There are not innocent people who get attacked," said Weaver. "It's good guys and bad guys, like a Western. The one truly bad person receives retribution."
Locally, the film is playing at the Town Downtown, the K.B. Silver, and the K.B. Georgetown Square. The manager of the Town theater said the only problem he'd had was "some noisy kids" one day when school was canceled because of the snow. He said Paramount was paying for the two extra security guards he had hired for the run of the movie.
Oxnard police spokesman Lt. Dan Hanline said the fight did not appear to be a gang war but rather a racial incident. There were 60 people in the lobby during the fight, he said, yet police have been unable to charge anyone with the murder. One suspect was released for insufficient evidence "although there was blood on him."
In another incident the night before in Oxnard, Hanline said, young people threw rocks and bottles at police cars called to a drive-in after a showing of the film was canceled because of fog. Asked if he thought the movie was related to both incidents, Hanline said, "you can't expect me to answer that." However, he said, violence of that type is "rare" in Oxnard, where last year there were a total of 14 murders in a population of 100,000.
Paramount Pictures executives were "shocked, totally shocked," at the violent incidents surrounding the showing of the movie, Weaver said. "Three young people lost their lives," he said. "We knew young people would like it, but we certainly were not prepared for that."
"I'll tell you one thing," said the assistant theater manager in Boston."We haven't done such good business in 15 years, not since we had 'My Fair Lady'."