Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DVD Review: SAVAGE STREETS (1984)

SAVAGE STREETS (1984)


LABEL: Arrow Video
REGION CODE: Region 0 PAL
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 93 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital Mono

DIRECTOR: Danny Steinmann
CAST: Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley, Robert Dryer, John Vernon
TAGLINE:What they did to her little sister was worse than a crime... Now witness the ultimate execution!


Brenda (Linda Blair, CHAINED HEAT) is the tough as nails leader of the L.A. girl-gang The Satins, a tight knit group of bad ass high schoolers; Francine (Lisa Freeman, BACK TO THE FUTURE), Stella (Ina Romeo, ESCAPE FROM LA) and Stevie (Marcia Karr, KILLER WORKOUT). Brenda's a smart mouth queen of the streets with only one weakness, her mute younger sister Heather (Linnea Quigley, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) whom she's fiercely protective of. While strutting down Hollywood Blvd. Heather is nearly rundown by a gang of drug-peddling thugs calling themselves The Scars, led by Jake (Robert Dryer), whom is joined by Red (Scott Mayer), Fargo (Sal Landi, SWEET REVENGE) and the snivelling Vince (Johnny Venocur, LORD OF ILLUSIONS). Incensed by The Scars nearly killing Heather the ladies retaliate by taking the Scars prized 50's convertible for a joyride down the strip and giving it a trashy make-over. The Scars thirsty for revenge after the shaming vent their anger by gang raping Brenda's disadvantaged sister Heather.

The rape occurs at school while Heather awaits her sister in the gymnasium. She is approached by Red who gains her trust with flattery and feigning interest in sign language. It's an almost touching scene of bad boy meets nice girl, almost, but not quite. Actor Scott Mayer has a twisted darkness about hims a great villain, very surprised he didn't go on to do more. His character's a seething psychotic and his attentions for the naive Heather surely don't bode well. Sure 'nuff the interaction turns dark when Red begins "signing" the in-out-in-out finger in the hole routine and forces himself on her as the remaining members of the Scars enter the gymnasium and drag her into the restroom. It's there that they brutally gang-rape Heather on the dingy floor next to a row of urinals. The encounter is quite harrowing and not played for sleazy titillation by any means, this is just sadistic violence. Adding to the disgust of an already vile act is that Quigley appears quite young, physically, this is before your breast augmentation which we saw on display in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Vince, the newest and arguably least scuzzy of the four gets first dibs after being coerced by Jake, leaving Red and Fargo to argue over who's up at bat next, so to speak The squirm inducing scenario is oddly juxtaposed with  Brenda's own skirmish in the shower, a WIP-styled bitch fight with a cheerleader nemesis to the backdrop of a dozen naked and wet women, yay exploitation. As Brenda arises victorious from the shower room brawl it's contrasted by the sight of Heather, unconscious on the floor, receiving a nasty kick to the head from Jake.

Heather is discovered by The Satins and taken to the hospital having fallen into a coma. That night, unaware of who the culprits are, Brenda and The Satins are at a club drowning her frustrations when the soon to be married (and pregnant) Francine has an violent encounter with the Scars resulting in her slashing Jake's face with a switchblade. The next day Jake and the Scars encounter Francine on her way from the bridal store, you know this won't end well for the young lady, right? They give chase and eventually catch up to her on a bridge. Ever defiant she spits in Jake's face, enraged he picks her up over his head and throws her from the bridge to her death. The snivelling Vince already remorseful over the brutalization of Heather defies the gang and escapes to the hospital where Brenda overhears him confessing the rape to a comatose Heather. Vince flees the hospital after Brenda attacks him following his confession


Bloodthirsty for vengeance Brenda returns home to smoke a cigarette while laying nude in the tub, it's a glorious bit of gratuitous nudity to be sure, she's looking intense while contemplating her next move. With revenge on her mind she dons a badass black leather jumpsuit during a sweet 80's montage and arms herself with a switchblade, crossbow and an assortment of bear traps because, well, why the Hell not? She arrives at Vince's house to deal out some sweet vengeance after convincing Vince's father she's there to do homework, yeah right! Surprising Vince in his bedroom she gets the better of him with a switchblade to his throat, the snivelling shit informs her that Jake has killed Francine and where she can find the rest of gang. Despite the fact that he raped her sister she spares his life, but fear not for Jake runs his ass over a short time later. The finale features Blair in full on 80's vigilante mode as she squares off against the trio, she's a complete and total bad ass with some very sweet one liners, my favorite being a quip directed towards Fargo just before she sends a crossbow bolt through the neck, "Too bad you're not double-jointed... if you were, you'd be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye", very sweet indeed.
 

Speaking of awesome one-liners John Vernon (CURTAIN, ANIMAL HOUSE) appears as the hard-assed principal of the high school, one of the few adult presences in the film, these teen-revenge film rarely featured adult figures and it's no different here. While Vernon's not quite as sleazy as his character in CHAINED HEAT (also with Blair) he's not exactly a saint either. His role was pared down quite a bit once director Steinmann took over for DeSimone and he's relegated to only a few choice scenes, just enough to utter the immortal line "Go fuck an iceberg!". I definitely wanted to see more John Vernon here, but we get what we get. It's amazing that the film holds up as well as it does given it's troubled production which included director Tom DeSimone (HELL NIGHT) stepping down from the film after creative differences with the producer. He was replaced by Danny Steinmann (THE UNSEEN) only 24 hours prior to the start of filming and set about streamlining the script and dropping a few extraneous subplots only to have production screech to a halt just a few days into shooting when the financing fell through. The film was resurrected once producer John Strong (SUMMER HEAT) came on board but he and Steinmann became adversarial when Strong became intertwined in nearly every aspect of the production. Check out the commentaries for more on this, it's makes for a great listen. The nutty production in part explains the film's bipolar feel which goes from delicious camp to brutal exploitation, but it works it makes for quite an entertaining watch.


DVD: The now out-print BCI/Eclipse 2-disc DVD of SAVAGE STREETS fetches some truly sleazy prices online so I'm quite pleased that Arrow Video have resurrected the film on DVD with a NTSC-PAL port of the BCI edition. UK 80's sleaze enthusiasts should rejoice as this marks the first time the film has been presented uncut in the UK, previous editions were heavily cut by 12 minutes. This is a port of BCI's SD master presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with English language Dolby Digtal mono, no subtitles are offered. The image is flawed owing in part to the NTSC-PAL conversion, what we get is pretty soft, colors are muted, it's dark and there's stutter and combing issues during scenes of movement, and let's be honest, a film by definition is a series of moving images so this is no small distraction. The original mono audio is decent but not great with audible hiss and pops during the quieter scenes but while there's not much depth to the proceedings the soundtrack and dialogue fare pretty well overall.

If I was in the UK I would be quite happy with this release, even with the hiccups of the NTSC-PAL conversion, but here in the US I found the conversion issues a bit distracting. US Cult title distributor Code Red announced a few months back that they had acquired the North American rights to the title with a new 2011 HD transfer. The Code Red SAVAGE STREETS DVD has no street date at this time but screenshots for the release on the label's blog appear to be an improvement with superior colors, brightness and contrast though I would temper my excitement with caution until I see the release with my own two eyes.

Arrow Video have also ported over the special features from the BCI/Eclipse release which includes three audio commentaries, the first with director Danny Steinmann moderated by DVD producer Michael Felsher and I would say this is essential listening, a candid affair covering many facets of Steinmann's filmography, including the stylish XXX film HIGH RISE. He speaks to how the film came to him, the troubled history of the production, remembrances of the cast and crew, some not so kind remembrances of producer John Strong and the wiseguys that financed the film. Numerous anecdotes of  his time directing FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING, a very underrated and awesomely sleazy entry in the series. Sadly, there's no mention of THE UNSEEN, a pretty obscure little slasher gem featuring a nutty Sydney Lassick performance, that Steinmann disowned following producer or studio interference. There's also speak of the nasty bicycle accident that effectively derailed his career. This is one of the better commentaries I've heard, it's right up there with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell on THE THING, no lie.

The second commentary with cinematographer Stephen Posey (BLOODY BIRTHDAY, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE) and actors Sal Landi and Robert Dryer is moderated by the host of Comedy Central's BEAT THE GEEK TV game show, a humorous listen with some amusing anecdotes. The third commentary with producer John Strong features eight participants. It is moderated by filmmakers Kenneth J. Hall (EVIL SPEAK), David DeCoteu (CREEPOZOIDS) and Eric Spudic (DEAD CLOWNS) who sits in alongside Stephen Posey, Sal Landi, Robert Dryer whom return from the second commentary plus the addition of Johnny Venocur. Whew, I'm tired just typing that let alone listening to it. It's another decent listen but there's way too many voices to be completely listenable. Venocur commandeers most of it, he's a bit annoying honestly and to hear Strong you would think he directed the film not Steinmann and he makes several allusions to the film's social commentary - nope - not buying Mr. Strong, this is just sleazy vigilantism straight-up.

Then we have two Red Shirt Pictures produced featurettes; beginning with Confessions of a Teenage Vigilante (7:02) featuring star and genre legend Linda Blair looking pretty good these days. She speaks about working with Linnea Quigley, John Vernon, Robert Dryer and the other members of The Satins. She also addresses the meatier roles that the 80's exploitation films offered women actresses, the film's legacy and her involvement. Fun stuff with clips and music from the film. The second featurette Heather Speaks (10:45) features bona fide scream queen Linnea Quigley on the infamous gang-rape scene, that THE RUNAWAYS lead singer Cherie Currie was originally cast in the role of Brenda but was fired during the troubled production and recalling Johnny Venocur wanting to get together to rehearse the scene wherein he confesses to her comatose character. Finishing off the supplements are three video-interviews with producer John Strong (14:03), Johnny Venocur (14:15) and actor Robert Dryer (5:54) plus a theatrical Trailer (3:21).

Now onto Arrow Video's notoriously sweet packaging extras beginning with a nifty reversible sleeve featuring the original US one-sheet plus newly commissioned artwork by Tom Hodge aka The Dude Designs, it's a gorgeous candy colored imagining of a Vestron Video VHS cover, check out Tom's blogpost about creating the cover HERE. We also get a sweet 14x17" fold-out poster of the artwork with an Arrow Video DVD cover gallery on the reverse side plus an 8 page booklet Justice For One: Getting Even in Savage Streets featuring writings from Kier-La Janisse, author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi. Great stuff, a pretty stuffed edition no doubt that will please fans and newcomers alike.


SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on Savage Streets by Kier-la Janisse, author of ‘A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi’ and ‘House of Psychotic Women’
- Audio commentary with stars Sal Landi, Robert Dryer and Director of Photography Stephen Posey moderated by Marc Edward Heuck
- Audio commentary with director Danny Steinmann moderated by Michael Felsher
- Audio commentary with producer John Strong and stars Robert Dryer and Johnny Venocur moderated by filmmakers David DeCoteeau, Kenneth J. Hall and Eric Spudic
- Confessions of a Teenage Vigilante (7:02) 16x9
- Heather Speaks (10:45) 16x9
- Video interviews with Johnny Venocur (14:15), Robert Dryer (5:54), and John Strong (14:03) 4x3
- Original Trailer (3:21) 4x3

VERDICT: I have to wonder how I missed out on this delicious slab of sleazy exploitation for so long, this was just an awesome watch bursting at the seams with 80's cheesiness, 70's sleaziness and enough gratuitous nudity to please any women-in-prison enthusiast. This would make a mighty fine double feature with the Linda Blair/John Vernon WIP film CHAINED HEAT. Despite some annoyance with the NTSC-PAL conversion hiccups this is still a high recommend, particularly for our UK readers.

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