Review Date: September 19, 2008
Released by: BCI
Release date: 09/23/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s tough growing up in the industry, but nothing asserts your jump to adulthood than playing a tough broad from the streets. Both Linda Blair and Tatum O’Neal were getting Oscar nominations in 1973 as tots, but eleven years later they were taking it to the streets and exacting revenge on their own terms. Tatum teamed with another Oscar has been, Irene Cara for Certain Fury
, while Blair went full out exploitation with Linnea Quigley hand in hand for Savage Streets
. In the end though, the low brow won out, and we’re here today with a brutal rape, double jointed one-liners and a crazy leather jump suit, while Certain Fury
languishes in VHS hell. But BCI went all out, giving this Razzie winner and box office flop a full out special edition, with two discs, a slip cover and some awesome artwork. Grab your crossbow and let’s take aim at this cult rape revenge flick with a pinch of slasher.
Anyone miss how those exploitation trailers used to narrate the synopsis for you in really blunt terms? There’s no better film to write about in that manner than this. Here it goes:
It’s tough growing up on the streets…especially when your sister is deaf. Brenda’s (Linda Blair
) a tough girl, but she’s going to have to get a lot tougher to compete with the Scar gang. Led by Jake (Robert Dryer
) they make the streets their slaves…and women their victims! After Brenda and her posse trash the Scar’s car, they make it their mission to make them pay…again and again and again! They rape her deaf sister (Linnea Quigley
), murder her best friend and then turn their sights on her. But armed with crossbow, Brenda seeks vengeance. It’s an eye for an eye, because these aren’t your ordinary streets…they’re Savage Streets
The tagline doesn’t lie: “They raped her sister…killed her best friend. Now she must seek revenge!” Is really the film in a nutshell. It definitely isn’t complex. But under the hand of cult director Danny Steinmann (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
, The Unseen
), he milks the high concept for every ounce that it’s worth. Pauline Kael always said that “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” And Savage Streets
, readers, is great trash. It’s one of those stars in alignment movies, where even if the production was plagued with bankruptcy and conflict, somehow every aspect pulled together for one captivating whole. Now, where do I start?
Probably Steinmann’s biggest achievement, and the film’s, is how it manages to leverage the thin story it has by drawing it out to increase character development and build tension. The standout rape sequence is most notable, with Steinmann giving the sequence power not from excess or brutality, but merely for the fact that he cradles it, leading to it scene after scene. First we have the touching scene of Quigley’s deaf mute, Heather, dancing alone in the empty gymnasium. Shot in slow motion and dressed in attire culled from Olivia Newton-John’s wardrobe from Grease
, she flutters as purity in essence. Then the savage gang member, Fargo (Sal Landi
) barges in, but instead of immediate force, Steinmann transforms the scene into that of tender romance. Heather’s seduced by his bravado, and even for a moment he too seems compelled by her silent innocence. They sit on the bleachers and share a quiet, touching moment that seems the stuff of Rebel Without a Cause
. Two lovers caught on different sides of the streets. Nothing has even happened, and already it’s tragic.
Then, though, when the Scar finally starts to move in on the prey, Steinmann holds off on the violence, knowing that words can cut much deeper. Fargo’s perversion of her innocence by teaching her how to make sexual sign language she can’t even comprehend is in a way far more corrupting than any physical act. With this, all the while, intercut with Blair in a bitch fight in the showers, Steinmann’s example of the power of words over violence is made all the more clear.
When the other Scar members arrive and finally do commence the deplorable deed, Steinmann again makes sure not to exploit the mere act, but instead demonstrate the psychological impact it has first and foremost. We see the young hood forced into taking her virginity, his conflict with instinctual arousal and mental morality and we see Quigley, in a truly compelling silent performance, showing a humiliation and pain that words need not express. Then, when the rape is finally about to commence, Steinmann cuts seconds before, intercutting Quigley’s silent scream with the brash phone ringing in the next scene. It’s a tour de force example of skilled direction taking a sleazy sequence and instead making it one of perceptive power.
Steinmann essentially repeats this approach throughout the rest of his elliptical film, drawing out one act of vengeance after another, until essentially there are no more characters left to torment. But he does it so well. Kudos to him for stripping his script of all the convolution (apparently there was to be a romance subplot with Blair, a board meeting battle with John Vernon and a fish out of water cop story tacked on initially) and instead playing out each provocation after another with a pace that never lets up. There’s no shortage of violence, language and excessive female nudity, but again because of Steinmann’s unwavering commitment to his characters, he never makes it feel exploitative. The famous bathtub zoom on a naked Linda Blair becomes an ultimate character moment, showing her bare and with nothing left to hide, comfortable in her skin and ready to take vengeance. Steinmann loves her predicament, he doesn’t leer over it. That’s the difference between something like this and something like I Spit on Your Grave
There’s no question Danny Steinmann loves his characters, and it’s because of this that genre vets Blair and Quigley, in addition to all the New Yawk hoods, all deliver some of their best performances. Quigley’s again quietly devastating, while Blair has a ball with neo-feminism, shooting her phallic bow, penetrating those who did so to her sister and belching out the most catty of comebacks. She’s one tough broad. There’s even a great moment that by any other director would be throw away – where she goes to light a smoke after a kill, that Steinmann turns to rubies. Blair’s lighter won’t ignite, so she just rolls with it, putting the smoke away thinking “I’ll do it after the next kill”. And you really want her to get on with it, because that Scar gang, lead by Robert Dryer, is a truly deplorable bunch. Steinmann let them improvise on set, and as a result each one manages to craft a character unique from the other but shared in their villainy. Hell, even John Vernon as the principal is memorable with the handful of lines he has. You know you’re living on the wrong side of the streets when the principal tells you to go fuck an iceberg.
The performances rule, the direction is masterful, and for all the other moments in between, there’s an equal dose of cheesy music, bad hair, outlandish costumes and a ton of vulgar one liners. That’s not even including the cat and mouse finale that any slasher would be proudly claim. Savage Streets
is the eighties revenge movie at its finest, cutting through the bleak brutality of Bronson and the monosyllabic monotony of Eastwood and finding a trashy oasis in the heart of exploitation. There’s nothing clean about these streets, but scattered around is great, great trash.
has been cleaned up nicely for its twenty fourth birthday, looking very colorful in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen. The night scenes are filled with those neon hues that were everywhere in eighties street flicks from Escape From New York
to The Terminator
, and they come through very vivid here. Blacks are very solid and there’s a nice amount of detail, from the coarse wood on the gym bleachers to the scar on Heather’s face that was otherwise unnoticeable on VHS. Aside from the opening opticals, which always lend themselves to inherent dust and specs, the film is very clean with hardly any blemishes. About the only complaint is that it’s interlaced…you never know what you’re going to get with BCI, I guess. Still, a beautiful restoration.
It’s still in mono, but it sounds great. All those cheesy Survivor-esque rip-off ballads come through gloriously, and dialogue and everything else is without any crackle or hiss. You can’t really ask for much more.
Two discs, three commentaries and five interviews. What more can you ask for? Code Red, Deimos and Red Shirt Productions all team up to round up nearly every principal cast and crew member from the film. On the first disc are the three commentaries only. The first is courtesy of reclusive director Danny Steinmann, moderated by Red Shirt owner Michael Felsher. Steinmann’s a real treasure to listen to, always frank about everything, from his hatred of the producers to his problems with the MPAA on his Friday the 13th
entry. He’s never afraid to talk about his love for breasts, either, and Felsher does a good job of entertaining his madness and keeping him on track. It’s a great commentary from a forgotten craftsman of the genre. It’s pretty hopeful too, with Steinmann open to doing more commentaries and even doing more movies. Bring it on!
The next commentary is with a motley crew of characters, with two of the Scars, Robert Dryer and Sal Landi, director of photography Stephen Posey and a Gilbert Gottfried sounding moderator. It’s more of a boy’s club commentary than an informative one, and while the guys all have fun, there isn’t as much information here as there is in the Steinmann track. The last track is with 23rd hour producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Venocur. The whole thing is moderated by guys in ginches horror director extraordinaire, David DeCoteau. This track is a little more accessible than the previous track, but overall not as satisfying as the Steinmann track. As far as fun though, there’s a lot of laughs, and if you can say anything about Johnny Venocur, he’s definitely a card.
Moving on to disc two, we have five interviews. Each is fairly substantial and as a whole it’s all worthy of its own disc. Linda Blair is surprisingly very appreciative of the flick, having a ball recalling lines, talking about her draw to the character, the problems in production and the legacy the film has left. She cites it as one of her favorites of her films, and I’ll concur. The other big interview is with Linnea Quigley, who, like Blair, is very inviting and has nothing but love to dish for the film. She talks candidly about the rape scene, how she knew what she was getting into and how she just went ahead and did it, no questions asked. The rest of the interviewees all corroborate this – she was a trooper. She also talks about her character and the challenges a silent performance creates. Both of these interviews are shot and edited as if they were movies with the typical grandiose fashion Felsher’s Red Shirt outfit has creatively carved for themselves.
The three other interviews are all shot Code Red style, with no frills, too much headroom and a lot of no holds barred honesty. Johnny Venocur, complete with a top hat, is again a real personality, joking and confessing to the camera about his career and his love for every woman on the set. He’s self-deprecating and having fun. Badass Robert Dryer has some deadpan fun and is nearly as scary in real life as he is in the role. Lastly, John Strong talks about his role as producer, and how he came in and saved the production. His story and Steinmann’s don’t exactly line up, but hey, that’s perspective and that’s the business.
The satisfying second disc is rounded off with two great exploitation trailers for Final Exam
and Savage Streets
Now this is how you make a rape revenge flick! Savage Streets
is a surprisingly skillful effort, with masterful direction of release and restraint by Danny Steinmann, and great performances around the board with Linnea Quigley the silent standout. And make no mistake, whether you’re paraphrasing Linda Blair or John Vernon, you’ll be quoting this one for years. The image quality is stellar, clean and vibrant, and the audio is clean and clear. The supplements cover over five hours of information, and it’s all filled with cult names and high energy. Those new to the film, you have to check it out. For those who own it on tape, I hope your old VHS tapes are double jointed, because they can kiss their asses goodbye. This is definitive.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Rated R
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Audio commentary with director Danny Steinmann
- Audio commentary with actors Sal Landi, Robert Dryer and DOP Stephen Posey
- Audio commentary with producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Venocur
- Interviews with Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley, Johnny Venocur, Robert Dryer and John Strong
- Theatrical trailer
- Final Exam trailer