Review Date: July 11, 2004
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 2/24/2004
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Grindhouse cinema; those shoddy, rundown big city theaters that would play nothing but back-to-back exploitation day in and day out. Pornography, spaghetti westerns, kung fu, slashers, balxploitation and rape-revenge thrillers all got top billing in these venues. With the birth of VHS in the early 80s, grindhouse theatres sadly lost their luster, as people opted instead to experience their morbid curiosities in the comforts of their homes on television. Deemed “the least politically correct film ever seen in American theatres” by All Movie Guide, Fight For Your Life
is a perfect example of grindhouse filmmaking. Released recently by Blue Underground, this rape-revenge/blaxploitation hybrid harkens back to a time when films were raw, racy and offensive.
Jesse Lee Kane (William Sanderson
) and his group of convicts escape from a police transportation vehicle. They kill a few cops and then steal a black pimp’s car and clothing. The white Kane, and his two accomplices, a Hispanic and an Asian, decide to flee to the ultimate place of racial understanding, the cultural mosaic of Canada! On their way to the border they hold up a liquor store and end up taking a black woman hostage. Hungry and famished, the convicts decide to stop at their hostage’s home for some good ol’ country grub.
The black family that the convicts intrude on consists of a gentle preacher (Robert Judd
), his wife, mother, teenage daughter and young son. What ensues is an exercise in racial hatred and humiliation, as Kane shouts racist expletives and dehumanizes the black family. Kane rapes the daughter, tries to hang the mother and forces the preacher to dance like a slave. The police are short on Kane’s tail, but they may be the worst of Kane’s trouble. The black family takes all the pain they can until they wage a brutal revenge scheme to right the racial wrongs caused by Kane. The cops stand by and watch as the film concludes with a battle of black against white.
Fight For Your Life
is a film designed to exploit the black and white tension of 70s America, and given the subject matter it is surprising how little it ends up being about these relations. The movie is basically an excuse to say as much racist slang as possible. “Coon”, “nigger”, “deputy dog”, you name it, if it is a black curse word it is uttered ad nauseam in here. The blacks submissively take all the racial hatred, and get a somewhat forced revenge at the end. This could have been the perfect film to feature verbal sparring between the races over their places in American society, but really just ends up an excuse to offend with demeaning behaviour.
What is most surprising is how the final battle between Kane and the black preacher ends up not being about race at all, and instead about the flawed judicial system. Kane confesses at the end that it was his being thrown in prison as a child that brought about his corruption. Sexually violated by the inmates, Kane becomes this innocent victim rather than the vicious perpetrator he was throughout the film. Fight For Your Life
ends up asking you to sympathize with this racist bigot, which may just be the most racist aspect of all. The drug-pushing black pimp doesn’t really do anything for civil rights progress, but the fact that the film makes Kane a sympathetic character by the film’s end is a cop out.
Grindhouse films of the 70s are of course not known for being socially responsible, and as an exploitation picture, Fight For Your Life
is a notable historic curiosity. It represents a time in American cinema where provocative issues like race relations could be explored without the chains of political correctness. Although it doesn’t deal all that well with race issues, Fight For Your Life
is a demonstration of just what kind of gritty little pictures were invading low-rent theatres of the 70s. It doesn’t hold a candle to grindhouse favorites like The Last House on the Left
or I Spit on Your Grave
, it definitely has its brutish notoriety. What other films of the time deal so shamelessly with racism, rape, child murder and even dog urination? Not many, which makes Fight For Your Life
a notable, if irresponsible 70s novelty.
Blue Underground presents the film in a restored 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and for a film with a budget of only $80,000, it looks quite good. The opening sequences cast mostly in shadows look very grainy, flat and washed out, but thankfully after that the film looks much clearer. Shot mostly in daylight, there is a decent depth and color saturation to the rest of the picture. The image is fairly soft throughout (regardless of whether or not there is a fog filter present), and there is a slight grain that presides over the entire image. It is obvious that plenty of work has been done in removing any dirt or scratches from the image, since there is only a small amount of print damage that remains. Compared to other grindhouse movies like The Last House on the Left
and The Hills Have Eyes
, this transfer is a slight step up. For a movie of its ilk, this is a more than acceptable restoration.
An English 2.0 mono track is all you get here. Mastered from the original sound materials, this sounds clear. It is a shame there was no isolated music track for those opening and closing souuuuuul songs though.
Although not the special edition that Bill Lustig claims it to be on the commentary, there are a few interesting extras that are included on this DVD. The first is the commentary with Lustig and writer Straw Weisman and DP Lloyd Freidus. It is a warm, if a little TOO warm, track with plenty of interesting tidbits revealed about grindhouse marketing and distribution. Film historians will also find it interesting to know that they little black boy in the film, Reginald Blythewood, ended up becoming the director for a more recent black picture, Biker Boyz
. Lustig clearly loves the film, and the praise given to it by him as well as the other participants gets a tad old, but it is still a nice retrospective on a forgotten film.
The theatrical trailers and TV spots are creatively split into “black” versions and “white” versions, and is arguably even more interesting than the film. It shows how these exploitation movies play to different niche audiences through their marketing campaigns. The “black” ads promote the fact that the film makes you “proud to be a black man!” while the “white” ads key in on the racial humiliation throughout. One of the worst teaser trailers ever is also included, which is a still shot that runs for about 15 seconds. A brief poster and still gallery rounds off the DVD, further documenting the marketing process employed for the picture.
It should also be noted that Blue Underground has changed their packaging methods, as they now use the clear DVD cases like Diamond entertainment. They now have a double sided cover sleeve with the chapter listing posted on the inside. As a result there is no longer any insert included. Not that the packaging matters all that much, but it makes their releases look much cheaper than they used to look, and the poster art replica insert is one that will surely be missed.
Packaging complaints aside though, there is a nice batch of little supplements that pay tribute to a forgotten little genre effort.
Fight For Your Life
avoids dealing with the black-white race relations that the cover so eagerly exploits. It is instead an irresponsible little film that deals more with exploiting racist slang rather than considering racial issues. This is a film that would never be made today, and its sheer political incorrectness will no doubt make it sought after. The video restoration is quite good for a low budget exploitation picture, and the brief but interesting supplements make this a recommended DVD for fans of 70s exploitation. Those grindhouse days of cinema may be long gone, but this Fight For Your Life
DVD lovingly tries to keep them alive.
Movie – C
Image Quality – B
Sound – C+
Supplements – B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- Commentary with Bill Lustig, writer Straw Weisman and DP Lloyd Freidus
- “Black” and “white” theatrical trailers
- “Black” and “white” TV spots
- Poster and still gallery