UK DVD Review: Savage Streets

Posted on June 13, 2011 by Ben

Savage Streets (1984)
Distributor: Arrow
DVD Release Date: 20th June 2011
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Starring: Linda Blair, Sal Landi, Robert Dryer, Linnea Quigley, John Vernon
Review by: Ben Bussey

Now it’s 1984, knock-knocking at your front door. And would you believe it; the kids are out of control. They’re not going out to the library to study, like they tell Mom and Dad; they’re putting on leather jackets, ripped denim and spandex (or some combination thereof) and heading out to the city streets in search of some action. On one particular night The Scars, a gang of drunk-driving, drug-pushing bad boys lead by Jake (Landi), are cruising in their vintage convertible when they happen to cross paths with The Satins, a marginally less obnoxious girl gang lead by Brenda (Blair). The girls are eager to teach the guys a lesson, and high tempers soon result in high jinks that go a bit too far, with the girls stealing and trashing the guys’ prized car. But that’s nothing compared to how far The Scars take their revenge, cornering Brenda’s deaf and mute sister Heather (Quigley), gang-raping and beating her into a coma. Distraught but none the wiser as to who is responsible, Brenda swears bloody retribution. It won’t be long before more blood is spilled; and when Brenda learns the truth, no power in all creation will stand between her and her revenge. Well, no power but that of her hairspray, stiletto heels and black spandex, at least.

I’ve often pondered that the term ‘guilty pleasure’ might be a tad redundant around these parts, given that by and large our staff (and I daresay our readership) specialise in movies that are gruesome, grotesque and generally depraved. That taboo quality - the sense that we should know better than to watch this ‘crap’ – is a big part of what makes such films so enjoyable to watch. To a large extent films of this kind drive Brutal As Hell, and they’re the bread and butter of Arrow Video. Just take a look at their original artwork to the left. No one is under any illusions here that Savage Streets is a serious, socially conscious expose of youth gangs, sexual violence and vigilantism. Nope, this is 80s trash at its most trashy and its most 80s; a neon-lit, stone-washed urban fantasy that’s full to the brim with power dressing, power ballads, big hair, big tits, blouse-ripping girl-on-girl punch-ups, and motor-mouthed dialogue replete with profanities aplenty.

Passed uncut by the BBFC for the first time (having been trimmed by just over a minute for its VHS release back in the 80s), the excessive tendencies of Savage Streets come as little surprise on learning it was co-written and directed by Danny Steinmann, who went on to helm perhaps the sleaziest entry in the Friday the 13th series: Part V, A New Beginning. Steinmann’s voyeuristic proclivities are even more blatant when watching the film with the director’s commentary, wherein he notes with great regularity “that actress had great breasts” and “I really tried to persaude her to take her bra off.” It’s just that kind of film; close in spirit to the cheap and cheerful Jack Hill movies of the 70s, but with a glossier 80s veneer. Or given that it’s set in high school and cast with actors clearly over high school age (as my lady wife remarked of Linda Blair in a classroom scene, “she looks older than her teacher” – Blair was 26 at the time), it’s like a more down and dirty version of Grease with the songs cut out. With its deluge of quotable trash talk (take John Vernon’s principal telling the Scars to “go fuck an iceberg,” or Blair declaring “I wouldn’t fuck him if he had the last dick on earth”), the most cringeworthy bit of impromptu poetry outside of Tom Cruise in Cocktail, and of course the eye-poppingly garish new wave outfits and hairdos, there are high camp pleasures aplenty to be taken from Savage Streets; and refreshingly devoid of the knowing ironic overtones that tend to impede attempts at similar films today, such as Bitch Slap.

 READER ADVISORY – MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.

That said, there is of course a bit of a dichotomy at the heart of proceedings, which is acknowledged in the commentary: for while the film is largely designed to amuse and titillate, the action hinges on a gang rape which (as if there was any alternative in the matter) is really quite harrowing. That it features Linnea Quigley – who went on to become the queen of gratuitous nudity in horror with Return of the Living Dead, Silent Night Deadly Night et al – somehow makes it even more unpleasant for fanboys like myself, as we’re so used to greeting her naked body with a smile. And it’s made all the harsher by the manner in which it is edited, cross-cutting between the rape (which, it should be emphasised, is certainly not played for titillation) and what would otherwise have surely been the male fantasy highlight of the film, a catfight in the showers (pictured – note the two naked girls behind Linda Blair, fighting for no apparent reason).

It’s a curious decision which raises questions about just what message the filmmakers are trying to convey; are the voyeurs in the audience being punished for their voyeurism? Is a point being made about fantasy versus reality; what feminists regard as the violence against women inherent in pornography? Given how the film revels in gratuitous bare female flesh elsewhere, it would seem unlikely, but it gives pause for thought. In a milder way the same is true of Linda Blair’s one nude scene; by contrast with the shirt-ripping catfight action that comprises much of the film’s nudity, hers is a subdued, contemplative moment. I was reminded of Christina Ricci’s nude scene in Prozac Nation; it would seem the intent is to emphasise the character’s emotional state, rather than for the audience to go “oh Christ, I’ve seen that girl in films since she was about 12, and now she’s naked.”

But again, perhaps this jarring clash of serious artistic intent and sleazy excess is part and parcel to that whole ‘guilty pleasure’ thing. As rape revenge films go, this certainly isn’t the nastiest one out there, and if you can stomach the sour parts you may well savour the sweet parts. It’s a hugely entertaining bad girl thriller that should be high on the shopping list for anyone with a lust for exploitation, and given that (as with all Arrow releases) it’s region free I expect fans worldwide will be clamouring to get hold of a copy. And as much as I feel like this goes without saying now, it’s another great package from Arrow. As well as the aforementioned directorial commentary we have two additional commentary tracks with producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Venacur; interviews with Blair, Quigley, Strong and Dryer; a collector’s booklet written by Kier-la Janisse; and of course’s Arrow’s trademark reversible artwork and free poster. Oh, and also the trailer, which is embedded below; be warned it features extreme close up cleavage, 80s power balladry at its fiercest, and basically gives away the entire movie.