Savage Streets (1984)
I’ve been looking for this movie on DVD in stores for months now. Today, I went out looking for one exploitation movie at the re-sale shop and came home with another. Savage Streets is a cult rape-revenge exploitation film from the late director of Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning, Danny Steinmann. As previously documented, I have a low opinion of that sequel, but Savage Streets looked really good and promising via the trailer. I’ve heard some good things about it, and was very dogged about finding a copy of it. Sometimes, a good word of mouth is enough to convince you to take a impassionate chance on a movie. But now that I’ve seen it, does it live up to what I had hoped for it? Was it worth the months of anticipation and hunting I put into it? Well, let me impart a synopsis on you before answering that question.
Brenda (Linda Blair) is bad, bold and brash, but she absolutely dotes on her deaf-mute kid sister Heather (Linnea Quigley). After nearly being rundown by a gang known as the Scars, Brenda and her friends trash the car of their leader, Jake (Robert Dryer). Shockingly, he chooses to exact his revenge by getting his cohorts to gang-rape Heather. Caught up in her rivalry with the cheerleaders, Brenda is at first unaware of the Scar’s involvement, but is eventually shocked with the full truth. She then vows deadly vengeance in a skintight black suit as she searches out the gang members one by one.
Doing a blind buy of this movie was certainly taking a chance because I’ve had blind buys bite me in the ass before. However, that was not at all the case with Savage Streets. I did indeed greatly enjoy what I saw here. It is quite a low budget picture with only $1.2 million to its credit, but this was definitely a time where most filmmakers knew how to make an effective movie within their limited means. They could create something genuinely entertaining and worthwhile without needing a major budget. While his Friday The 13th movie came off like a cheap direct-to-video outing, director Danny Steinmann pulled off a really solid genre movie here that I’m glad he had been commended on long before his 2012 passing.
The main thing that I was impressed by on this film was Linda Blair’s performance. She strikes that perfect balance of a tough, attitude rich, yet still vulnerable and compassionate young woman. You see her make those subtle shifts early on as she defends her sister from an ill joke, but then, lightens the mood a moment later with some well place charm. Brenda will not back down from a fight, and doesn’t take any crap from anybody. She stands up to everyone from bitchy classmate Cindy to the sleazy school principal to, of course, this malevolent gang. She’s genuinely tough with the courage and mouth to back it up. Yet, these tragedies that befall her sister and friends have deep, emotional impact upon her. She cries, mourns, and grieves in her own harsh way while never veering away from her determination to find those responsible. Brenda is someone who has a surplus of strength to pull her through this violent series of events, and Linda Blair puts her all into this performance to make Brenda that great heroine. She’s also quite sexy and beautiful in this film, and her hard edged attitude is very attractive and exciting. Blair packs a lot of charisma and passion into what she does here, and she really makes Savage Streets the excellent piece of work it is. There’s not enough I can say about what she does in this role.
In the role of Jake, Robert Dryer does an exceptional job. This is the dead-on perfect villain for this film as Jake has zero redeeming qualities about him, and is a full fledged sleazy, violent, womanizing, severely intimidating thug. Just the look of the character gives you a very edgy impression with his slick backed hair, leather jacket, intense physical presence, and especially that razor blade earring. Dryer has some dark charisma which amps up the character to the utmost vilified levels. He definitely looks like someone who could snap your neck right after stabbing and slashing you to bits. Just as much as Linda Blair invests you in the story, Dryer invests you in the need to see Brenda exact her revenge. After all you see Jake do, and without an ounce of regret or mercy, you crave that violent comeuppance, and that is so much earned from Dryer’s performance.
The rest of the cast is very good putting a lot of enthusiasm and dedication to their roles. You’ll certainly find some over-the-top dialogue and line deliveries, but it wouldn’t be an exploitation film without them. John Vernon is excellent with his deep, intimidating, dramatic voice as Principal Underwood. He has this underlying sleaze factor that surely hits with a peculiar impact, but it’s all great. Johnny Venocur does some good work as Vince, the one guy in the gang who has a semblance of a conscience. You can progressively see the humanity taking a hold of him, and it adds a nice dash of remorse into this story. Lisa Freeman brings her own strength and spirit to Francine which shows she’s no pushover either, but you also get the tender side of her bride-to-be aspects. Genre star Linnea Quigley makes Heather very wholesome and sweet without ever saying a word. Linda Blair plays very sweetly opposite her bringing out that touching sisterly warmth and heart. On the darker side, Quigley achieves the moments of silent terror with visceral intensity. The entire sexual assault scene is powerful and disturbing, as it should be. The film does not glorify it at all as it is depicted as a traumatic, frightening experience, which is commendable. This is the darkest point in the film, but we are thankfully treated to some very enjoyable, entertaining elements throughout the rest of the movie.
What makes Savage Streets distinctly 80s is the awesome pop soundtrack. There are no big names that stick out for me, but the songs generally hit that excellent 80s vibe with strong vocals, vibrant keyboards, and a driving intensity. It also kills me that this soundtrack is available only on the original vinyl or audio cassette releases, and are rare collectors’ items. The only CD release was done independently in a very limited capacity. So, if you want these songs, you’ll have to turn to YouTube. The one notable track is “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way,” which is performed here by John Farnham, would later be covered by Canadian band Kick Axe (aka Spectre General) for Transformers: The Movie in 1986. The soundtrack for this movie really enhances the vibe all around making it a very rockin’ experience, but the original score is also very effective especially during the film’s climax.
The cinematography of Stephen L. Posey is very good and solid. It’s nothing amazing, but what he does entirely suits the gritty nature of this movie. The editing is also very tight never allowing the film to lag anywhere at all. The pace is kept consistent throughout, and has plenty of well put together sequences. On a technical level, this is a well shot, well made movie that is competently executed by knowledgeable talents. Furthermore, director Danny Steinmann does all around impress me with what he did here. There are a few minor critiques still pending, but on the whole, Savage Streets is a well written, well directed film for this genre. Steinmann really brought out a lot of strength and vibrancy from his cast, and crafted together an effective revenge movie that has emotional weight to it. It’s surely not one dimensional in the least, and I commend Steinmann and his co-writer Norman Yonemoto for that.
Now, the one thing that threw me off about the movie is that the trailer would make you believe that Brenda would be hunting these guys down through most of the movie. Instead, her armed quest for revenge begins in the final third of this 93 minute movie. I do not state this as a criticism, just as an expectations adjustment. The first hour of the movie is consistently and solidly paced as the Scars repeatedly terrorize Brenda’s friends and other unfortunate individuals. The film takes the time to build these guys up as increasingly more sickening people, and that’s saying quite a lot since their first act against Heather would be more than enough already. Yet, it layers the crimes and tragedies upon Brenda and the audience. It develops her character and her friendships so that you understand the importance these people have on her life and the lives of others. It also uses this escalation of violence to further drive a wedge between Vince and the other gang members, which is a smart idea. Now, once Brenda moves into full-on revenge mode, decked out in a sleek back jumpsuit and crossbow, I absolutely loved it! A great little montage ensues with a solid rock track behind it, and we’re into a pretty damn good final act.
The only criticism I have towards that final act is that while we do get blood and gore, it is not all at the right moments. Some of the deaths don’t have the desired satisfying impact because we don’t witness them in graphic or explicit enough detail. However, we do see the bodies displayed with their bloody wounds minutes later, but it wasn’t quite enough. Considering how explicit the film had been already up to that point with violence, language, and nudity, I figured we would get some graphic gore where it counted the most. Thankfully, this is not so for all the kills in the climax. It’s about fifty/fifty, but I really wanted to see those despicable scum meet some gruesome ends. Watching Brenda squaring off against Jake was thick with tension and emotion as that rage and pain within her really penetrates in this sequence. She is being blatantly sadistic, and you are really reminded of why she wants him to suffer so badly through her dialogue. Ultimately, we get a very tight climax with some great moments of suspense and dramatic pay-off.
Savage Streets is damn good! It’s especially gritty with visceral violence and a strong core of emotion by way of some solid performances. Linda Blair definitely stands out as an excellent lead giving us both the heartfelt compassion to be sympathetic and relatable as well as the brash attitude and confidence to be a convincing action heroine. I love the dialogue she gets on both ends of the spectrum which really reinforce the strength of Brenda. My favorite is the “double jointed” quip near the climax, which is also Linda Blair’s favorite. It hits me as one of the best lines in an action film, ever. Overall, Blair is just bad ass and awesome through and through. She delivers on all demands of the role in a very satisfying and entertaining performance. There’s a lot to enjoy in the tight 93 minute run time, and I really have to hand it to Danny Steinmann for the work he did here. This is a kind of movie that just doesn’t get made anymore, and even if they are, I imagine they aren’t made as good as this. I can entirely see here what brought Steinmann to doing a Friday The 13th movie. It’s only too bad that film was not remotely as cool and good as Savage Streets. This certainly may not be a film for everyone. As I said, it is very explicit and casual with its profanity, female nudity, and violence, but if that fits your tastes, I highly and strongly recommend checking out Savage Streets. While it was tough finding it in a store, it is easily obtainable on Amazon.com in a 2012 digitally remastered special edition DVD set.