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.
So, Jason Voorhees has been hacked to pieces, and Paramount decided to launch a new direction for the franchise. Fortunately, it was short lived with this lower grade, poorly conceived sequel trying to position Tommy Jarvis as the new killer of the Friday The 13th films. Quite frankly, this has a lot wrong with it right from the start, and it’s easy to see why Paramount quickly rebounded with the far superior Jason Lives. I’ve just never really liked this entry much because of it’s very direct-to-video production quality, bland execution, and lack of decently written characters. The director and screenwriters simply did not have the talent to make this a good movie, regardless of the MPAA cuts.
A few years have past for Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) since he saw Jason Voorhees killed, and after some time in a mental institution trying to recover from those horrific events, he’s been transferred to a halfway house far from Crystal Lake. Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, a volatile young patient named Vic Faden suddenly murders the young, obnoxious, and obese Joey with an axe. Shortly thereafter, it seems as though Jason has been resurrected from the grave to murder more people. Meanwhile, Tommy suffers from hallucinations of Jason repeatedly, and they are slowly driving him mad. As the bodies stack up, and Tommy seems to have disappeared, suspicions intentionally fall upon him. However, it eventually becomes clear to the audience that this is not the work of Jason, but of a mysterious imposter using the Jason lore as a façade for his murder spree. The aftermath of this violent experience hints at a new direction for the franchise that would quickly be discarded after backlash from the fans.
Firstly, John Shepard does a partially good job as the new Tommy Jarvis. I think a lot of the hallucination scenes are excellently handled giving Tommy an obvious mental imbalance. However, a lot of Shepard’s screentime is him standing or sitting around silent and introverted. Shepard doesn’t put any effort into making Tommy seem like a troubled young man outside of those hallucinatory freak out scenes. The screenplay doesn’t give him anything to do to showcase such behavior. He also has almost no character interactions in this movie, and thus, it doesn’t give Shepard much to work with. So, it’s a fine line to divide this issue which can also cut towards director Danny Steinmann’s way since he also co-wrote the script. Instead of directing Shepard to demonstrate that internal turmoil, he just has him be a blank slate that shows nothing of what Tommy is going through. Still, in the vast majority of his screentime, John Shepard just fills up the frame, and even in the big climax of the film, he still comes off as a waste of space. Corey Feldman, who does cameo as Tommy in the opening dream sequence, did a stunningly impressive job with the diverse range the character of Tommy Jarvis offered in the previous film. He hit everything dead-on-the-mark, and made a powerful impression throughout the movie. There is nothing within John Shepard’s performance to remotely equal that exceptionally well-rounded and captivating performance from Feldman. In the following film, Thom Mathews would serve as an excellent hero for this franchise, and do so much more than Shepard even tried to do in this sequel.
The mood and scares are decent enough. I especially feel Violet’s stalk and slash death scene is exceptionally effective with the soundtrack of “His Eyes” by Pseudo Echo behind it. Unfortunately, you definitely get very little gore due to the MPAA’s stringent standards of the time. Still, the big problem of this film is the lack of decent characters to give a damn about. There are a lot of random people added to the body count who only show up for one scene to get killed. That’s one sense of why I feel it comes off like a bland and cheesy direct-to-video movie. You can contrast the characters in this film to those in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The main characters in both are all in a mental health facility with their own quirks and personal issues. In Dream Warriors, the roles are smartly written and greatly cast to create a very strong ensemble of young characters that add vibrancy and emotional relatability to the film. In A New Beginning, the characters all seem very under-developed as if they are just there to just fill up the screenplay. They are not given any depth or background, let alone particularly likable aspects They either come off as too weird, too irritating, or just uninteresting. They bring no life to the film for an audience to really get scared for them, and the casting is not all that memorable. There are some decently entertaining bits here and there with one or two characters, but other characters are just blandly written or underwhelmingly acted. Nobody stands out. They all blend into the background creating a film with no real tension, energy, or charisma. Considering The Final Chapter and Jason Lives have two of the best young casts of the series with nicely fleshed out characters that are memorable and enjoyable, this makes A New Beginning even more of a sore thumb in the franchise. Horror and suspense work best when an audience cares about the characters in the story, and I really could not care less about these.
While, like I said, the mood is decent, I do feel this movie is lit a little too brightly. It feels a little too slick and polished taking away the dark and gritty feeling the series had up to this point. That takes away from the effective, harder edged horror atmosphere the previously films generally had. Plus, without having some abundant, high end gruesome gore effects to elevate the graphicness of the film, it all just feels cheap. The Final Chapter felt like a franchise high point as a standard bearer for what a slasher film should be. This film is just the opposite. It shows the bottom of the barrel quality of what the genre should avoid becoming.
The direction of Danny Steinmann is just not very good. I know there are far worse, more ineptly made movies out there, but for a mainstream horror franchise, this is as bad as you’d ever fear it would get. Again, everything is cheap – the characters, the gore, the cinematography, the story, and the screenplay itself. Steinmann co-wrote this with Martin Kitrosser, one of the writers of Friday The 13th, Part 3, a film that shares many of the same problems as this one, only not to this degree. The third writer, David Cohen, wrote two other films no one’s heard of and that was it. Steinmann never made another film after this one, and it is severely evident why. This is not a theatrical release quality film. It does reek of direct-to-video quality with its abundant cheesiness, poor script, and bland direction. The attempt to make Tommy seem like the killer in this is lazily handled. The film tries to throw a number of red herrings into the mix, but really, it plays up no mystery aspect whatsoever. It’s entire intent is to push Tommy to becoming the new killer of Friday The 13th, but puts nearly no effort at all into fooling you into believing he might be the killer at large. Anything that is dropped in to allude to that seems like a weak afterthought.
I’m not singling Steinmann out for any personal reason. His 1984 revenge exploitation film Savage Streets has a strong cult following, and while I have never seen it, I am generally intrigued to see it. With that cult following, it does seem to say that Steinmann was capable of making a satisfactory film filled with violence, sexuality, and grit. Maybe Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning was just a wrong choice of film for him, or he worked with the wrong creative team. Anything is possible, but the fact remains that he did not handled this movie well in any creative aspect. Even if the gore was re-instated into the film, it would not make up for the poorly executed story, the flat characters, or the overall cheesiness of the film he made.
And it’s hard to even be fooled into thinking this is Jason Voorhees back from the dead. Frankly, he looks and moves more like a poor Michael Myers imitation than a decent Jason Voorhees ones. The blue coveralls, the slender build, the more mechanical movement, and the lackluster hockey mask just scream “bad imposter.” Even the old VHS box cover couldn’t get the hockey mask right. It looked like some cheap plastic mask you’d buy at the corner drug store. Everything about this film just drives home the fact that this isn’t Jason, and we’re not even trying to fool you. Conversely, the Jason seen in Tommy’s hallucinations looks very authentic in every detail. Now, that clearly shows that the filmmakers could have given the imposter a more faithful design to heighten the second guessing of whether this really was Jason or not, but chose to just cheap out on that aspect. They even still give this regular mortal man superhuman strength, just like Jason, but in every visual aspect, he clearly is not Jason Voorhees. It’s simply bad conceptualization and poor execution.
The climax is easily one of the weakest of the franchise. I really did not like having some wise-ass kid running around this film in Reggie, and him being part of the climactic action is just cringable for me. He’s treated like a big hero in the whole thing, and there’s even a big music cue to support that intention. I simply couldn’t get invested in these weak characters to really care who survived or if there was a true protagonist here. Tommy is such an inactive part of the story that the film, in order to build suspicion that he’s the killer, is able to have him disappear for a good long while, and it doesn’t make a single bit of difference at all. It’s very hard to sell Tommy as a potential hero when, at the same time, you are lazily trying to sell him as the potential villain. It just comes off as very shoddy work. This is a script that just meanders from one death scene to the next with no idea of what story it’s trying to tell.
All in all, this is really a sad sequel that delivered next to nothing worthwhile, and Paramount heard the cries of fans everywhere regarding it. They ignored what this film attempted to setup for the Tommy Jarvis character, and took the following film into a far more satisfying and enjoyable direction. I think it was a very fortunate turn of events that Corey Feldman was already working on The Goonies at this time, and could only do a single scene cameo. It undoubtedly gave his career a massive boost to be working with great filmmakers like Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg on an eventual blockbuster instead with Danny Steinmann on a low grade slasher sequel. Again, there are vastly worse films you could subject yourself to, but there are also so many better slasher films around than this sad entry in the Friday The 13th series. However, there is one worse entry in this franchise, in my opinion, but it’s much, much further down the line in the New Line Cinema era.