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.
I will start this review out saying that I am a fan of Rob Zombie, the musician. I was interested in Rob Zombie as a filmmaker due to the immense controversy surrounding his first film House of 1000 Corpses, but once I got to see it, theatrically, I found it to be a rather unexciting, very unoriginal, and highly derivative movie. It just seemed like one ninety minute long Rob Zombie music video. The only thing that made me see it a second time was Sid Haig’s incredible charisma and dark, dark humor as Captain Spaulding. It cracked me up like few things do, but other than that, the film held little interest for me. Others felt differently, but I will get more into such things as I have many of the same gripes here as I did with Zombie’s first film.
Picking up six months after the events of House of 1000 Corpses, The Ruggsville County Sheriff’s Department, headed by John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), is storming the Firefly household, and some do not survive. Mother Firefly is captured, but Otis & Baby escape to meet up with the foul-mouthed mad clown Captain Spaulding (who is also Baby’s father). Along their twisted road trip, they encounter some strange folk, and leave them worse off than they found them….much, much worse. Sheriff Wydell, in the meantime, is deadset on bringing the entire clan down because they killed his brother George (as seen in House of 1000 Corpses). Sheriff John Wydell has nothing but vengeance on his mind, but in time, that will drive him to become exactly what he’s hunting. The trio’s road trip takes many bizarre twists and turns, leaving unresolved plot points along the way, and ultimately leads the film to a strange and unsatisfying ending.
First and foremost, this is one grizzly, brutal, and unrestrained movie. I rented the unrated director’s cut, and so, everything that was meant to be seen, was seen. And while all the gory effects are excellent, and the performances are amazing, this film just doesn’t deliver anything more. The story is far too simple to justify all the over bloated crap that flows through it, and the resolution is horrendously weak. It feels like the work of an untalented novice filmmaker who just does things because he thinks they are cool instead of crafting a tight, coherent, and straight forward feature. Possibly the film’s strongest, more poignant character is dispatched like a worthless camper in a Friday The 13th movie. The death has no meaning, no importance when this character probably should not have died at all. It simply goes to show that despite Rob Zombie’s ability to make an intense and disturbing film, he really has a long way to go in crafting solid storytelling skills. He tries, but he fails for two films in a row.
I think it’s even worse in this one because some characters and plot points simply drop off the map with no reason, no explanation. Plot points about the Groucho Marx’ aliases is dropped after two scenes, and was apparently only created for a weak comedic bit. As for vanishing characters, Zombie apparently decides that once they’ve served their purpose, they should vanish entirely with no reason or resolution. It is a shame because there is such a great cast to work with such as Michael Berryman, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, and the absolutely awesome William Forsythe. I was also rocked to see former WCW & WWE superstar “Diamond” Dallas Page featured as black-haired bounty hunter teamed with Trejo. Page does a fine job too, and having cameos from The Warrior‘s Deborah Van Valkenburg and Halloween‘s P.J. Soles was a unique touch. However, despite having such a rich cast, the story just does not offer up anything substantive for them to do anything with. There’s no ambition to do anything original with this concept which has been well treaded over the decades. We’ve seen movies with murder sprees before, and despite the extreme distance this one takes the violence and mayhem, such thrills are only momentary. Once the mayhem and gore is off screen, there’s not much to excite an audience or the film. The story is just three sick and twisted people on a killing spree running from the law and a vengeful lawman, period. Most films of this sort have some social commentary to offer amongst its grisly brutality. However, Zombie tries to throw all this frivolous, extraneous junk into it for his own amusement instead.
I can respect Rob Zombie for wanting to revitalize a forgotten genre of film, but by this time, it had already gotten back on its feet with numerous hardcore, edge-of-your-seat horror films that pushed the limits of disturbing imagery. Zombie churning out all these homage’s to 1970s exploitation films forces his films to be unoriginal and thin on story. It’s cool to give nods to your favorite films in your own feature, but only when done with the right skill and intellect. Otherwise, your film becomes blatantly derivative, watering it down to very weak levels. In fact, the entire premise is lifted directly from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but Zombie doesn’t do enough to make The Devil’s Rejects seem original to even the smallest degree. Plus, the main characters that carryover from House of 1000 Corpses only make themselves even more detestable and inhuman. It’s obvious that Zombie is trying to make them into some twisted band of anti-heroes, but frankly, these characters are not relatable, let alone sympathetic creatures – they’re sick, twisted, homicidal psychopaths. Why anyone would root for these demented maniacs is beyond me, let alone why Zombie believes anyone would want to. They have zero endearing qualities.
Now, the style of this film isn’t as oversaturated or surreal as House of 1000 Corpses, but Rob Zombie clearly needed more competent help in the editing department. The pacing and editing of certain sequences is all out of whack, and very inconsistent. The final scene of the film drags on and on and on and on to the point where it loses all impact. The use of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” makes it quite the quirky and over-the-top sequence, but ultimately, this is a flat end to a film that seemed to have potential from time-to-time. Zombie’s attempt to make the murderous threesome go out in an amazing blaze of glory works against the entire film as these three deserve the harshest death possible for the horrific crimes they’ve committed. Instead, Zombie seems to want us to feel sorry that they’ve met their collective ends. The actual hero of the film gets a piss poor demise while the despicable villains get a grand, epic swan song. That’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this movie.
The moral compass of the film’s perspective is entirely flipped. Otis, Spaulding, & Baby are given the breadth of screentime so that their characters can be developed in depth. The hero in William Forsythe’s Sheriff John Quincey Wydell is a strong character that could carry the film entirely, but he’s not the one the movie wants us to be invested in. By the fact of how the film treats their final moments, it is clear that the Firefly gang are meant to be the central focus of the entire story, and are the ones you should be emotionally connected with. While audiences have been able to be entertained and intrigued by vile characters before like Hannibal Lecter, Khan Noonien Singh, and Freddy Krueger, you never want to see them ultimately defeat their adversaries, the heroes of the story. They should get what’s coming to them for the violence they have wrought upon the innocent. This film doesn’t share that moral viewpoint, and decides to side with the detestable, sadistic murderers. That doesn’t roll for me. If the film had some thematic element about society’s corrupted morality fueling the characters’ demented psychology, it would be justifiable, but as it is, it’s completely ass-backwards.
On a highly positive note, the make-up effects of The Devil’s Rejects give the film its grisly texture, and for some, might make it a difficult watch. Zombie made a specific point to not make this film pretty – it is definitely grounded in that 70s ugliness. Even the nudity is dirty and trashy. Some CGI work is here, but only for certain gunshots and other minor details. Nothing here looks fake, it all has a dense, gritty realism to it, and that is a refreshing plus.
Unfortunately, whatever score there is happens to be practically unnoticeable. Zombie packs this film with classic rock songs from the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Walsh, and so forth. It’s a much more era-appropriate soundtrack than the modern day heaviness of the previous film. The Devil’s Rejects soundtrack is probably quite a cool listen. Still, I would’ve preferred a stronger score to intensify the film further than using songs to remind people of the time period or using them to create quirky moments. I understand Rob Zombie comes from a music video world where he uses music to tell a story, but in the medium of feature films, music is used to enhance the story. It’s just one element of the overall structure of a movie. It punctuates particular moments in the story instead of bludgeoning you with an oversaturated soundtrack. Zombie really needs to adapt to the demands and standards of films instead of treating everything like a music video. House of 1000 Corpses was more guilty of that mentality with how everything was shot, lit, paced, and presented, but even though everything is more stripped down here, that mentality is still apparent.
When taking this film in as a whole, it’s really not much better than Rob Zombie’s feature film directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. While that film was more a true horror film in the sense that it was meant to scare and horrify you, this film just tries to freak you out through disturbing violence and sickening moments. It maybe darker and sicker, but it’s not really all that much better. I would’ve expected more of an improvement from Zombie, but I suppose a great deal more time would be needed for him to evolve as a filmmaker. However, for me, two strikes against him was enough for my interest to fully evaporate. Once I heard he was remaking Halloween, a great film from one of my favorite filmmakers as well as the review of mine that motivated me to create Forever Cinematic, I just couldn’t care anymore. Rob Zombie had great resources to work with in every aspect of filmmaking, but he couldn’t utilize it all to its highest potential. Frankly, I don’t recommend seeing or not seeing The Devil’s Rejects, I’m just rather indifferent. Just don’t expect anything all that original if you do plan to see it. If you liked House of 1000 Corpses, you’ll probably enjoy this film. If you hated House of 1000 Corpses, you probably won’t like this film either.