Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Savage Streets

Linda Blair, then 25 and at the height of her career in drive-in movies, is Brenda, a high school delinquent who smokes, curses, shows her principal (John Vernon, who is hilarious in a small role) disrespect, and gets into a fight with a bitchy cheerleader. She’s really a good kid, even though she’s the leader of a girl gang called the Satins, and she dotes on her deafmute younger sister Heather (Linnea Quigley, who’s actually a year older than Blair).

Also roaming the high school are the Scars, a quartet of dope-dealing thugs led by Jake (Robert Dryer, possibly a replacement for THE WARRIORS’ Michael Beck), who wears a razor blade as an earring. To retaliate for the Satins’ stealing their convertible as a prank, the Scars rape Heather and leave her lying in a coma on the locker room floor. As if the assault itself wasn’t brutal enough, director Danny Steinmann (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING) stacks the deck higher by shooting it as graphically as he can and still pull an R rating and directing Quigley to play the character as the world’s sweetest, most innocent young girl.

Steinmann’s feature-film career is short — just four, including the horror movie THE UNSEEN and the hardcore HIGH RISE — but all his movies are interesting. One reason is his dedication in pushing the subject matter as far as he could; his FRIDAY THE 13TH features the series’ highest body count and most graphic sexual content. His movies are also consistent in the amount of backstrage drama surrounding them. Steinmann took his name off THE UNSEEN, and SAVAGE STREETS suffered starts and stops in production, including the replacement of original director Tom DeSimone (HELL NIGHT). Producer John Strong fired Steinmann during post-production of SAVAGE STREETS and handled the film’s scoring and reshoots himself.

Although their film is a sleazier, rougher, lower budgeted clone of DEATH WISH, Steinmann and co-writer Norman Yonemoto (Strong apparently did a lot of rewriting on the set) aim high, fleshing out the warm relationship between Brenda and Heather, giving one of the Scars a guilt complex, and showing Brenda sympathetically in scenes with her mother and with her English teacher. So when the violence ramps up and Brenda takes her revenge (armed with a crossbow and a fetching skintight leather outfit), our sympathies are clearly with her.

Vernon (DIRTY HARRY) nearly steals the picture as a foul-mouthed and perpetually angry principal (“You’re a tough little bitch, aren’t ya? I like that.”), but it’s Dryer’s repulsive, convincing psycho and Blair’s tough-talking girl of action who are SAVAGE STREETS’ yin and yang. The bloody, fiery climax involving them is a sure crowdpleaser and offers some of the film’s crudest and most quotable dialogue. Debra Blee (THE BEACH GIRLS) plays one of the Satins (who disappears during the film after Blee had to leave during a production delay), and Rebecca Perle, who played a sympathetic hooker opposite Clint Eastwood in TIGHTROPE, engages Blair in some entertaining catfights.

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