Eye For Film >> Movies >> Savage Streets (1984) Film Review
A gaudy teens-at-war flick from deepest darkest early Eighties, Savage Streets hasn't aged well but this will no doubt be what attracts modern audiences to it. Director Danny Steinmann throws enough subversive wit and exploitation action into the plot to keep you reasonably engaged even when he's putting you on edge with despicable misogyny. He's blessed with spirited turns by an array of cult stars, Linda Blair making the most of her best top-lining gig since that bilious head-spinning debut in The Exorcist.
Brenda (Blair) and her crew are walking the streets in downtown LA, where fending off boys is par for the course on a typical night. Jake (Robert Dryer) and his three thug friends take an interest in the group but their advances are spurned after they've nearly run one of the ladies over. The girls incur the gang's wrath when they take their pride and joy for an illicit cruise, so the boys take the thing Brenda treasures the most - her little sister - for a 'ride' in return. A cycle of revenge begins that claims victims on both sides, leading to a confrontation between our heroine and her enemies that shows how life in the concrete jungle has made the girls tough enough to take on the guys.
John Carpenter-esque credits may give the impression that this is going to be a classier affair than might be expected - but don't be fooled, Savage Streets is low-brow trash and nothing more. That isn't to say it's without charm, over and above the obvious nostalgic pleasure inherent in the cheesy Eighties garb and terrible new wave soundtrack. Blair is a tough-talking boob-tubed delight and there are some zingy one-liners to relish. The 'Pope Of Trash' John Waters himself would be proud of pithy put-downs such as Brenda's, "I wouldn't fuck him if he had the last dick on earth", while the c-word crops up with jarring frequency, bandied about by the guys and girls alike in a way that would make John Hughes run for cover.
The film's most notorious moment - and justifiably so - is a horrifically prolonged rape scene, made even more disturbing for being inter-cut with a cringe-inducing cat-fight (featuring flesh-coloured bras and running showers, of course). Linnea Quigley's hugely sympathetic turn as Blair's deaf mute sister makes this sequence all the more unbearable. The seduction that leads into the attack is genuinely sweet due to her believable 'butter-wouldn't-melt' quality, making everything she is subjected to all the more shocking. This scene could have been excusable if it wasn't for the unapologetic sexual violence and humiliation on display elsewhere, with sometimes non-speaking women having their clothes ripped off, breasts fondled and generally being man-handled and verbally intimidated at every turn.
Throughout, the guy gang's hatred towards women is juxtaposed with their gleefully homoerotic antics to make them appropriately skin-crawling villains but the film could do with a little more balance - with the exception of John Vernon's hard-ass headmaster, the only other men are pointless presences, with one of the girls' fiances introduced only to flap around helplessly in the background.
The inevitable vengeance is too weak and unconvincing to really be cathartic, despite a later tragedy that isn't especially affecting even though it's sign-posted right from the start. It all goes a bit Home Alone in a drawn-out climax that's dumb and dull even with Blair brandishing a cross-bow and bear traps along with her Arnie-esque one-liners in a deserted warehouse.
The young star does, however, make for a gloriously camp caricature of girl power, authentically tough but also revealing a knowing flourish that enlivens the material every time she opens her mouth. Her posse are a gaggle of incongruously excitable girls, but they all have appealing presences even if they're nothing more than a cynical collection of the broadest racial stereotypes imaginable. The actors playing the bad guys bring real sleaze and menace to their parts, and they're admirably unafraid to be pathetic parodies of machismo when the script calls for them to be completely objectionable.
The best segments are those that cleave closest to Eighties high school comedy convention - scenes in discotheques and classrooms are effortlessly amusing (consider Miss Young's disparaging, "Put that god-damn skeleton back where it belongs!"). The cultural time capsule aspect also makes the film enjoyable, with one student summing it up well with a 'poem' that goes something like, "Disco sucks, Punk is dead, gimme Rock or gimme head!". Yep, nostalgia junkies will no doubt have a blast with Savage Streets, but it's not quite 'so bad it's good' enough to warrant retrospective appreciation.
There's boobs galore, skin-crawlingly cheesy songs, spectacularly awful fashion and plenty of dialogue that's hilarious intentionally and otherwise. If you're forgiving of its flaws, Savage Streets is a fun little flick but it's hard to recommend to anyone other than fans of this sort of schtick.Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2011
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