Mike Sutton takes a capsule look at Arrow’s release of 1980s vigilante favourite Savage Streets
Savage Streets is one of the many rape-revenge films which followed in the wake of the success of Death Wish and Lipstick in the 1970s and which was re-ignited by two factors; the success of the belated sequel Death Wish 2 in 1981 and the arrival of video which ensured a steady market for exploitation films regardless of their success in cinemas. If it’s one of the more striking examples, that’s largely because it’s unusually brutal in its violence and rather better made than might be expected.
The plot is standard stuff, albeit given a mildly feminist twist. Linda Blair’s Brenda is the leader of a girl gang which becomes embroiled in a feud with The Scars, a collection of human garbage led by the wildly method-acting Jake (Robert Dryer). The Scars are a particularly psychotic group of thugs, thinking nothing of gang-raping Brenda’s mute sister (Linnea Quigley) or throwing a pregnant woman off a bridge. When one of The Scars confesses his guilt to Brenda, she goes after the rest of them with a bear trap a crossbow and a switchblade.
Danny Scheinmann’s direction is reasonably accomplished, although things start to drag around the hour mark, and he stages the climactic kills with considerable brio. Throughout the film, our sympathies are entirely with Brenda and her friends and the bad guys are notable for being explicitly misogynist – a theme enhanced by the decidedly irresponsible attitude of the school principal played by the reliably hammy John Vernon. Ultimately however, any feminist undertones are cancelled out by the incredibly exploitative rape scene, which seems designed to reveal Linnea Quigley’s body for as long as possible while at the same time emphasising her distress, and a general desire to show female flesh for the audience’s delectation. Still, this is an Eighties exploitation flick so you can’t fault the filmmakers for not knowing their audience and they deliver the goods efficiently. The best performances come from a hard-working Linda Blair – who clearly believes in the film far more than anyone else involved does – and Lisa Freeman. The worst performance is strictly vocal and comes from John Farnham whose four songs are uniformally dreadful.
Arrow’s DVD is a comprehensive package for a film which doesn’t entirely deserve such deluxe treatment. It contains the full uncut version for the first time in the UK. The main problem with the disc is the transfer which is an NTSC-PAL conversion and exhibits all the expected problems with combing and definition. The mono soundtrack, on the other hand, is fine. There are three commentary tracks – three! – and I have to confess that I began to tire during the second one and only listened to the third one after a two week gap. The most interesting of the three is the first because it goes into Danny Schienmann’s directorial career beyond Savage Streets. The other two are largely anecdotal and tend towards the “Hey isn’t it cool that we did this” style of discussion. The interviews are entertaining and the most enlightening come from the always eloquent Linda Blair and the once-ubiquitous Linnea Quigley. We also get the original trailer. I haven’t seen the booklet or the poster but I gather that they are up to Arrow’s usual standards.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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