Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Savage Streets (1984, Danny Steinmann)

Linda Blair's career trajectory took a camp icon turn somewhere along the line, not blossoming into other actresses debuting in horror like Jamie Lee Curtis or Sigourney Weaver. The often mocked The Exorcsit II: The Heretic was no Aliens and after some light dramatic work, the late 70s and early 80s brought starring roles in trash classics like Roller Boogie, Hell Night and Chained Heat. Savage Streets is the forgotten apotheosis of her career as a strong female lead in B movies. As exploitation, little is spared: the bad guys are ruthlessly sadistic, her righteous vengeance is merciless, there's a lot of cheesy original songs and jiggling to compliment the strong women. Popular on video, the recently pressed DVD has already gone out of print and goes for two or three times suggested retail price, which is unfortunate because this is so quintessentially of exploitation aficionado interest that Linnea Quigley shows up as Blair's mute goodie two shoes sister.

Danny Steinmann is best known as the director of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. Like the notorious Fred Dekker, he's a genre hack with essentially one trilogy of directorial outings respective fans mention. Steinmann having a background in porn before that, his tastes run a lot sleazier. Dekker has a zombie movie, a kids-befriend-monsters movie and a Robocop movie to his name, but before Friday Steinmann has gone unknown for the story of a deformed killer in a mansion flick The Unseen and Savage Streets. As director he brings the sensibility that no opportunity should be missed to intercut cheesecake, as during a long rape sequence we alternate seeing Linda Blair in a high school locker room towel fight with her rival teen queen bee. The story pits Blair's gang of tough high school girls against a psychotic gang of anachronistic greasers, led by Robert Dryer and backed up with by good overacting and distinctly goony personalities. Their violence and rape are played realistically in absurd performance, but the effect is more gritty than Friday 5. Blair on the other hand has a few one liners during her last act revenge eliminations.

Blair's teenage friends are a lot more interchangable, they're mainly eye candy and seem to live in a world without grownups and rarely with police. Is it a copout to say Steinmann creates their chemistry well when they're only being set up for Blair to avenge? The revenge subgenre of exploitation usually involves rape, since what other crime would most warrant gran guignol measures? The internal struggle is that no matter what, the woman taking revenge is a fetish and is subject to the lingering camera on her naked body, or in this case Linnea Quigley's, although Blair's are shown under less duress later. When Blair dons an all black leather suit for her revenge sequence, the icon is complete. This revenge and the violence of Dryer and his gang are as mean spirited as you could expect from the director of a Friday the 13th and likewise his disposition to the female form bears itself every chance he can throw in: if Blair's going to have a catfight with her prissy rival at school, she's going to tear that shirt of hers clean off.

The songs by which Blair gets pushed too far are rousing anthems, as stoic in the manner of their time as the inspirational butt rock of Rocky movie hit singles. Streets' are all about "justice for one, justice for all" and other highminded platitudes and Steinmann slows down the action to let us listen and contemplate, as when Linda Blair sits naked in a bathtub contemplating the leather outfit and crossbow she's about to arm herself with while cheesy power chords chant about justice. Tastefully distasteful, yet fulfilling the bottom line of the nudity you want to see. Savage Streets walks the line damn near perfectly between the female revenge exploitation genre as supposed female empowerment and girlie show, and does so with style.

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