Savage Streets (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus catches up with a cult 1984 movie that he'd never seen before....
Brenda’s (Linda Blair) gang of girls are hot shit but when they pull a prank on local gang The Scars and take a joy ride in their car, Scar leader Jake (Robert Dryer) ain’t best pleased.
While hustling some money out of a kid in school, the Scars spot Brenda’s deaf sister Heather (Linnea Quigley) entering the school gym. With Brenda delayed in meeting up with her sister (she’s gets into a fight in the girls showers) the Scars terrorize and gang rape Heather, fleeing the scene and leaving Brenda’s young sister in a coma.
Brenda is desperate to find out who did this to her sister and with the police and school doing nothing to help, Brenda’s revenge is unleashed when she discovers fellow student Vince (Johnny Venocur) was involved with the attack and his friends The Scars were behind it all. Time to grab a crossbow and some bear traps and bash some heads.
I had not only never seen Savage Streets but I’m ashamed to admit I’d never even heard of it. My knowledge of Linda Blair outside of the Exorcist movies, Repossessed and a stint on the S Club 7 show is limited, so to find out she played this vigilante high school chick in a cult 80s flick was a real eye opener.
Now I don’t know whether it was the musical choice of ‘Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way’ over the opening credits (a song full of feel good memories for me as it’s on the awesome Transformers: The Movie soundtrack) or if the nostalgic visuals of 80s filmmaking struck a nerve but I pretty much warmed to Savage Streets immediately. So called, ‘Cult’ movies are always hit and miss because sometimes if you missed them the first time around, like I did here, you can miss the appeal but Savage Streets was a blast.
The best way I can sum it up after one viewing is, it’s a bit like Grease, without the songs and if Kenickie was a psychopath and Rizzo put on a black jumpsuit and took nasty revenge on the T-Birds. The school setting here has that 80s feel down perfectly. The super cool kids who can seemingly get away with anything, the rivalries between the cool girls and the cheerleaders, the powerless teachers, the conversations about “when am I ever gonna get out of this place?” etc, except Savage Streets does all those things other 80s high school movies only hinted that.
Savage Streets is violent, incredibly so in places. Savage Streets has proper swearing and, shock horror, from girls, Savage Streets has nudity coming out of its ears and puts the odd 80s boob flash to shame and Savage Streets has a genuine threat and not just some douchey older kid, who might just punch you in the face for looking at his girl. In fact Jake, the main bad guy here is a prime example of a solid fact in cinema, no other decade did villains quite as effectively as the 80s.
The baddies in that era are proper mental, proper unpredictable, and make the description “unstable” seem long passed. 90’s bad guys always had ‘a reason’ for their badness—80s bad guys didn’t need reasons they were just mental. 00s were always misunderstood—80s bad guys didn’t care if you understood them, they’d kill you while you thought about it. 80s bad guys are nastier than the rest and what makes them even better is that they usually come loaded with amazing dialogue to sweeten the deal and Fargo (Sal Landi), Jake’s right hand man throws lines out here like the best of them. He over abusive tone and his descriptions of what he’s going to do to his victims should not have put a smile on my face because most of the time they really nasty, but he combination of his 80s fashion (including a slick bandana around his head), his curly hair and his “I’m the best” body language I couldn’t help thinking this character was the sort of bad guy you just love to hate.
Anyway, you’ve probably guessed by now, I had a nostalgic blast with Savage Streets. The extreme nature of it really made this movie shine. I wouldn’t say it was all that shocking by today’s standards, though it has to be said some of its oddities made it seem very brutal (especially some of the things the gang does in the rape scene and Jake throwing Bredna's friend off the bridge is genuinely shocking) but the relativity simple story of a bunch of school kids terrorized by a bunch of leather jacketed baddies and then one of the school girls stepping up to take revenge actually had a feel good vibe about it and considering this was the first time I’d ever seen the movie it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that movies from my youth usually invoke. So, despite taking me twenty seven years to actually see it, Savage Streets is a real highlight from the 80s, who knew?
I think I’ve been spoilt with quality over the last few years. With modern movies glowing with perfection in HD and old classics remastered, cleaned up and upgraded onto the Blu-ray format, I’d almost forgotten movies could look like Savage Streets. It was like going back in time and putting a rental video in my top loader or something. The transfer here is dirty. It’s full of grain and artefacts, has that hazy softness and with the neon pink and blue lighting and of course those fashions does nothing to hide the age of the movie.
There’s little to no real sharpness, colours are muted most of the time and close ups lack detail. Some of the external shots, especially of the exterior of the school looks like those old Disney nature documentaries from the 60’s. There’s also a weird, albeit faint grid around the edges of the frame, which you’ll only really notice if you go looking for it but it is there. That said all of this makes Savage Streets feel right. As you all know there’s been a mini-resurgence of trying to capture the feeling of these old movies with most of the stuff that came out of Grindhouse, but there’s nothing like the genuine article and despite all its flaws I don’t think Savage Streets would really benefit from a full clean up. The transfer here feels right and besides a few of the more offensive defects being sorted out, there’s not a lot else a full restoration would improve.
I want to write off the audio track with the same warm nostalgic feeling that the video gave me but there’s no denying that this Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a bit of a mess. Throughout the dialogue is clear enough as are the awesome 80s soundtrack choices that inform us how the characters are feeling in the montages (got to love that stuff) but beyond that everything’s a bit sketchy.
For starters some scenes that reach the upper octaves can sound uncomfortable. The girls screaming as they steal The Scar’s car is screechy and a little overbearing but it’s when some of the dialogue comes with a crackle that you notice how old and uncared for this track is. At first I thought it was an echo as I first noticed it in the school gym scenes but really the dialogue here begins to sound like an old LP. There’s crackles and hiss and keeping the LP comparison alive, there’s even a sense the needle is being lifted off of the vinyl at the close of some scenes which is just plain iffy.
The track simply has very little in the way of depth and it always feels separate from the visuals somehow. Yeah, there is a certain amount of expecting all of the issues here considering this is a small cult 80s movie and it’s not Back to the Future or E.T. but even so the issues here are not only apparent but make their presence known a lot.
The first of three commentaries comes from director Danny Steinman and is moderated by Michael Felsher (the producer of the DVD). This is more of an interview than a commentary track and while they do talk about specifics it’s quite a slow burning affair.
The second commentary features producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Venocur and they're joined by moderator David Decouteu and is far more upbeat. The group are a lively bunch with lots of stories about the shoot and feels more like what you’d expect from an ensemble cast reuniting for chat about their movie.
The third commentary track has cinematographer Stephen Posey with actors Robert Dryer and Sal Landi, joined by Mark Hoight and is a nice middle ground between the other tracks. It has bursts of all the participants sharing their tales but it’s got a lot of dead air and really after the previous tracks this all begins to get a little repetitive. That said between the three tracks there’s not really a stone unturned with the history of Savage Streets and fans should eat these up.
‘Confessions of a Teenage Vigilante’ (17:02) is an interview with Linda Blair and goes into the troubled production, the changes to the film and Blair’s best bits. This sort of makes up for her not featuring on the commentary tracks but feels a little like it's skimming the surface on her real feelings on some of the elements of the movie somehow.
‘Heather Speaks’ (10:45) is an interview with Linnea Quigley. Of course this features shooting the rape scene and Quigley’s other experiences on set.
After the commentary track, the ‘John Strong Interview’ (14:04) is repeating most of the information but his accounts of the struggling production and his input is still a fun watch.
The ‘Johnny Venecor Interview’ (14:15) is 50 percent good and 50 percent annoying due to Venecor’s attempts to keep everything funny. It's hard to tell how much is thrown in for effect but he covers quite a bit none the less. Lastly the ‘Robert Dyer Interview’ (05:54) is short and pretty to the point but it’s still good to see what the bad guy is like when he’s not in character and older.
Wrapping up there’s the trailer (03:21) which is pure 80s brilliance.
Savage Streets was a mystery to me but now I’ve seen it I totally get why it’s deemed a cult classic. It dug up a nostalgic buzz in me that I think I’d lost over the years (mainly due to the fact that I own all of the 80s movies I loved as a kid and forgot what it was like to see a ‘new’ 80s flick). The disc is lacking in both video and audio department but a certain amount of that can be written off as in many ways it aids the experience of the movie and the extras should more than make up for it, for the fans at least. Savage Streets was totally new to me but I have to say I really enjoyed its excessive, 80s awesomeness and it proves that filmmakers can attempt to remake or recapture that era’s goofy glory but there’s nothing quite like the genuine article.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 20th June 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Commentaries, Interviews, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Danny Steinmann
Cast: Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley, John Vernon, Sal Landi, Robert Dryer
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 92 minutes