Savage Streets (1984)

This one is a long time coming…

Welcome to this week’s B-Movie Enema. When I say this was a long time coming it’s because I’ve known of this movie for a long time, had a copy of it, and have always wanted to find some way to talk about it because it exists in a peculiar time of exploitation in the movies – the 1980s. In addition to that, it also has some not insignificant people in the cast. This week, I’m going to be digging into the Danny Steinmann film Savage Streets starring Linda Blair.

I’ve been looking for a way to cover this movie somehow. I got it with the possibility of it being featured either here at B-Movie Enema or as part of a theme month of movies with the word “Savage” in the title over at Film Seizure. However, considering I have an extensive backlog of movies to feature here, I decided I needed to pull the trigger and clear this one off the list. By the way, A LOT of next year is going to be clearing backlog, but I digress. Let’s start looking at the people involved with this movie, beginning with director Danny Steinmann.

Steinmann is one of the few people who only did a handful of films, but he wrote each film he directed. Prior to Savage Streets, he co-directed The Unseen starring Barbara Bach and Sydney Lassick. He wasn’t overly satisfied with the finished product, so he had a pseudonym applied to the movie. That’s another one I suspect will show as that has been re-emerging in the zeitgeist around people who like to kind of uncover and bring back classics from bygone eras.

But after Savage Streets, Steinmann wrote and directed Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (aka Friday the 13th Part V). I do not give a flying crap on a stick what people think of the fifth outing of that franchise. It’s not that I particularly love the entry, but I have grown to appreciate it over the years. The big reason for this is that this is kind of what you should want in the fourth sequel in a series that kind of sort of promised the previous entry was indeed “The Final Chapter”. I’m not particularly sure where you go from the previous movies that featured a formula of kids show up at a camp, kids get stalked by a crazy guy in the woods, one kid survives the ordeal and seemingly kills the crazy killer man only for it to be revealed that the kid didn’t kill the crazy killer man. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse again. Thanks for your four bucks for your movie tickets, suckers!

Sure, you can try some new things with characters. The Final Chapter did do a good job of setting up likable characters that you didn’t want to see stalked and killed by crazy killer man, Jason Voorhees. But still… A New Beginning was trying to really be a new beginning and try to take the series in a different direction. Ultimately, nobody was interested in that different direction, but that’s okay. At least they tried, right?

In front of the camera in Savage Streets is the Academy Award nominated actress Linda Blair. Now… She didn’t get nominated for this movie. Oh shit no. Of course, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in The Exorcist for her role as little Regan MacNeil, the possessed girl whose messed up face still gives me the jibblies and the last thing I would ever want to see in a mirror when flip on the bathroom light or in the darkness at the end of the hallway scurrying after me. I like my underwear. I do not wish to mess them up with these things.

Blair had a little bit of a troubled history after The Exorcist. She often dated singers and rock and rollers. When she was only fifteen, after the release of The Exorcist, she was dating 25-year old Rick Springfield. That began a string of those relationships with musicians. In 1977, she was arrested for drug possession and conspiracy to sell drugs. She eventually was able barter that down to some probation time and public appearances to warn kids about drugs and stuff.

Once the 80s came along, Blair became a favorite punching bag of the Golden Raspberry Awards (aka the Razzies). She was often nominated for “Worst Actress” because the Razzies like to pick on people just trying to make movies to make a living. I could go on a whole diatribe about the Razzies and their incredibly poor taste in what they think “worst” means, but I’ll save it. I will say that if you do want to see a good movie that Blair was in, that was directed by Wes Craven, check out Stranger in Our House (aka Summer of Fear). That’s one of those really good examples of a fine TV movie of the week in the horror genre.

Now, when it comes to Savage Streets, the whole premise is based on a gang of no-good jerkoffs known as the Scars harass Blair’s character, Brenda, and when she gets back at them, they get back at her by raping her deaf-mute sister and later killing another of Brenda’s friends. We’ll be getting to all that later, but I wanted to set that because the deaf-mute girl getting avenged is played by none other than Linnea Quigley. So, we’ve got ourselves another recognizable name here. This was a pretty good year for Quigley, and while she appeared in movies of the course of the several years prior to this, 1984 was the year that she really took off with this movie and Silent Night, Deadly Night. The following year would bring The Return of the Living Dead which was the movie that if you didn’t know who she was thanks to the previous roles, you definitely did afterwards.

But! Let’s get on the mean streets and learn just how savage they are, shall we?

I like that this movie has the John Carpenter font for the credits. That is a damn solid piece of evidence you are watching an 80s movie that is likely gonna have a cult following. But anyway, the movie opens with a kid taking off for a night with his friends. He gets a little beef from his old man about it being a school night. As soon as his dad shuts the front door, he finds his gang gear he hides outside and gets picked up by his pals. These are the Scars. They drive around, drink beer, create some havoc, and so forth. All of this to the tune of a somewhat significant song from my youth – “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way”.

Now, why would this song be such a big deal to me? I’ll tell ya… Motherfuckin’ The Transformers: The Movie from 1986! However, that one was a slightly different version used for that movie. This one is performed by John Farnham whereas the Transformers version was by Spectre General. But either way, I recognized this shit immediately.

But anyway, this is kind of a theme for both our main groups. You have the Scars riding down Hollywood Blvd. doing their shithead stuff. We have our group of ladies pretty much led by Linda Blair’s Brenda. In tow, her sweet and innocent, disabled, sister, Heather. Linnea Quigley really could play all types of roles. Many might usually think of her as a sexpot scream queen, but here, she’s really pretty cute as the girl we should feel sorry for.

While Brenda’s group seems almost like a gang like the Scars, I mean, Blair is tough and is incredibly protective of Heather. The other girls are kind of your typical smart talking broads who seem to be taking the piss out of each other. When one of the girls pulls a bottle of peach brandy, Brenda yells at the friend about her not wanting that shit going on in front of Heather.

Anyway, Brenda’s group comes across the Scars when the guys kind of pull a prank that nearly hits Heather. While the guys apologize for their insensitivity, the girls are still pretty irritated by their dipshittery. However, after seemingly seeing that there is no harm no foul, the Scars have some business to attend to. They shake down a guy for some money he owes them for some cocaine deals.

So I guess add that to the repertoire of the Scars. They goof around with cars. They drink while they drive. They deal drugs. They shake down guys who owe them money. They sexually harass girls. These are real stand up 80s punk villains.

Brenda and the girl gang see the Scars once again on the streets. This time, they are out dealing dope. Brenda gets an idea… Let’s go for a joyride! Seeing their opportunity, they get into the car and decide to have a little fun.

The Scars chase after them in the car, but they outrun the guys pretty quickly. By the time Jake and the guys find their car, it’s covered in trash. The guys swear revenge against the girls. The next day, the girls are at their high school getting razzed by the gym teacher. We get to finally put some names to faces. Of course we know who Brenda and Heather are as they are the two central characters on the girls’ side and they are played by recognizable actresses. However, we learn the names of the rest of the gang: Stevie, Rachel, Francine, Maria, and Stella.

While the girls are doing normal school things, and totally vibing that squad life, the Scars have business to do in the hallways. Vince, the guy at the beginning who took off with the gang at the very beginning, gets a lashing from Principal Underwood, played by John Vernon. Underwood tells the Scars to “go fuck an iceberg” and that is awesome.

So this movie has a lot going on here. Underwood runs the school like what we’d see later in the decade and in the 90s with tough principals dealing with juvenile delinquent types. We have a drug-dealing gang. We have girls who walk the streets with tough attitudes like you might see in Angel or something. We also have a little bit of a war going on between the tough girls and the uppity cheerleaders.

But problems are incoming. The guys see Heather at the school and Jake comes up with an idea to get the girls back for trashing their car. Heather waits on the bleachers while Brenda showers after gym so she can walk her home. This means we, as the audience, are treated to a ridiculously lecherous and voyeuristically shot shower scene. While we look at tits and ass all over the place, we learn that Francine is getting married soon – and she’s pregnant. That last fact is what you call a death sentence in an 80s rape revenge exploitation flick.

Before the real dark shit happens in this movie, I want to take a moment to talk briefly about how terminally adorable Linnea Quigley is in this. I already mentioned how we usually have one image of her when we think about roles she played in the 80s and 90s. However, here, she’s silent, innocent, and lighting up the screen with a very cute smile. You also have to understand that Linnea was already at least 25 years old when this film was shot and she looks like your high school sweetheart. It’s amazing how easily she was able to slip into all sorts of roles. Just a few weeks ago, we saw her in Jack-O, made some 10 years after this movie was released. Yeah, we saw a shower scene with her, but for the most part, we almost saw this motherly kind of persona in her where she’s just the very kind and sweet babysitter for the main kid in that movie. My favorite thing about Linnea Quigley isn’t the obvious stuff. It’s just how well she could really kind of play any role given to her.

So now for some of the darker stuff. In a private moment, Heather dances in the gym alone, but one of the Scars sneaks up on her. He treats her kind of sweetly. He says she’s pretty which means she lets her guard down. While things start to get a little less innocent, the cheerleader chicks hold Brenda up by threatening her to stay away from a particular guy who seems to have the hots for Brenda. That leads to a fight, while the member of the Scars, Red, forcibly kisses Heather. She tries to run away, but the rest of the gang trap her in the gym, which means Brenda can’t protect her.

And yes, you can’t have an 80s rape revenge exploitation movie without, well… rape. So the four Scars start to push Heather around, and Vince, the young buck of the group, is starting to get quite excited. The guys drag her off to another part of the school while Brenda continues to fight the head cheerleader. Vince is kind of drooling and shaking and what have you. I don’t know if that means he is some sort of degenerate or if he knows that this will probably lead to him getting fucked up something awful by Linda Blair.

Anyway, Brenda is delayed further by Underwood going off on her after the fight. He reminds her that she’s smart with a pretty face and a good figure. You know… Like principals often will say to their high school students. Goddamn, the 80s were weird.

Meanwhile, on the bathroom floor, Vince finishes and still continues to shake and drool. Next up is Red, followed by Fargo, and finally Jake tells the guys to take off because they are about to be caught. Meanwhile, outside the school, one of Brenda’s friends suggests that maybe she should check on Heather, because she’s now been waiting a long time for her big sis to walk her home, but she just dismisses the concern by saying Heather can take care of herself. Brenda is taken to the hospital after Maria finds her.

Now, there is something about Maria finding Heather in the bathroom that is actually some pretty decent writing on the part of Danny Steinmann and Norman Yonemoto. In what you think is just an off-handed comment made after Brenda was dismissed by Underwood, Maria talks about needing to pee really bad and held it to wait for Brenda. Brenda told her to go and not to wait anymore. She’s the one who basically forces the Scars to take off and the one who ultimately finds the girl. That’s actually a line or a detail that might have hit the cutting room floor in editing and would have then just left everything to happenstance. So, yeah, rape is gross. The Scars are assholes for hurting dear, sweet Linnea. But the setup and payoff of Heather being discovered by Maria is top notch.

Anatomy of a Revenge Plot: A hospitalized, disabled little sister + a crying mother + guilt over not being there to protect said sister.

It should be noted that revenge never plays out without some more blood to pay for it. Considering this movie is rushing headlong to the midway point, it’s not going to take long for that payment to come due. The girls are at a rock club where the Scars plan on making an appearance to get some drug money. This club should be called the Powder Keg because it’s about to go off.

I should also mention, that much like a typical revenge movie like this, there’s one member of the bad guys who is sickened by what he did. Vince missed school over feeling sick about what happened. He’s continued to get razzed by the rest of the gang, but he’s just not feeling it. It appears his commitment to Sparklemotion is fading fast.

Again, another bathroom set up occurs at the rock club where Francine goes to the bathroom and on the way out, she gets snatched by Fargo of the Scars and a fight breaks out. It’s a short fight, but clearly lines have been drawn and a war is brewing.

The next time we see Brenda and her group at school, there is an utterly bonkers scene in which the literature teacher asks Francine’s fiancĂ©, Richie, to come up with a poem. Richie comes up with this gem: “Disco sucks/Punk is dead/Give me rock/Or give me head.” And the teacher wants to talk about the relationship between death and sex and asks if the class knows what head is.

Now… I lived in the 80s. I entered high school in August of 1991. So I wasn’t too far removed from being a high schooler during the 80s myself. I was just born a few years too late. The school would have spontaneously combusted if a teacher talked openly about head or sex and death or gave permission to the class to talk about such things. I’m not kidding. The school would have exploded. That’s before any uppity parents or busy body Christians got wind of this conversation. It would have immediately gone up in flames.

I guess, though, considering all these main actors already look like they’re pushing late 20s or early 30s, I guess it’s okay for these students to talk about such things and then show public displays of affection right in the classroom while talking about sex, death, romance, etc. So I guess the movie got me there.

But you can follow up an explicit conversation in one class to a good ol’ fashioned 80s prank in the next class as the science teacher’s chart that talks about various glands and such connected to reproduction gets a big ding dong drawn on it.

One of the main problems this movie has is that a very fast paced first act setting up the characters and the dynamics around these people who lead lives that are kind of on the edge and could result in arrest or death at any moment. But then, the second act is kind of a dud… if only compared directly to the first act. There’s a movie that I also have on my backlog called Massacre at Central High. That was a movie that actually garnered some decent reviews because of how the characters and their dynamics were set up in the setting of the micro society that is school. That’s a movie that handles all of its themes and situations within the school setting.

This movie crosses back and forth from seeing the toughs on the streets and then bringing them into school and still trying to have the same conflicts play out. In one way, I know this is meant to build tension. It’s meant to force Brenda’s group to be in close quarters with the Scars, or at least a single member of the Scars in Vince. It’s building to what’s likely going to be an explosive climax. Yet, we’re not seeing escalation. Instead, we’re seeing shenanigans. It’s confusing the building frustration Brenda has with general misbehaving teens doing silly things and kind of thumbing their noses at authority.

Yes, we’re seeing Brenda express her deep-seeded anger about life in general now that her sister has been attacked. It’s just not directed anywhere. The real tension that is now building that has to be released somewhere is in Vince’s character. He’s now deeply remorseful and seeing how being a member of the Scars is not good for him. While that is a great thing to explore, it’s taking over the movie because it’s now been almost 20 minutes since Brenda stated that things must be put right for what happened to Heather. Vince has kind of taken over this movie that should be about Brenda and Heather coming to terms with what happened and dishing out justice… Savage Street justice.

But anyway, Jake gives an ultimatum to Vince. He better not say anything about Heather’s rape. He then tells Vince he wants to know where he can find the girl who cut his face during the fight at the rock club. That girl is the mother-to-be, Francine. Meanwhile, Brenda gets into another fight with lead cheerleader, Cindy. This gets her suspended, but not before Principal Underwood says that he has sympathy for what happened to Heather, but she shouldn’t have been there. How about that for a principal? He comments on his students’ looks and he blames rape victims for what happened to them.

Okay, so Francine is totally fucked. Her wedding day draws nearer. So near, in fact, she has gone to pick up her wedding dress. In a movie like this, it’s almost as certain to lead to something terrible as it would be for a cop in an action movie to say he’s three days from retirement. Sure enough, the Scars are giving Francine a chase.

Jake told Vince that he is only going to scare Francine, but you know what? That’s not how an 80s movie like this works. Jake is a rabid dog and will probably make sure he kills her in a particularly horrific way. I’ve seen enough Charles Bronson movies from this era to know these guys are cold-blooded monsters.

So how is this going to go down? Well, Jake holds Francine’s head over the side of a bridge and asks her if she likes the view. She spits in his face, and that triggers Jake’s ultra-psycho mode. He lifts her up over her head like an Olympian weightlifter and throws her over the side of the bridge where she splats real good. It should be pointed out that during the brief moment before he tossed her over the bridge, Vince begged him to stop and the other two Scars told him to do it – and laughed after he did so. Vince more or less quits the Scars on the spot.

I do have a question, though. This movie takes place in Los Angeles. That’s the second largest city in the United States. Where Francine was splatted on the pavement is basically desolate. However, where she was tossed off the bridge, we see actual traffic happening. Is this a Kitty Genovese situation? Were those people on the street that terrified by some young punks that they wouldn’t dare stop them from throwing a woman off a bridge to her horrific death in broad daylight?

Vince goes right to the hospital to confess his sins to Heather. He tells her that he’s not one of them anymore and he is sorry for what he did to her. Unfortunately for Vince, Brenda overhears him and she starts slapping the shit out of Vince until he runs away. More importantly? Brenda knows who’s to blame for everything that happened to Heather. She goes home and we see her in the tub, full on tits out, and she plans her ultimate revenge on the Scars.

Because this shit is vigilante style, Brenda has to put on a black catsuit and gear up like a superhero. There’s no such thing in the 80s as revenge that doesn’t look good.

Vince’s day gets worse when Brenda goes directly to his place and holds her switchblade to his throat. He spills the beans about Francine being bridged earlier that day. So now she has two things to get revenge for. That’s real bad for the Scars.

Red and Fargo are the first two Brenda finds at a warehouse. She barely has to entice them before Fargo says they are gonna “fuck that bitch” despite the fact that she very clearly has a whole bunch of arrows in a quiver on strapped to her thigh very easily visible. 80s gang members were incredibly ignorant if they had a single drop of sperm in their balls. She plays cat and mouse with the pair of idiots. Red arms himself with an axe because, sure, why not.

Fargo gets arrowed in the throat by Brenda’s crossbow. Red gets it a lot worse. After he finds Fargo’s body, he realizes that maybe he and Fargo aren’t going to get to fuck Brenda. She steps out from around the corner and sets her sights to get Red with another bolt from her crossbow. He backs up like a pussy, begging for his life, and he trips and falls into a bear trap that, presumably, got him in his throat.

Jake decides to run Vince down with the car and kills him. He returns to the warehouse where his other gang members were killed. Jake has driven around Los Angeles with a completely smashed, and bloody, windshield. He even stopped to load up on cans of Miller High Life. Nobody stopped him. Is the entire city terrified of a small gang of ne’er-do-wells this badly that they would just rather sacrifice a poor girl on the bridge, Vince (who literally JUST said goodbye to a loved one and the door shut on his place when he began screaming for his life), and just let a guy drive around with murder evidence all over the front of his vehicle instead of, you know, do away with them?

Ah fuck it.

Brenda hits Jake in both his thighs with a pair of crossbow bolts. After he’s expended all his revolver’s bullets, Brenda comes out to play with her prey. She says she’s gonna kill him, but misses him on purpose with her last bolt. So she tells him that she’s gonna go reload because she has a bunch more in the car. With his legs all shot to hell, he can’t really get away so he has to basically wait to be finished off. Brenda is more, or less, psychotic at this point and it’s kind of great.

While she leaves to go back to the car to reload, Jake tries to follow, but it’s not exactly easy for him to walk. This only leads to another trap she’s set for him which is to string him upside down by the ankles. She asks him, since he looks like a pig in a slaughterhouse and all, if he ever thought about what those pigs thought and saw before their throats were slit or their balls were cut off. She says it couldn’t be any worse than what Heather or Francine felt. He spits in her face and is able to wiggle free.

Now, here’s where a misstep is made. Now free, Jake climbs on top of Brenda, I assume to rape and kill her. However, She stabs him in the leg with her switchblade. But, now, Jake has a weapon. When she finally gets to her feet, he’s close behind and now she’s the hunted and she’s kind of acting like the typical victim in a movie. She’s crying and seemingly struggling to regain composure. I don’t mind the bad guy getting a shot at a weapon or getting back to his feet, but Brenda is suddenly acting like any and all other completely incapable victims in movies of the era. She’s no longer tough. She’s scared. She’s no longer confident. She’s stumbling. It’s not good for the movie to turn her so quickly from cocky and confident to helpless.

Well, anyway, eventually, having broken into a paint store with Jake close behind, Brenda finds flammable paint and douses Jake with it and lights him on fire. As he burns in the street, we hear the cops coming while Brenda watches. I guess Brenda is going to go to jail? I mean there’s possibly a plausible self defense angle here. Anyway, Heather is out of the hospital and she, along with Brenda, and the rest of her friends visit Francine’s grave and take solace in knowing that things have been made right even if it can’t bring back their friend.

Savage Streets is kind of a peculiar movie. It wasn’t particularly well liked upon release, but it has a small cult following. What likely gives it that following is that this is a pretty implausible movie from point A to point B. There’s no real reason why Linda Blair’s character would have a sexy superhero-style catsuit to wear for her revenge. There’s no real reason why she would be proficient with a crossbow – or even own one for that matter. While there is a bit of a Chekhov’s Bear Trap scenario, with the bear trap getting focus in the early part of the movie as the girls were doing their thing on the streets, there’s no indication that she should even be able to obtain such a thing. Those things also gives this movie its charm.

Yet the movie is terribly flawed. That second act feels like an entirely different movie as it shifts away from Brenda and goes more over to Vince being troubled by his involvement with the Scars. That’s a lot of time to spend with Vince without any possibility in the long run for a redemption arc for him. And there really probably shouldn’t be one either. Sure, he felt remorse for his involvement in Heather’s rape. Sure, he quits the Scars. Yet, he still buddied up to them in the first place and was involved in a rape, so, he’s kind of irredeemable as a whole.

That’s a lot of words to simply say this is very disjointed. This movie would have been no different if they aged up the girls to, say, college age. I guess you could still keep the Heather character a teenager to preserve some sort of innocence, but it’s a little hard to swallow watching these clear adults act at being high schoolers. It creates this other issue with the movie which is to kind of show these characters as kids. If there was a greater effort to show the juxtaposition of how the characters spent their evenings and how they are still ultimately kids who go to school and are still bound by being minors, that’s one thing. However, the effort this movie puts in is just to have high school shenanigans. That sort of stuff didn’t jibe at all with a rape revenge story which, in and of itself, should be more adult. That juxtaposition I mentioned can be there by making this, generally, a tougher examination of kids who grew up too fast in a decade where accelerated maturity became the norm.

While this movie kind of muffs it with its odd pacing and odder insistence on those shenanigans, this is most certainly a time capsule of what exploitation was in 80s cinema. That alone gives this movie a mild recommendation for people interested in these types of action thrillers to check it out.

In one week’s time, B-Movie Enema hits a milestone – the big 3-5-0. Yup. It’s time to make a bit of a big deal out of how this blog grew and matured over the last eight years. In order to do this, I need to go back to the past. I need to examine myself and my own influences on this blog and finally talk about a film that changed some folks’ perspectives on a particular internet series and figure. Join me for B-Movie Enema #350: Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s