Color, 1987, 90 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Carl Monson
Starring Frank Stallone, Christopher Mitchum, Karen Mayo-Chandler, Anthony Caruso, Gary Wood, Greta Blackburn, Lisa Loring, Nicholas Worth, Michael Gregory
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
It's common knowledge that Christopher Mitchum (son of Robert) made some of the nuttiest action movies in the '80s like Final Score, Lethal Hunter, and The Executioner, Part II, but surprisingly, he mostly steps aside and hands over the heavy lifting in Savage Harbor to another member of Hollywood genetic royalty, Frank Stallone. The brother of Sylvester and short-lived pop chart success thanks to Staying Alive, Stallone was making as an action star in low budget quickies like this, Outlaw Force, and Killing Blue, and he brings the goods here in a primo slice of cinematic junk food with absolutely no redeeming social value and enough politically incorrect moments to fuel a dozen boycotts. Beyond its two stars, the film marks a bizarre conjunction of other exploitation vets including producer and presenter Mardi Rustam (the madman responsible for Evils of the Night, Evil Town, and some of Eaten Alive) and writer-director Carl Monson, the former Harry Novak auteur behind such films as A Scream in the Streets (which shares an odd, sneering fixation on drag with this film), Please Don't Eat My Mother, The Takers, and The Acid Eaters. This would prove to be Monson's last film (he died a year after its release), but what a way to go out.
Some bad juju goes down outside San Diego when a human trafficking deal on the shore goes south and results in a hail of gunfire and explosions. The man responsible, Harry (Caruso), loses one of his top girls in the process, Anne (Nightmare Weekend's Mayo-Chandler), who goes fleeing into traffic in high heels. She ends up meeting and falling for Joe (Stallone), a marine merchant on shore with his strip club-loving buddy, Bill (Mitchum). While Bill's off wooing a stripper named Roxey (Loring, a.k.a. the original Wednesday from The Addams Family, who made this in between Blood Frenzy and Iced), Harry's dreaming of a life on an avocado farm with his new lady love. Unfortunately she falls into Harry's clutches again and is in danger of getting hooked on smack to stay under his thumb, so Bill goes on a pistol-packing rampage to get her back.
Also known as Death Feud, Savage Harbor has gotten a pretty rough reception from the very few who actually came across it via its VHS release from South Gate in the late '80s, largely because of the poor video presentation and the fact that it can't match the full-tilt insanity of Mitchum's Indonesian epics. However, it's actually tons of fun when it kicks into high gear including the opening beach showdown (which features a truly awesome fire gag guaranteed to bring down the house) and a wild chase scene featuring a guy dragged at high speed down the street with his rope around his feet. It's a harrowing stunt that will have you reaching for the rewind button for sure. The sleaze value is high as well with Monson's usual fixation on cleavage and the bizarre treatment of a cross-dressing gay character that manages to make Thunderbolt and Lightfoot look progressive. On top of that you get a small role for Don't Answer the Phone's Nicholas Worth as one of the bad guy's henchmen, who pops up a couple of times to run around and carry a gun. It's really something else.
Largely unseen for decades, Savage Harbor makes a return to the public courtesy of a 2019 Blu-ray release as one of the first two titles in the Vinegar Syndrome Archive line, a 2,500-unit limited edition sold only through the company site and brick and mortar retailers. Featuring a sturdy case meant to mimic the feel of VHS packaging, the release comes hand numbered and also has an insert poster in addition to a reversible sleeve. Incredibly, the film has been outfitted with a sparkling new 2K transfer from the original negative, and it looks great. The opening titles have some unavoidable optical dirt but otherwise it's smooth sailing with rich colors and a far slicker appearance than the old VHS could have ever indicated, and the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track features a surprisingly aggressive stereo mix that sounds terrific in a home theater. English SDH subtitles are also provided. Even more incredibly, you also get a new video interview with Stallone, "Do You Like Avocados?" (14m21s), which opens with him asking "Who wants to know about this stupid movie?" He's hilariously candid about his stint on this film and his overall career as he recalls "knockaround hack director" Monson, Loring's dating of a porn actor during the shoot, and the raucous reaction when he showed this film to his brother. He even goes a bit into the bizarro Sonny Landham vehicle Billy Lone Bear, which would make a promising VSA title somewhere down the road. Then cinematographer Jack Beckett shows up for a phone interview (27m53s) with VS's Brandon Upson for a lengthy chat about his career (including numerous Monson films) and some juicy tidbits from the production, mostly about Mitchum including his hatred of his father and what appears to be an erroneous anecdote about one of the leading ladies' porn pasts, albeit with a really unforgettable punchline.
Reviewed on May 24, 2019