Color, 1984, 92m.
Directed by Danny Steinmann
Starring Linda Blair, John Vernon, Robert Dryer, Johnny Venocur, Sal Landi, Linnea Quigley
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Scorpion, BCI (US R0 NTSC), Arrow (UK R0 PAL), Another World (Scandinavia R2 PAL) / (1.78:1) (16:9)
A mere ten years after Charles Bronson was blowing away criminal scum on the streets of New York in Death Wish, the urban vigilante film had reached the apex of its insanity thanks to '80s pop culture. Thugs with big hair, gaudy earrings, and horrifying fashion sense were apparently prowling around every corner and lurking in gangs, ready to leap on any innocent schoolgirl or senior citizen unlucky enough to wander in their path. Of course the most absurd (and beloved) variation on this idea was Death Wish III, but a year before that, Linda Blair to offer her own sorta-feminist turn thanks a black cat suit and a crossbow in her own high school variation, Savage Streets.
Always fun to watch, Blair stars as Brenda, a tough teen who leads a girl gang called the Satins. One night while cruising in Hollywood they run afoul of the Scars, a nasty rival guy gang who nearly kill Brenda's deaf-mute sister, Heather (Quigley). The girls decide to get back by swiping and trashing their car, but that just gets the Scars angry enough to ambush Heather at the gym in school, passing her around a basketball court (while Brenda's off having a cat fight in the showers) and then brutally raping and assaulting her into a coma. Brenda soon figures out what went down and, thirsting for revenge when the Scars chuck one of her friends off a bridge, decides to hunt down the perpetrators one by one.
Directed by Danny Steinmann, a '70s smut vet (High Rise) who went on to direct Friday the 13th: A New Beginning the following year, Savage Streets is loads of fun even when it threatens to all fly off the rails at any moment, which is pretty frequently. The gaudy parade of neon-highlighted clothes, post-disco pop music (highlighting John Farnham, of all people), and amped-up sleazy dialogue ensure there's never a dull moment, and of course it's fun to see Blair strut her stuff (including a much-loved bathtub scene) and reuniting with Chained Heat costar, John Vernon (who gets some great one liners as the school principal). The production itself was famously rocky, with Blair's Hell Night director, Tom DeSimone, kicked off just before shooting. As the supplements chart out in detail, the rest of it didn't go much smoother, either, but the end result still delivers the goods. The attack scene on Quigley is still jaw-droppingly tasteless even today, but otherwise the violence is top drawer drive-in stuff with Blair's crossbow getting perhaps the crowning moment of the film.
Fans of Savage Streets had to wait a very long time for the film to officially reach DVD, and even then it seemed cursed in 2008 when the two-disc edition from BCI went out of circulation almost immediately after the company folded. The transfer was fine for the time, interlaced but taken from a clean print and definitely better than the grungy old Vestron VHS. A 2011 reissue in the UK from Arrow ported over the copious extras, as did the 2012 double-disc version from Scorpion which adds quite a few new goodies as well, not to mention a pretty darn gorgeous HD transfer that stacks up as the best of the bunch. The packaging downplays it, but the film is also presented optionally as a "Kat Skratch Cinema" title with host Katarina Leigh Waters doing lively wraparounds (in black leather, of course, and whipping out a crossbow after the credits). The history of the film gets covered in massive depth courtesy of three audio commentaries: Steinmann and moderator Michael Felsher; producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Vencour (moderated by David DeCoteau, who certainly knows his way around an exploitation film); and Dryer, cinematographer Stephen Posey, and actor Sal Landi (moderated by Marc Edward Heuck). Obviously there's a lot of ground covered here including the film's bumpy origins, Steinmann's other directorial adventures, the conflicts between the director and producer during shooting, and of course, the very colorful cast members. Also on the first disc are the theatrical trailer, three "vintage interviews" with Dryer (6 mins.), Strong (14 mins.), and Vencour (14 mins.), and bonus previews for Death Ship, Kill and Kill Again, Joysticks, and Alley Cat.
Disc two hosts another avalanche of video interviews, including new chats with a few shot at Monsterpalooza in 2012: Dryer (22 mins.) talking about his overall career and brainstorming problems on the set, not to mention showing off his scripted idea for a sequel; Strong (12 mins.), going into more detail about such issues as the sudden lack of money during production and addressing Steinmann's open "trash talking" about Strong on the now-infamous commentary track; actor Sal Landi (9 mins.), who played Fargo and shares his memories of the set including some much-needed discipline; actor Scott Mayers (12 mins.), who played Red, discusses how he got his role without an agent and his fun times on the set; and Venocur (9 mins.), who recalls wanting to hug "cutie" Blair and working comfortably with Quigley on the rape scene, which initially earned the film an X rating. The disc rounds out with two Red Shirt Pictures video interviews from the previous release, a great 17-minute featurette with Blair (who shares her favorite line of dialogue, discusses the music and editing, and enthusiastically explains how the movie went over with a theatrical audience in New York), and Quigley (10 mins.), who talks about some of the physical challenges passing for Blair's younger sister, being a Blair fan, having to stay silent during the rape scene, and getting caught on a cast mate's button during the basketball court scene.
Almost two years later, the film finally made the jump to bona fide HD courtesy of a Blu-ray from Code Red; it appears to be derived from the same source but displays the expected boost in detail and color fidelity, with formerly tricky shades of rose and scarlet now popping out with a purity the SD predecessors couldn't handle. The DTS-HD audio is presented in both standard theatrical mono and a punchy 5.1 remix, which should come as a nice treat to fans of the film's gloriously '80s soundtrack. Speaking of which, there's also a great isolated music track, too, so you can console yourself if you don't have the pricey vinyl release (and want the entire score, too). The sole extra here is the theatrical trailer, so definitely hang on to the DVD if you want all the bonus goodies, too.
Updated review on April 27, 2014.