Color, 1982, 97 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Gary Sherman
Starring Season Hubley, Gary Swanson, Wings Hauser, Pepe Serna, Beverly Todd
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A Vice Squadmajor surprise when it opened in theaters Vice Squadin the very busy year of 1982, Vice Squad earned far more positive reviews than usual for what was deemed to be an exploitation programmer. Since then it's remained a shining example of razor-sharp pulp cinema, buoyed in this case by career best performances by Season Hubley and Wings Hauser (who sings that indelible "Neon Slime" theme song) as well as brutally controlled direction by Gary Sherman of Dead & Buried and Raw Meat fame.

Touted in the opening as "a composite of events that have actually taken place on the streets of Hollywood," our tale unfolds around Hollywood Boulevard and the predicament of Princess (Hubley), a single mom who gets a call from her friend, Ginger (MTV VJ Nina Blackwood!), a prostitute on the run from her brutal pseudo-cowboy pimp, Ramrod (Hauser). Princess packs her young daughter on a bus out of town and hits the streets for her emergency night work as a prostitute, just as Ginger is tracked down in her hotel room and savagely attacked by a coat hanger-wielding Ramrod who declares, "Nobody walks out on me, never." Vice cop Tom Walsh (Swanson) realizes the battering as the handiwork of Ramrod and sets up an apartment bust with the aid of a shaken and enraged Ginger, but the night is just beginning as the psychotic pimp ends up back on the street looking for blood.

A priceless snapshot of early '80s Hollywood (before New World's Angel mined similar territory a couple of years later), Vice Squad is often outrageous but never unconvincing, especially for anyone who's actually spent time going through some of the neighborhood's seedier areas. Though the film isn't particularly explicit at all, it still creates an Vice Squadintense, Vice Squadsordid atmosphere unusual for a mainstream film at the time, complete with chatter about toe sucking, spanking, golden showers, and so on. It's an interesting decision to parallel the more savage Ramrod storyline with a look at Princess' nocturnal routines, which includes a surreal faux wedding sequence straight out of Belle de Jour, and the two manage to weave together nicely for an intense and fairly believable climax.

Released theatrically by Embassy Pictures, Vice Squad was a perennial favorite on VHS and made the leap to DVD in 2006 from Anchor Bay complete with a solid Sherman audio commentary, the theatrical trailer, radio spots, and a still gallery. Moderated by David Gregory, the commentary has been a valuable source of info about the film over the years, particularly the particulars of Hubley's powerful performance (which channeled the anguish she felt over divorcing from Kurt Russell at the time). That commentary is retained on the essential 2019 Blu-ray edition from Scream Factory, which also adds a new updated commentary with Sherman and producer Brian Frankish who tackle the film from more of a production standpoint. It's far more subdued than the prior track with a lot of long silent gaps, though there's fun to be had in their reactions to some of the more potent lines and the tales about the chemistry between some of the actors. Sherman also pops up for the featurette "Of Poltergeist and Neon Lights" (72m22s) to chat about his entire career from early days with Bo Diddley and The Seeds through his feature films including the writing of Phobia and an extensive batch of segments about this film including the positive reactions from police officers to the painstaking realism. Despite the title, there's only a brief, truncated bit about Poltergeist III that sidesteps the film's more tragic and contentious elements. "Tracking the Beast" (58m5s) focuses on Swanson with a career-spanning conversation including his transition to acting from a very different career path, his own creative process while dealing with ADD, and some fascinating tales about how he went very in-depth to craft his role in this film. Then Frankish pops up again for "Hollywood Magic" (72m29s), which is informative but could've used with a major trim as it wanders through his many showbiz jobs before finally getting to the film at hand halfway through (and touching on a scary bit involving American Me). In "Roots of Reality" (44m6s), actress Beverly Todd goes into her evolution as a performer including her distinctive singing voice, the NAACP Awards, Vice Squadher hiring Vice Squadprocess for this film, and the project's impact later on. Then actor Pepe Serna appears in "Catching a Killer" (58m19s), another in-depth career account that touches on just about everything in his life and filmography, while the mercifully much shorter "Princess Driver" (24m13s) with actor Michael Ensign charts his path from "an overweight little kid" to a professional actor starting out in Arizona and Utah. Note that all of these are mostly talking heads in front of a plain background, so you can easily do some chores while they're on and not miss much. A location featurette, "Hollywood Streetwalking" (11m36s), features considerable coverage of the many familiar spots up and down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, and the disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer, a minute of radio spots, three and a half minutes of VHS-quality TV spots, a stills and poster gallery (3m7s), and a publicity material gallery (5m31s) replicating the original press kit. Though an HD transfer of the film made the rounds for a few years on Cinemax HD, the one seen here is touted as a 4K scan of the negative and looks great if you're familiar with the intended dark, gritty look of the film; film grain in fine and natural throughout, and thankfully the bit rate remains quite high throughout (around the 36 Mbps area) despite the exorbitant running time of the extras, which have been understandably allocated far, far less space on the dual-layered disc. It isn't a pretty film by any means, quite intentionally, but this is easily the best it has looked on home video to date (and way better than the interlaced DVD). The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is quite a bit punchier than past releases with the music and sound effects sounding clearer and a lot more dynamic than before; optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Reviewed on August 17, 2019.