Written by: Christopher O’Neill on June 20th, 2011
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, October 5th, 1984
Director: Danny Steinmann
Writer: Norman Yonemoto, Danny Steinmann
Cast: Linda Blair, Robert Dryer, John Vernon, Lisa Freeman, Linnea Quigley
DVD released: June 20th, 2011
Approximate running time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £11.99
According to the boundless amount of extra features found on the DVD, Savage Streets was a troubled production: After “creative differences” the original director Tom DeSimone walked and was replaced by Danny Steinmann, 24 hours before principal photography was about to begin. He started rewriting by pruning the script and dropping subplots as well as reducing and expanding characters. A few days into shooting, production was shut down for 28 days with insufficient funding. Original producer Billy Fine walked and John Strong came on-board to rescue the project, much to the chagrin of Steinmann since he became very active in every aspect of the production including further rewrites, refilming and second-guessing the director (who claims to eventually have given into many of Strong’s creative conflicts out of frustration). Taking these issues into consideration it is a tribute to everyone involved that the narrative holds together as well as it does, but the final result is a mishmash of elements and styles that veer from campy buffoonery to grody sleaze. A prime example being the intercutting of these two scenes: a cat fight in the girls’ showers with Brenda and a bitchy cheerleader who are surrounded by naked women (two of whom start fighting among themselves in the background for no apparent reason!). This is intertwined by the brutalisation of Heather, in which the girl is tormented, dragged into a grubby bathroom, and gang-raped by four men. While the rape is certainly not played for titillation, the other scene clearly is and is so ridiculously cheesy and leering that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a lampooning of women in prison movies (as someone quips during an audio commentary over this scene, “DeSimone is gone but his spirit lives on!”).
While Savage Streets is a rehash of countless elements from a variety of genres – rape-and-revenge thriller, high school comedy-drama, teen gang action flick – the stale air of familiarity should stilt it, but the film stubbornly holds together with a cohesive center and it is easy to understand why it has a cult following. Apart from the unsympathetic high school principal played by John Vernon (who relishes such aggressive yet cheesy one-liners as when he tells a student to “Go luck an iceberg!”) the lack of adult/authoritative intervention makes the teenagers’ world almost completely insular and, much like Larry Clark’s Kids, the events unfold within their limited world. Also, the character of Brenda is a fiercely independent female protagonist who rebuffs unwelcome male attention, takes justice into her own hands and spouts lines like “I wouldn’t fuck him if he had the last dick on earth!”. These elements struck a cord with a youthful audience back in the day on home video, while the unmistakably 80s fashions and dated rock soundtrack add to the camp appeal when seen today.
Heavily cut (by over 12 minutes) when originally released on video in Britain during the reactionary post-Video Nasty hysteria of the eighties, this DVD of Savage Streets presents the film uncut for the first time in the UK. Despite Arrow Video’s claiming that this is a “brand new transfer of the film”, it in fact is a recycling of the master created for BCI’s now out of print American DVD release. Framed at the correct aspect ratio of 1:85:1 (anamorphically enhanced), it was apparently sourced from the original negative and, while there are a few instances of specks and scratches, it is a decent image for a low-budget film of this vintage. However, it should be noted that it is an NTSC-PAL conversion, meaning that the picture lacks sharpness which also suffers from combing issues during movement on-screen, which can be distracting.
The soundtrack is presented in its original mono dimensions and is relatively clean. Hiss and pops are occasionally noticeable during quieter scenes but this is never distracting and the dialogue and music is always clear.
As with the transfer, the extras on the Arrow Video disc have also been ported over from the BCI release which, for a film with a problematic production history, is rich with behind the scenes information. There are three audio commentaries, the first is with Danny Steinmann moderated by DVD producer Michael Felsher and is the best of the set. With a sly sense of humour which often pokes fun at the action on-screen (and pointing out the nudity content), Steinmann is wonderfully candid in his comments and pulls no punches. For example, he talks about the two brief scenes added by John Strong after principal photography was over, and Strong’s influence in changing the climax of the picture which explains why the narrative builds to suggest there will be a ‘rumble’ between the two gangs in the third act but instead it whittled down to Brenda facing The Scars alone. Felsher has a good rapport with the director and their discussion also touches upon Steinmann’s background in film, his other movies as director (he rates High Rise as the most fulfilling of his film experiences) and why he stopped making movies after Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning. (after several projects that never got off the ground – including The Last House On The Left Part II – a motorcycle accident forced him to retire from the business).
Marc Edward Heuck moderates the second commentary track with actors Sal Landi and Robert Dryer (who portray two of the four villains in the picture) plus director of photography Stephen Posey. It is a dry listen but there are some amusing anecdotes – such as one of the caterers being enlisted to be one of the nude extras in the shower scenes – but of the three tracks it is the least fulfilling since, even when intriguing comments are made, few are expanded or followed up on. It’s noted that certain scenes are open to a possible homosexual reading – the kiss between the two male gang members during the rape scene, Brenda’s lack of interest in men – but is dismissed jokingly and explored no further.
The third audio commentary is somewhat overwhelming since it features eight participants: Landi, Dryer and Posey return along with producer John Strong and actor Johnny Venocur. It is moderated by filmmaker and fan David DeCoteau (Creepozoids) who is joined by fellow directors Kenneth J. Hall (Evil Spawn) and Eric Spudic (Killers By Nature). It is an interesting but flawed listen. DeCoteau asks the right questions and the track features some fun titbits (such as director Jack Starrett stumbling by chance onto the set while drunk and asking if he can have a cameo, only to wonder away before the shot was filmed). There are, however, too many participants involved and some people barely get to contribute. Venocur is an obnoxious presence and he overpowers much of the conversation, while Strong discusses as if he taking authorship of the film and barely acknowledges Steinmann (who, when is mentioned during the track, is referred to in mocking tones) and his diplomatic and guarded business-like persona is difficult to warm to.
What is sorely lacking from these male-dominated commentaries is a lack of input from the actresses featured in Savage Streets, but at least this is partially rectified by the video segments found on the disc. Confessions Of A Teenage Vigilante (17 minutes) is an interview with Linda Blair which is an entertaining and informative listen. The actress states that the film features one of her all-time favourite lines of dialogue (“Too bad you’re not double jointed…if you were, you’d be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!”) and goes on to discuss the financial problems with the film, her disappointment with the constant rewrites and dropping of elements she felt were important (such as several scenes between Brenda and Heather), and working with her fellow cast members. Heather Speaks (11 minutes) is an interview with Linnea Quigley who comes across as humble and honest in her summarisation of her experience on the film. Most intriguingly, she reveals that Cherie Currie – former lead singer of The Runaways who proved promising in a handful of acting roles in films such as Foxes – was originally cast as Brenda but was dropped shortly before shooting commenced. This makes sense, since Quigley and Currie physically resemble each other and could believably have played siblings, while Quigley and Blair appear mismatched as sisters. She discusses her research into using sign language, the difficulty of shooting the rape scene, and the positive response from people after the film was released. After these two professionally-assembled interviews there are three quickly-shot to-camera pieces with John Strong (14 minutes), Johnny Venocur (14 minutes) and Robert Dryer (6 minutes). Most amusingly, Strong refers to Steinmann as a ‘friend’ which is which is clearly not the case once you’ve heard what the director has to say about him. Venocur recalls how, during one scene, he was receiving direction from Steinmann, Strong, and Blair which reinforces how messy the shoot was.
Rounding off the extra features on the disc is a green-band theatrical trailer (3 minutes). The DVD also includes a double-sided fold-out poster and a booklet written by Kier-la Janisse, author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi and House of Psychotic Women, but neither of these were included with the screener disc received.