Though a string of sloppy '80s action comedies gave it a bad name, there is nothing really wrong with a high concept film. Be it mismatched twins or snakes on a plane, the use of an instantly identifiable juxtaposition of ideals is as old as the art form itself. As a matter of fact, exploitationers were using this carnival-like come on as the basis for their entire existence. How else would you describe such glorious grindhouse classics as Mom and Dad (melodrama with live birth footage) the Mondo series (frequently staged sequences of international atrocities) or the entire Chesty Morgan canon (lame crime spoofs starring a woman with a 77FF chest). So when one reads the plot synopsis for the 1976 Canadian 'classic' East End Hustle - an ex-hooker, sick of the rackets, grabs a gun and gets revenge – one's cinematic shorthairs get all hot and tingly. The notion of harlots mixed with homicide is so sublimely sleazy, so nicely Neanderthal-ish that it can't be anything but an outright smash, right? Sadly, Troma's DVD release of this tantalizing title only proves one thing: you can't judge a carnal crime film by its premise.
Marianne makes ends meet in a Canadian sweatshop. She also earns extra dough by diddling her boss. One night, the aroused employer takes his salaried slantern over to see Dan, the local mob Mack Daddy. Seems the bigheaded horror that signs her paychecks thinks Marianne would make a good white slave as well. Dan takes one look and is instantly smitten. However, before he can staple a "for sale" sign on her goodies, ex-concubine Cindy shows up and steals Marianne away. She wants to warn the gal about Dan's less than effective management style. Seems that whenever his call girls complain, Dan uses a 2x4 to the leg as his approach to issue mediation. Eventually, Cindy gets a great idea. She will find a secluded flophouse and "borrow" Dan's biz-nitches, helping them leave the poon for profit business once and for all. When his gratuitous gravy train starts drying up, Dan calls in professional criminals from New York, and it's not long before they are gunning for Cindy. Dan kidnaps Marianne to get even, but Cindy snatches an uni-browed musician, who apparently is the pimp's antisocial Achilles heal. Eventually, the mobsters discover the secret hideout. After the salacious smoke settles, Cindy decides to teach Dan a lesson once and for all. So she grabs a gun and goes all East End Hustle on his bony behind – or something like that.
To call East End Hustle a disappointment is a little like arguing that scalding coffee to the gonads is a 'tad painful'. With a core concept that promises prostitutes, vendettas and lots of sex and violence, it's a movie with a "can't miss" facet at its foundation. But producer/director Frank Vitale and his co-conspirator in crappiness, writer/performer Allan Moyle, lay an egg that size of Edmonton with their overall lackluster execution. What we should have here is a classic of the skin and sin genre. Instead, we end up with a far more laughable Lifetime Movie. It's not that East End Hustle is horrible – well, it is actually – it's just that when you have something as juicy as a pistol popping trollop on your hands, waiting 89 minutes before she gets her payback on is kind of pointless. Of course, if that previous period of time is spent in non-stop spelunking, endless scenes of naked chicks giving grimy guys all encompassing hickeys, then the wait would be worth it. Sadly, our limp donged duo can't "rise" to that level of likeable vulgarity either. What we end up with is a stagy, talky test of any film fan's bad movie aesthetic, and proof positive that close proximity to the Arctic Circle has a strange effect on schlock filmmakers idea of prurience.
To start with, Vitale and Moyle never set up the situation properly. We have the waif-like Marianne, who supposedly works in a garment ghetto to keep her domineering dad in wifebeaters (or in this case, offspring assaulters). However, before we know it, our whisper thin lass is bonking the boss and being introduced to erotic indentured servitude. Suddenly, we shift to a semi-heated discussion between racketeer Dan and his one time floozy foreman Cindy. He wants her back. She'd rather suck on dirty drainpipes. For some reason, she takes a shine to Marianne and, before you can say "Wayne Gretzky Rocks!" the two are on the lam from the chrome-domed pimp. Cindy explains that she used to love selling herself before customers starting mishandling the merchandise. Dan's decision to BEAT his staff into submission (and eventually supplying them with a pink slip dirt nap) confirmed her decision to close down her lucrative snatch factory. Then we see Cindy have sex. Then she and Marianne hit the local Canadian hotspots and almost get assaulted by a couple of horny back baconers. When Cindy decides to free her fellow streetwalkers from a life of hawking their hoochie, Dan gets mad, gets hitmen, and gets even. In essence, that's it. Dan's hired goons give the runaway tarts a good scare, they all head back to their respective street corners, and all is right in the world of cash for copulation. Cindy's snit doesn't occur until we're moments away from the end credits, and even then, it's only aimed at Dan. You'd swear from the DVD case that this ex-courtesan would be kicking ass and chewing gum. Instead, she gets all depressed, goes catatonic, then decides the only way she can cure her mental misery is by shooting her former flesh peddler. BFD.
The lack of vigilante violence is only a small factor in East End Hustle's free flowing flop sweat. The entire narrative is so overly melodramatic we keep waiting for sinister organ music to highlight every hissy fit. Yet within these mannered machinations are actors so inert you wonder if they're dead, or just part of the frozen tundra. As Marianne, Anne-Marie Provencher tries to get by on her frilly French accent and vacant muledeer eyes alone. Sadly, neither is very interesting. Andree Pelletier tries to be equally evocative with her hippy dippy turn as Cindy. Instead, we get the distinct impression that our ex-call girl suffers from some sort of iron deficiency. She is so lifeless and dull that we swear she needs a good dose of Geritol for Whores. And then there's Dan. This critic once read somewhere that a good villain is one that actually makes you feel and then dread his strident, sinister urges. However, the only thing Miguel Fernandes will make any viewer experience is a fear of male pattern baldness. This excessively calm crook is so horribly hairless that he inspires a desire to put Rogaine on your popcorn. It's not that his remaining Cesarean side locks are so wispy. No, Fernandes has a noggin that resembles a spoiled ostrich egg, a near pinhead peculiarity that draws all our attention away from his acting – which is a very good thing, mind you. This performer believes in PASSIVE aggression, and threatens people in a manner so mild you feel like cracking up instead of crapping your pants.
Truth is, feces are the first and only reaction one should have to this dismal drek. When the imagined movie one can make up in their head is a trillion times better than the boring bunk delivered by so-called professionals, you know you're in for a distressing time. Envisioning a pissed off prostitute - body bedraggled from years as mattress merchandise, and manner hardened by the shame of satisfying skid row bums - loaded for bear and blowing the bejesus out of sleazoid pimps sounds like a major mind-blowing masterwork. Heck, that's Thriller, A Cruel Picture more or less to a "T". But East End Hustle is trying for something more…dare it be said, meaningful. It wants to give personality and perspective to these tramps, and longs for us to understand the gritty world of the Canadian criminal underworld. Of course, it all comes across like an underdone Oxygen mini-series with too much yakking and not enough slashing. Indeed, had Vitale and Moyle merely followed the example of fellow exploitationers like Michael Findlay and Harry Novak, they could have created something both lewd and lethal. Instead, they try for an elusive ethos and East End Hustle ends up being one high concept gyp. The biggest crime committed here is the failure to fulfill a stellar premise. Everything else is just aggravating claptrap.
Troma treats East End Hustle the way it should be, with a shabby full screen transfer that is incredibly washed out, colorless and dark. The main sex scene between Cindy and her boytoy Peter is so sheathed in shadows that all we see are a couple of indecipherable shapes rolling around. In other scenes, especially on the Canadian streets at night, the 1.33:1 image is more or less a big black blank. While normally this would be cause for concern, East End Hustle's lack of entertainment value means this transfer actually helps the viewer. The less you have to see of this mess, the better.
While not as bad as other Troma releases, East End Hustle does have some irritating audio issues. The Dolby Digital Mono is clear enough, but since the actors all whisper their lines like a private secret between themselves and the camera lens we can barely decipher the dialogue. Even when the biggest and brashest of the streetwalkers is screeching on and on about something unimportant, their efforts are mostly muted. With a soundtrack that borrows so heavily from Shaft that you keep expecting Isaac Hayes to chime in at any minute, the aural aspects of this presentation are problematic at best.
As another title in the "Mr. Skin Pick to Click" series, we are forced to sit through another glib synopsis by the naked celebrity website owner. Sadly, Mr. S has obviously failed to watch the film, since he repeats the pointless ad copy on the back of the DVD case, and then champions a scene of three girls skinny dipping over the two more obvious sequences of sex. In addition, we are also treated to the same hotel room interview from the previous release Acting Out. Conducted by Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman (who also does a darn funny intro here) it's a marginally interesting overview of how this Chicago film fan became the expert on famous flesh. In conjunction with the other corporate merchandising found on this disc, the extras are more about commerce than context.
Words cannot begin to describe how thoroughly and completely let down this critic felt after suffering through the 90 noxious minutes of this movie. Even with the numerous nude scenes and occasional glimpses of unavoidable violence, this is still a complete failure of a film. Naturally, it earns an instant rating of Skip It, and if there was something harsher like "Destroy It, Annihilate It, Pray to a Higher Power to Strike Down the Makers of It", such a score would be gladly given. To tell the truth, some may actually enjoy this limp example of Canadian carnality. If you go in with expectations tweaked low enough, and pay absolutely no attention to the completely incorrect synopsis on the cover (this is nothing like Norma Rae, there is no 'war', and this movie is about as close to Kill Bill and True Romance as The Apple Dumpling Gang), you might find some minimal pleasures. But for true lovers of gritty grindhouse fare, East End Hustle is like watching the Olga films with all the salacious S&M material edited out. It's just a matter of time before someone hits on the concept of mixing hookers and homicide the way the god of gratuitous cinema intended. Until then, avoid this sloppy '70s attempt at all costs.
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