One of a few low budget horror films directed by Tim Kincaid, better known in the world of gay porn as Joe Gage (the man behind L.A. Tool And Die, In The Name Of Leather and Kansas City Trucking Company), 1987's Riot On 42nd St. an amazingly inept piece of low budget New York City sleaze. It doesn't always make much sense, it's rarely well shot, and it's never well acted but that doesn't matter because it's got a scene where a guy rips another guy's head off and throws him in a dumpster and it's got naked ladies and bad comedians. You see, all of this makes up for the complete lack of production values.
The film begins with three dudes roller-skating through Times Square, a very different place than the Times Square of today. Before there were Disney owned theaters showing bad live theater, the strip was dominated by porno theaters, strip clubs, dive bars and adult video stores. As the theme song comes up over the opening credits, alerting us that there will be a 'riot on the Deuce' we see the roller-skating guys fight. Then we see a hooker, insulted by a guy's offer of ten bucks for some action, pull him out of his car and hit him on the head. Inside a cab is a guy with a moustache named Glen (John Patrick Hayden, who actually popped up on The Ghost Whisperer a year or so ago) who has just been let out of the joint. The cab driver tells him that this isn't a good place for a white man and then tells him, "You want scum? You've come to the right place." Glen gets out of the cab and talks to a few ladies of the evening who happen to remember him pretty fondly, and then he heads over to the theater that his parents still own. His little brother, a bit of a street hustler in a Michael Jackson zipper-sonic jacket, isn't too pleased that his big bro is back, but his parents are pretty stoked. We learn that Glen went to the big house for killing a pusher in their theater/night club and now that he's back, they're going to reopen.
Across the street from Glen's operation, however, is Mr. Farrell (Michael Speero who had previously pitched in on Kincaid's Robot Holocaust a year before), a douchebag in a suit who runs a competing establishment. He's none too happy that Glen's crew is getting back in the game and he makes this pretty clear. On opening night, however, things get off to a great start. In one room a hot black chick sings a song called Uranus' Child, in the next room, a band that looks like Loverboy play a song that sounds worse than anything Loverboy ever recorded, and in a third room a standup comic named Zerocks makes jokes about sexually transmitted diseases while dubbed laughter plays before he even gets to any of his punch lines. Truly, this is a night to remember - until Farrell's henchmen, one of whom is played by former wrestler Carl Fury - show up with guns blazing and massacre everyone they can see. Glen, obviously and understandably pissed off by this chain of events, decides it's time for revenge and not even his old flame, a lady cop named Michelle (Kate Collins of All My Children) and her dopey partner Frank (Jeff Fahey of Lost and The Lawnmower Man fame) can stop him. From here on out, everyone basically fights everyone else in an alleyway.
Throughout all of this insanity we get random bits and pieces that are presumably meant to represent 'life on the Deuce' and the hardships that, at the time this film was made, it obviously entailed. A little black kid sneaks into a peepshow booth causing a stripper to proclaim 'I don't want no kid looking at my ass.' A pimp beats up his ho when she doesn't give him his money. A man gropes a woman and she kicks him square in the balls. Glen gets into fights with dudes playing dice in an alleyway. Roller-skating. All of this and more fleshes Riot On 42nd St.'s simple tale of a man's mission of revenge in to something so much more, though just what exactly that is can be tough to describe.
As wonky as the whole mess of a movie is, the film does feature some pretty kick ass footage of Times Square from the late eighties. There are plenty of marquee's in the background featuring theatrical play for films likeThe Devil In Miss Jones, Penitentiary III, Woman's Prison Massacre, as well as some bits shot inside a peepshow. We get passing glimpses of stores long gone, like The Superfly Boutique and a few porno movie shops, and there's a nifty sense of urban decay and seediness to the whole movie, the kind that can't really be faked and that only comes from authentic location shooting. The effects work, most of which takes place during the squib-tastic finale, was done by none other than Oscar nominated makeup man Ed French who would go on to work on pictures like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and, more recently and more importantly, Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Ron Van Clief, better known to martial arts fans as The Black Dragon, pops up in a fight scene. Certainly not a film for all tastes, but those who dig on the trashiest of the trashy ought to get a serious kick out of this one.
NOTE: This review is based off of a test disc (though it appears to at least represent finished product.
Up until this release, which presents the film in what we can safely assume is its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio (the compositions look intact indicating it was probably framed this way which would be in keeping with Kincaid's XXX work), the only way to see Riot On 42nd St. was by way of the various bootlegs that were circulating on the grey market and in trading circles. Most, if not all, of these seemed to have been taken from the same source, which was a Japanese VHS release with burned in Japanese subtitles. This presentation from Media Blasters, while far from perfect, definitely represents a noticeable upgrade from those bootlegs. The transfer does appear to have been taken from a tape master of some sort but at least it was one that was in reasonably good shape. The image has a certain softness to it but color reproduction isn't bad. The picture is fairly clean, but some scenes look a little bit too dark. Skin tones are okay, and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about, but this one won't blow you away. That said, those familiar with the aforementioned bootlegs will definitely notice the upgrade.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is about on par with the video. It won't win any awards but you can hear the dialogue easily enough and the levels are properly balanced. Some scenes are a bit flat, but the synth heavy score, dubbed laughter, odd music and various sound effects are all clear enough. There aren't any alternate language options or subtitles provided.
This isn't a super deluxe ultra loaded special edition but there are a few goodies here, the most remarkable of which is the seven minute featurette, Zerocks: Still A Riot (6:44). Yep, that's right, the producers of the disc managed to locate the stand-up comedian who appears on stage at the grand reopening of The Garage. It's hard to tell how much of what the rather haggard looking man has to say is true or not (he says the filmmakers found him on a bench in a park) but if nothing else, he's entertaining in a 'wow look how crazy that guy is' sort of way. He shares some memories of working in Times Square, talks about mopping up spunk at Show World on 8th Avenue, and tells a lot of jokes that are just as bad as the ones he uses in the film. It would have been great to hear from Kincaid (still very active as a producer of gay adult films) or Fahey or SFX man Ed French about their work on the picture, but for whatever reason that didn't happen. But hey, we got Zerocks, and for that we should be thankful.
Aside from that, there's a quick location then-and-now comparison called The Death Of The Deuce (2:51) which shows just how much the area have changed since the film was made in 1977, and a Grindhouse Trailer Reel which features vintage promo spots for Revenge Of The Zombies (which is actually the Shaw Brothers Black Magic II), Ninja Strikes Back, Beyond The Darkness, Nights Of Terror, Eaten Alive, The Last Cannibal World, Doctor Butcher M.D., What Have You Done To Solange?, The Man From Deep River, Bad Girls Dormitory (also directed by Tim Kincaid), Savage Island, The New Barbarians, Diamonds Of Kilimanjaro, Golden Temple Amazons, They're Coming To Get You, Emmanuelle And The Last Cannibals, The Hazing, Flesh Eater, Zombie, Hitcher In The Dark, The House At The Edge Of The Park, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, and last but not least, Love Me Deadly. While the trailer menu may play out as a Media Blasters' Greatest Hits package, it's still a lot of fun. No trailer for the feature has been included but there is a nifty little Easter Egg hidden on the extras menu. Chapter selection is also included.
Rude, crude and stupid beyond belief, Riot On 42nd St. is a veritable masterpiece of trashy filmmaking. Almost as incoherent as it is illogical and horribly acted, it makes up for all of its shortcomings by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and upping the sleaze factor for all its worth. Media Blasters' release won't win any awards for presentation quality and the extras could have been a bit beefier, but it's certainly a large improvement over the crappy bootlegs that have been floating around. You want scum? You came to the right place. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.