Although she'll trash-talk any jerks that are rude to her or start a fight in the girls' shower with a stuck-up cheerleader, there's a soft side to Brenda (Linda Blair) -- the side that comes out when she's with her deaf sister, Heather (Linnea Quigley). Although Heather is naturally a bit isolated and shy, Brenda brings her along with the rest of her girlfriends whenever they hit the town, making sure to include her and spend time with her amid the rest of her socializing. When Heather is brutally raped on campus by a gang of angry thugs looking to get revenge for a car prank the girls played on them, Brenda's soft side hardens up, and she goes out looking to get revenge for her dear sister.
Savage Streets exists at an awkward crossroads of sincere and salacious. Cobbled together from a troubled production that saw a director and a star fired, a three-week gap in production when the finances dried up, and a finale reportedly shot by a producer covering for an unpredictable and unprofessional director, the film never quite settles on a consistent tone. The movie has a reputation as one of the schlock cinema highlights of the 1980s, but it jumps back and forth from straight-faced to ridiculous. I expected something over-the-top, and what I got was something else.
Rape and revenge are two staples of horror like this -- I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left come to mind -- but those films offer a more consistently serious tone. Director Danny Steinmann (or whoever was ultimately in charge) intercuts the pivotal rape sequence with a hair-pulling shower fight between Brenda and a brainless blonde who wrongly suspects Brenda of trying to swipe her boyfriend. In the disc's interview extras, producer John Strong discusses his fight with the MPAA, and he tries to make himself out to be a noble messenger, trying to tell the world about how women put themselves in these situations (urk), and all the quote-unquote sensitive secretaries who review films for ratings saw was pornography. Sorry, John, when you keep jumping back to naked girls wrestling in the shower, I have to say your message about rape is diluted. To her credit, Quigley is phenomenal in the scene, but the section of the film as a whole detracts from her work.
These issues might've been forgivable if what followed was a Death Wish style rampage with more leather and big hair, but another 30 to 40 minutes pass before Brenda is even able to identify her sister's rapists. During this time, the film develops a short secondary arc about gang leader Jake (Robert Dreyer) and new recruit Vince (Johnny Venocur) butting heads, and the torment of another member of Brenda's crew. The story is fine in and of itself (Venocur gives an excellent performance), but the focus of the film drifts from Brenda to the gang, leaving her character to spin her wheels (getting into another fight with the cheerleader) while everyone else moves forward. John Vernon shows up and is as imposing as usual, but the role isn't important enough in the story to leave an impression.
Cult classics are tricky. The mind of a 13-year-old is susceptible to many things, and movies like Savage Streets are among them. The film probably holds a place in the hearts of female exploitation fans -- Brenda's final rampage is satisfyingly brutal -- and those of former 13-year-olds who caught it on a premium cable channel in 1987. There are some fantastic beats -- "Go fuck an iceberg!" and "If only you were double-jointed..." jump to mind -- but I probably would've liked the movie more if I'd seen it in someone's basement 10 years ago than I do now.
The DVD, Video and Audio
Scorpion sent two check discs in a paper sleeve, so I can't comment on the packaging or put down a definitive rating for the video and audio. However, if this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is representative of the final product, it looks very nice. According to one of the extra features, this presentation was newly scanned and mastered from the original interpositive. Flecks and nicks of print damage appear throughout the film, but detail is strong for a standard-definition release, with a visible but unintrusive layer of film grain. Some cult movies have a tendency to drift a little green, but the colors are bright and poppy. Skintones are pleasingly lively and not too pink or red, while a dark club scene packed with neon lights is balanced and not oversaturated. The only thing I might question are the film's brightness levels. A couple of the vintage extras contain film clips that appear distinctly darker than this transfer. I'm pretty sure the feature presentation is more accurate, but a deeper darkness level would certainly be in keeping with the tone of the film, so I can't be sure.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is a little more problematic. The film's rock and roll soundtrack generally sounds great, and 95% of the dialogue in the movie is perfectly audible, but there were a few moments performed at a whisper, and I found myself unable to decipher some of them without rewinding the disc and cranking the volume up a few times. Not surprisingly, the disc doesn't come equipped with any subtitles or captions.
Before they went under, BCI put out a two-disc set of Savage Streets, and that DVD turned into a collector's item when the entire BCI library went out of print. Thankfully, Scorpion retains all of those extras on this release: three audio commentaries, then-new interviews with Linda Blair (17:02) and Linnea Quigley (10:44), and additional interviews (now called "vintage") with John Strong (14:03), Robert Dryer (5:53), and Johnny Venocur (14:14).
In addition to those extras, there are also three "interim" interviews with producer John Strong (12:41) and actors Sal Landi (9:18) and Johnny Venocur (9:32), produced when Code Red possessed the rights to the title and was planning to release the disc themselves. Finally, Scorpion has gone even further and produced a couple of brand-new extras, including a "Kat Scratch Cinema" viewing mode with hostess segments by Katarina Leigh Waters, and two more interviews, with Robert Dreyer (22:03) and Scott Mayers (12:24).
The interviews, considered as a whole, are hit-and-miss. The biggest complaint I have with them is that all of them contain clips from the film, and by the time anyone's done watching almost 90 minutes of interviews, they'll have seen the same "big" moments from the movie over, and over, and over. Aside from the oldest interviews, with Blair and Quigley, the style of interview seems to be the same, too: someone asking the subject about every single member of the main cast, then the crew, which quickly becomes monotonous. That said, most of the content here is decent -- nearly every other cast member mentions that Scott Mayers vanished after the film, and his interview is bright and enthusiastic. The only two weak points are the new interview with Robert Dreyer and Code Red's interview with John Strong. Almost half of Strong's interview is repetitive, empty praise for the cast that feels like the worst of EPK material (complete with some distressing sexism) until the last few minutes, in which he claims he was responsible for more of the movie than Steinmann. Dreyer's interview just isn't all that interesting, although almost all of the newer interviews push Dreyer's sequel for the movie that they hope to make.
As for the other extras, the Kat Scratch Cinema extra is fairly useless -- nothing more than an excuse for a little more T&A, complete with the kind of impressive factoids that only IMDb users would already know (the one useful nugget in her bookend segments is that this is a brand new transfer). In looking into the origin of the Code Red interviews, I also discovered this blog post by Code Red that suggests one of the commentaries (I'm guessing Steinmann's) was going to be uncensored on their release, but (EDIT: 10/07/12) it sounds like the commentary included here is still the original censored track.
Trailers for Kill and Kill Again, Death Ship, Joysticks, and Alley Cat are available in the extras. An original theatrical trailer for Savage Streets is also included.
Pre-existing fans of the film will probably be thrilled to be able to have a copy of the film without the "out-of-print" premium, especially with two separate batches of all-new extras and a polished-up transfer. To them, this disc is recommended. Newcomers should be warned, though: the film is indicative of a troubled project that found its moments in the editing room.
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