The big city's a sleazy place, but Billie (Karin Mani) is ready for it. When a couple of punks try to steal her car tires, she doesn't call the police; she goes outside and uses her martial arts training to literally kick them off her property. The two embarrassed would-be thieves run and tell their boss, Scarface (Michael Wayne), and the three of them brutally assault Billie's grandparents Charles and Kate (Jay Fisher and Rose Dreifus). Charles lives, but Kate doesn't. With the help of Johnny (Robert Torti), the only straight-arrow cop in town, Billie decides it's time to take matters into her own hands.
I've seen plenty of cult and exploitation movies in my time, but Alley Cat is the first one that practically seems like a parody of itself. The cadence of the line readings, the awkwardness of the action, the specific ways in which the movie is ludicrous -- it feels like it couldn't possibly be real, and yet it is. It's not regular exploitation cheese or sleaze, and it's not a traditionally "bad" movie. It exists somewhere in the middle, at a right angle to reality and normalcy. However, this off-beat streak is actually the film's strongest suit, allowing the movie to stand out against a crowd of films with similar stories.
For one thing, everyone in the film is a pretty terrible actor. Mani delivers her lines with what can only be described as "wooden spunk," injecting each flat deliery with a burst of personality. Although the performance is not dramatically compelling, it is oddly endearing. One point in the movie's favor is that it isn't a revenge flick in the sense that terrible things happen to Billie; she always trumps anyone who tries to tangle with her. Although sleaze filmmakers (and, sadly, some modern "respectable" filmmakers) seem to think abuse helps the viewer root for a character, the character just being in the right works just fine too. Torti is marginally better, even if the dialogue isn't, and Wayne is worse than both of them put together, crafting what may be the goofiest, least-threatening villain imaginable. His Scarface just seems like a sniveling dork, and attempts to up his asshole quotient by having him yell at his girlfriends only make him funnier.
The film weaves together a few stories. Although Billie's outrage at the attack on her grandparents is the core story, Billie also stumbles upon the same two thugs in a park and prevents them from raping a girl. When Johnny arrives to arrest the rapists, his scumbag partner Boyle (Jon Greene) decides to arrest her too, despite Johnny's repeated objections. While Billie waits for a corrupt judge to hand out sentences, she becomes involved with Johnny, who dreams of an early retirement in the countryside with Billie and a bunch of children, and Johnny deals with Boyle and the judge himself. The romance is surprisingly entertaining, and although it's Billie who ends up naked for the audience to ogle, there's a sense that this thread was written with women in mind. To increase the movie's exploitation quotient, Billie briefly goes to jail and fights off a butch prisoner.
Although Alley Cat is more strange than "good," the only serious disappointment is that it takes way too long for Billie to go on a rampage. It's amazing how many of these exploitation films will pitch a revenge flick or a character "pushed to the edge" and then take forever to actually follow through on it, and this one's no different, waiting until the last 15 minutes for Billie to stop dithering and just go take everyone down. The film is stuffed with fights from beginning to end, so it's not a case of the movie skimping on the action (which is ridiculously slow and painfully choreographed -- again, all part of the movie's baffling charm), it's just that the viewer's patience with corruption is likely to be much shorter than Billie's.
The DVD, Video, and Audio
DVDTalk was sent a check disc for Alley Cat instead of final copy, so no definitive opinion of the packaging, picture, or audio can be provided. However, for a low-budget film from the 1980s, the film looks pretty good. Scratches and other print damage are visible, but detail is pretty good, and the colors (although they have that natural shift toward green and yellow) are nice and vivid. A couple of shots are clearly taken from a lower-quality print than the rest of the film, but it's a minor quibble.
Alley Cat is another "Kat's Scratch Cinema" title, meaning it includes the usual wraparound "hosting" segments (4:27 intro, 1:54 outro) from Katarina Leigh Waters. Even though her behind-the-scenes trivia rarely amounts to more than reading the resumes of the people involved, each one of these finds a way to make me more embarrassed for Waters as she does some other banal thing in the name of "sexy" and "fun." (Please note, however, that this is not a complaint about her, but a complaint about what a woman's gotta do in this kind of gig.)
The better extra is an extended interview with producer Igo Kantor (26:20). B-movie fans will will enjoy hearing a little about the making of a number of genre classics, including the William Shatner vehicle Kingdom of the Spiders. Kantor's a fun, lively subject, and the interview is worth watching even if you haven't seen any of his work.
A gallery of Scorpion trailers can be accessed under the special features menu, including Savage Streets, Kill and Kill Again, Joy Sticks, Malibu High, Body Melt, The Pom Pom Girls, Tomboy, Don't Go in the House, and Don't Answer the Phone!. An original theatrical trailer for Alley Cat is also included.
Alley Cat is a strangely endearing piece of history. It won't satisfy any traditional urges for ass-kicking action, B-movie cheese, or even scratch the "so-bad-it's-good" itch. Its trashiness is uniquely weird, which has got to count for something. Rent it.
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