Fight For Your Life is a film I dimly remember seeing a synopsis for in various horror/exploitation books. The main thing I recalled was that it starred William Sanderson Newheart's oddball "Larry, Daryl, and Daryl" brother leader and forever cemented to scifi geeks as the sweet android toymaker J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner.
Fight For Your Life is part "trapped" thriller like The Desperate Hours or The Petrified Forest where characters are mostly bound to one location, and part torture film like Last House on the Left and House at the Edge of the Park where some group of psychos inflict mental and physical suffering on their hostages. Fight For Your Life uses a very racial slant in its killer/hostage dynamic, one so bluntly extreme it is still banned in the U.K.
Sanderson plays Kane, the hillbilly leader of two escaped convicts, Rodriguez and Ling, two men whose obvious ethnic slant combined with Kane's completes some strange stereotyped degenerate triumvirate. The trio gets across the border into Canada and takes the family of preacher Ted Turner hostage, Kane especially amused by degrading the father and hurling as many bigoted phrases as he can at the pious, unconfrontational, black man.
Well, it is easy to see why the film has gained such infamy over the years. The film does have some obviously caricatured stereotyping and Kane spews every old school racial slur at the family he can, from "burr head", to "spade, Uncle Remus, darkie", to the big one, "nigger." As if those indignities weren't enough he has the preacher call him "master" or more precisely "massuh", as well as dance for him, much less the attempted lynchings, and rape of the young daughter.
So, yes, it is offensive as hell, but that proves to be surprisingly quite effective and ultimately a great exploitation tool. This is a film aimed at the grindhouse audience and obviously part of the film makers intent was to rile that inner city black audience and get them into the film. The films racism isn't there in a way meant to cause any harm or breed hatred. Kane is clearly as low a level of scum as you can get on this earth, not the kind of guy anyone with half a brain is going to rally behind. So, with every slur, you get behind the Turner family more, ache for the father to finally strike back, or roll in your seat with laughter as the wheelchair bound grandma sass talks back to Kane.
Bottom line is, it offends but in the way all exploitation (arguably) is meant to offend. So, the racial slurs are just as purposefully incendiary as Camille Keaton's objectification and assault in I Spit on Your Grave. These are things that play on the audience and are meant to insult and incite so that by the final act you cheer for the villains downfall. Is it a cheap shot? Yeah, but its no cheaper than the devices mainstream tearjerker dramas or sappy romantic comedies use to woo over an audience. Me, if you give me the options to watch the drama where "the mom gets cancer and the family bonds together" or "the hooker with the heart of gold falls in love with the rich man", versus "the tortured victim gets revenge on its torturer", I'll take the latter.
The DVD: Blue Underground
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Blue Undergorund has a fantastic track record with cult material and that record continues with Fight For Your Life. While the film isn't perfectly clean, some wear here and there (most notably in the opening credits), and it's low budget certainly is well-evidenced, still, it looks great. The original elements lack polish and have all the grainy trappings that mark it as a 70's film, but Blue Underground presents the film in the best possible light, good contrast, sharpness, and color details. Technically, it is also quite smooth, with no serious compression or artifacts.
Sound: Mono. The audio track doesn't get the same sprucing up as the image. Still, it is fair and it is clear there wasn't much to work with. So, there is some muffle hear and there, the ill recorded bits, and the moments obviously overdubbed dialogue, but fans of genre material should still be pleased.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Poster and Advertising Gallery— Theatrical Trailers (black and white audience versions) and TV Spots— Commentary by writer Straw Wiesman, director of photography Lloyd Freidus, and Blue Underground honcho/director Bill Lustig. Right off the bat, the commentary starts by addressing Sanderson and the directors absence (both have mixed/ashamed feelings about the film), which makes for an interesting start.
Conclusion: While it has some weakness in scripting, acting, and gerneral low budget limitations, Fight For Your Life delivers with some unepected shocks and a unique, bold exploitation stance. Blue Undergounds presentation delivers, making this well worth a purchase for 70's/exploitation genre fans.