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.
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.