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Streets of Vengeance

Olive Films // Unrated // July 24, 2018
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 23, 2018 | E-mail the Author
There's no question that Streets of Vengeance is a labor of love. It's absolutely incredible to think that this movie was made on a budget of only $4,000. What might seem convoluted or somewhat incoherent is actually relatively impressive once you find out that the filmmakers unexpectedly found themselves changing what was meant to be a two-part short film into a feature when the opportunity presented itself. However, all this can be true, and the finished product still can be less than satisfactory. This newest entry into the sub-genre of throwback exploitation films has some good ideas in it, but most of them fail to come together in a picture that can't settle on what it wants to be tonally, thematically, or dramatically.

Mila (Delawna McKinney) is one of the top performers for adult film producer Ivan Dark (Bryan Hurd), but she's ready to call it quits and look for something new. Although Ivan appears to take the news relatively well, Mila is disturbed by a message from a fellow sex worker that she's in grave danger. After appearing on a news segment debating a prominent "men's rights activist" and pornography addiction counselor named Garret Sullivan (Daniel James Moody), Mila is kidnapped by a misogynist named Nathaniel (Jeremiah Crothers), who tries to murder her on-camera for his audience of lonely men. She manages to outsmart him and cave his head in with a baseball bat, and before long, with the help of her best friend Amber (Paige Le Ney), a kind-hearted local nerd and reporter named Brian (Anthony Iava To'omata), and a gang of other sex workers, she's out to get revenge on not just Garret, but the man who put her in Garret's crosshairs...Ivan.

There is no question that co-writers Paul Ragsdale (also the director) and Angelica De Alba (also possibly the director, receiving co-directing credit at the end and on the package, but not in the credits at the beginning of the movie) are out to critique online misogynists and create a feminist revenge picture that also incorporates sex positivity and encompasses the rights of sex workers (female and male). Whether or not they're successful is muddier. The "MRAs," led by Garret, are suitably ridiculous, and the film's most pointedly successful segment at accomplishing all three goals is the scene filling in Garret's backstory (his group's name "The Sword" and his love of swords seems to call back to the infamous internet gag "I studied the blade..."). At the same time, it's hard to know what to make of the scenes where some actual adult film stars play airheaded ditzes that are murdered by The Blade, cluelessly dancing through their apartments topless in the dark before they get their throats slit, complete with egregious nudity and even ass-ogling as they try and crawl to safety.

One of the more frustrating aspects -- and one that may tie into the way those deaths are handled -- is the film's veneer of grindhouse aesthetic. These sorts of films are increasingly popular: take some salacious subject matter, present it tongue-in-cheek, throw some synth on it, and sprinkle with a bit of old-fashioned gratuitousness. The problem is that this is an affectation, one that doesn't really seem to have inherent roots in this story or what it's out to accomplish. Ragsdale and De Alba oscillate between wanting to kind of take the feminist aspect seriously (exploring some of Mila's trauma, getting into the toxicity of the men's ideas) while also just sort of goosing the audience with sexy ladies or blood and guts. The political points of Mila's appearance on the news are undercut by the cheesy acting that goes with the style, but the film also spends enough time on them and they're so relevant to the motivations of the villains that they must be sincere. There's also a half-hearted bookend that adds nothing, framing Streets of Vengeance as a movie playing on cable access television. It only comes up twice, at the beginning, and, outrageously, to drop in the entire theatrical trailer of Ragsdale and De Alba's next feature in its entirety, as an advertisement, right before the climax (put it over the credits next time, please).

The movie is also just too long and not thrilling enough to succeed on a grindhouse level either, waiting too long to get to the bloody revenge the concept promises. Although there is one hilariously incendiary scene involving a knife and a man's member that made me laugh out loud, the film drags at 101 minutes. Scenes of Mila wandering around San Francisco looking at the scenery feel completely extraneous, and at least one supporting character (Amber's MMA boyfriend) could be severely cut down (while also covering up a few confusing lines of dialogue that don't match up with scenes we've already seen). Again, the effort to create such a film on the resources Ragsdale and De Alba had are admirable. It's just a shame that Streets of Vengeance feels so half-baked.

The Blu-ray
Since Olive broke into the Blu-ray market a few years ago, they've had their ups and downs, but whoever works in their graphic design department has been winning since the beginning -- quite frankly, they've released some titles that were inferior to OOP releases in the extras department but were almost worth picking up for the cool art alone. Streets of Vengeance's '80s VHS throwback motif is a pretty familiar look, but there's no arguing that whoever worked on this one didn't pull it off in style, down to the "stickers" gracing the already slick image of McKinney and her girl squad ready for action. The one-disc release comes in Olive's boxy, off-brand Blu-ray case, and there is an insert inside advertising more of the company's releases.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC and with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack, the A/V for Streets of Vengeance is a mixed bag not due to Olive's mishandling but the usual complexities of low-budget filmmaking. Aliasing on the credits? Whites turning blue? Blown out highlights? It's a mixture of intentional stylization, technical or post-production errors, and other random twists and turns that doesn't necessarily add up to a cohesive whole. The one thing that I can't automatically attribute to the filmmakers is the appearance of banding from time to time. It could be an artifact of color correction or the way the footage was transferred, but it intrudes in a way that the other fluctuations don't. The sound is adequate but has that distinctly "amateur" feel, where the on-set dialogue is full of echo and white noise, and silence seems palpable when there isn't whatever music cues the filmmakers could afford. English subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
Fans of this movie will certainly have nothing to complain about when it comes to Olive's Blu-ray edition, especially in the supplement category: this is one of the most stacked discs in recent memory.

The two centerpiece extras are an audio commentary by writer/directors Paul Ragsdale and Angelica De Alba, and cinematographer Dan Zampa, and a massive multi-part making-of documentary, "Making Streets of Vengeance" (1:17:35). As Ragsdale states upfront in the commentary, the two extras are relatively divided between technical craft and artistry, with the commentary aiming to provide a learning tool for aspiring filmmakers, and the documentary providing a more comprehensive overview of the movie's genesis, themes, development, and production. The commentary has some dry spots as the movie goes on, and the documentary is probably more exhaustive than is necessary, but the thoroughness is commendable, and these are just the two most substantial inclusions.

Following these two extras, there's a healthy chunk of cast interviews (18:50), and a nearly equally-large chunk of on-set footage and outtakes (14:55). Those whose curiosity about the production and fly-on-the-wall production footage isn't sated by the documentary can turn to these for even more of the same. There is a blooper reel (6:36), and an entire short clip called "Camerawork With Cinematographer Dan Zampa" (2:43), which in my mind is dedicated to the person at every film festival who pops up in the Q&A to identify themselves as an aspiring filmmaker and ask what equipment was used. Here you go!

Fans of the music also get some supplements dedicated to them, including what seems to be the entire score by Vestron Vulture, as a video clip of a still image called "Jesus vs. Vestron Vulture II" (22:27). There is also a Salacious Wizard Cult music video (2:22) for a track that plays in the film, and a soundtrack promo (1:51) as well

The disc wraps up with two photo galleries, one featuring on-set behind-the-scenes snaps, and the other featuring promo materials and official artwork for the film. Last, but not least, there are quite a few trailers: a film trailer, a critics' trailer with some pull quotes, and both a Slashlorette Party trailer and a Tough Guys trailer, the latter of which was originally intended to appear in the film itself.

There is definitely an audience for Streets of Vengeance, and they'll get quite a bit out of Olive's impressive Blu-ray package, which offers a a fine presentation and a massive selection of extras for less than $20. Even though I felt the movie was too scattered to work, I'll bump this one up to a rental on the strength of the release as a whole.

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