Tagline: They raped her sister… killed her best friend. Now she must seek revenge!
Director: Danny Steinmann
Writers: Norman Yonemoto, Danny Steinman
Starring: Linda Blair, John Vernon, Robert Dryer, Johnny Venocur, Sal Landi, Scott Mayer, Debra Blee, Lisa Freeman, Marcia Carr, Lusia Leschin, Linnea Quigley
18 | 1hr 33min | Action, Exploitation, Thriller
Budget: $1,200,000 (estimated)
By the early 1980s, Linda Blair’s onscreen career had kind of hit the skids. A former child model who would shoot to fame in William Friedkin’s horror classic The Exorcist, her sweet-faced innocence had long since faded, replaced instead by wanton drug abuse, high-profile arrests and a brief fling with womanising funkster Rick James, a man up to his neck in narcotics-fuelled skulduggery. Ms. Blair would even pose for a raunchy spread in pornographic magazine Oui to the delight and disgust of a generation. Adorable she may once have been, but Linda’s days of wooing the mainstream with her cherub charms were well and truly behind her.
Some would see this as a tragedy, while other, less sheltered people would see it as something else entirely, and if only for the existence of this sleazy little number I would have to agree with the more liberal of mind. Blair is scintillating as the big-breasted vigilante who sets off on a murderous, Bronson-esque spree of vengeance following the rape of her deaf sister and the subsequent murder of her pregnant, soon-to-be-married best friend, and for those with a fetish for this kind of B-grade sleaze, her character Brenda is as iconic as the devil-possessed Reagan, and perhaps just a little bit meaner.
Savage Streets is one of the great exploitation flicks, the kind you imagine Tarantino watching for hours on end back in the video store where he purportedly penned Reservoir Dogs. This is crude dialogue, senseless murder, protracted gang rape and then some, and though in terms of graphic violence it may appear tame by today’s standards, its undercurrent of perverted smut is an indecorous delight that more than makes up for it. Blair is inspired casting: a formerly innocent, newly fallen personality, who instead of hiding behind the trapfalls of the industry and pleading forgiveness roars into the sordid spotlight and flips us the middle finger. Her role was even enough to land her the notorious Razzie Award for Worst Actress, going up against the likes of Bridgette Nielsen (Red Sonja) and A View to a Kill‘s Tanya Roberts as she accumulated three nominations in a single night. That may sound like a negative for a once high-profile child star, but director Danny Steinmann could not have asked for anything more as he prepared to tackle the Friday the 13th series with franchise anomaly A New Beginning.
Savage Streets also stars exploitation sweetheart Linnea Quigley as Brenda’s mute sibling, who drops the Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers facade for a much grungier role that required at least a modicum of genuine acting. Of course, her performance was of little importance. Casting the sleazy pin-up as a handicapped teenager subjected to a painstaking scene of unabashed misogyny and crude emotional manipulation is about as low as it gets. It is also a savvy slice of marketing that taps into our most repressed desires, the kind that would see the censoring bodies emerge flaming from the darkness with cries of ‘Witch!’ as the the ‘Video Nasty’ scandal reached its moral apotheosis.
If the 80s were the decade of soulless decadence, then this is a murky window into the proclivities of a morally corrupt society who have well and truly left the era of women’s liberation behind, and its period prowess is only heightened by a wonderfully soulless soundtrack written and performed by Aussie pop sensation John Farnham, whose hollow sound suitably adds to the movie’s big-haired, neon saturation. Imagine the cast of Grease stripped to their briefs and high on crack cocaine, naked fights in the high school showers and a slimy headteacher doing his utmost to get into his students’ knickers—that’s Savage Streets in a nutshell.
In Brenda’s world, high school kids lead double lives as drug pushing street punks with a penchant for murder and public molestation. Even Brenda, a relative goody two shoes, is the leader of a gang of bad girls—so bad they sip peach brandy and cream over copies of Playgirl while out trawling the city streets—and when violent chauvinists ‘The Scars’ accidentally knock her sister Heather over in their car, the girls decide to steal the gang’s cherished convertible and go for a joy ride, an act of vandalism which proves to be their first mistake. Their second mistake occurs at a local dance hall when future bride Francine defends her herself against Scar leader Jake (Robert Dryer), a fact that sees him graduate from unscrupulous bully to stone cold killer.
Jake’s incredulous act of violence is hard to top, transforming Brenda from a buxom badass into a bloodthirsty murderer, and in the end Blair’s real-life discrepancies bring credence to her role as the catsuit-sporting vigilante. The actress even seems to call on her experience as the possessed Reagan for an insidious, stalk-and-slash finale that smartly taps into the hugely popular slasher genre in one of the few non-horror films both she and Quigley have starred in, cackling like an evil sorceress as she goes to work with an arsenal of bear traps, crossbows and switch blades, bringing some Bronson-style vengeance to proceedings as the movie predictably glamourizes the very violence it is supposed to be condemning.
After shopping for her wedding dress in the kind of blatant, sympathy-squeezing scene you would expect from a movie of this variety, the soon-to-be-married Francine flees the pursuing Scars, only to become trapped on a highway bridge which is completely empty and obviously closed for filming. Moments later, after pleading with the gang for her life, Francine is gorilla pressed pro wrestling style onto the road fifty feet below and turned into roadkill.
Most Absurd Moment
Directing Brenda to The Scars’ hideout at knife point, peer-pressured weasel and unwilling rapist Vince is then hunted down by gang leader Jake, who stalks his victim along an alley at night. Senselessly turning on his lights, Jake alerts Vince to his presence and careens toward him from quite some distance. Luckily for him, Vince chooses to scream ‘Noooooooo!’ for an inordinate amount of time instead of simply stepping out of the way, a decision which results in his bloody demise.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Becoming duplicitously acquainted with Brenda’s deaf sister by sympathising with her over the death of her father, wild-eyed scars loon Red suddenly turns nasty when the frigid Heather recoils under his advances.
Red: (in reference to Heather’s sexual experience) Kissing your old man? That don’t count! He’s dead, and I’m alive and twitching.
With explicit violence, gratuitous rape and lines like ‘You like hide the salami, don’t you, Brenda. All you cunts like hide the salami,’ Savage Streets is not for everyone, but for those of you who delight in this rather distinctive brand of sleaze, it is certainly one of the genre’s better efforts, and Blair is a revelation as the crossbow-wielding Brenda.