Here for the LOLS is a piece on youth rampage exploitation and Savage Streets a particularly sleazy example from 1984.
The early to mid eighties saw a mini-wave of youth gangs gone wild exploitation films from the US such as Class of 1984 (1984), City Limits (1984), Tuff Turf (1985), and The Principal (1987). Youth gangs were also a staple of the vigilante film, featuring in The Exterminator (1980), Death Wish II (1982), Vigilante (1983), and Exterminator 2 (1984) among others. Savage Streets from 1984 combines the youth gang and vigilante themes into one convenient parcel of sleaze.
Mixing the ‘yoof’ with anti-authoritarian violence has been a shortcut to controversy for filmmakers at all levels of the high to low art spectrum. The Wild One (1953) was banned in the UK until 1967 when it was finally awarded a BBFC X certificate. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) was banned on release in New Zealand, and Blackboard Jungle (1955) was initially banned in the UK before being released with heavy cuts. Lyndsay Anderson’s if… (1968) only secured a release when Britain’s chief censor John Trevelyan was satisfied that shots of male genitals had been removed. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) was withdrawn from circulation in the UK by the director himself following tabloid stories of copycat violence. On release some US screenings of Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) only proceeded with a security presence following outbreaks of violence among audiences.
In the eighties the BBFC became obsessed with the idea of children exposed to movies intended for adult audiences would be psychologically harmed by the experiences. BBFC chief James Ferman was convinced that The Exorcist (1971) would have a detrimental effect on young girls and the film was unavailable for most of the VHS era following the introduction of the Video Recordings Act in 1984.
The BBFC many titles listed in my opening paragraph and refused certification outright to both Class of 1984 and Savage Streets (1984). Class of 1984 was eventually given an 18 certificate for home video in 2005, and Savage Streets was finally passed uncut at 18 and released by Arrow Video in 2011.
The film was originally to be directed by Tom DeSimone who had previously directed star Linda Blair in horror movie Hell Night (1981). DeSimone quit the production only days into shooting because of alleged script doctoring being done by a financier. He was replaced by Danny Steinmann whose limited directorial credits include a porn movie High-Rise (1973) and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) a film that was notable at the time not only for upping the ante on gore for that franchise, but also for including high levels of nudity and sex.
Savage Streets opens with two gangs of “teenagers” (the actors look to be in at least their mid-twenties) on the streets on LA. One group is comprised of spandex clad girls, led by Brenda (Linda Blair). They look tough but they’re really just being sassy. The other is a b iy gang displaying the full range of classic Hollywood punk clichés and led by leather jacketed bad boy Jake (Robert Dryer). The boys are a lot less pleasant than the girls, dealing, extorting money out of high school students, and being generally more delinquent.
Brenda has taken her shy, deaf younger sister Heather (future scream queen Linnea Quigley) out with the girls. Brenda is fiercely protective of her sister, so when the boys nearly run her down she seethes before jumping at the opportunity to steal their car for a joyride. This is something that Jake and his crew take great exception to.
Jake is not so much a boy in a borderline psychotic state as one who has become fully naturalized and can recite all the verses of the national anthem of the United States of Dangerous to Know. Jake also knows how to fondle a grudge. Days later whilst Brenda is distracted engaging in a mass fight in the showers with the schools’ posh girls, Jake’s odious gang of (presumably) expelled thugs sneak onto the grounds, sexually assault Heather, and leave her in a coma.
From here on the film gradually turns into a vigilante tale with sassy Brenda tooling up with hunting equipment to take on the boys. Parents, authority figures and police don’t figure in this at all, they may as well not exist.
Savage Streets screams TRASH from the opening frames. Brenda’s gang strut down Sunset wearing shades and off the shoulder spandex tops whilst the first of many appalling pop metal songs blares on the soundtrack they look about as dangerous as extras from Fame (the TV version). The male gang are the sort of bandana sporting, camp, flick knife wielding pseudo-punks that only exist in exploitation films. Combine the two gangs and you basically end up with Hot Gossip.
The movie has dated spectacularly badly, from the costumes to the egregiously awful sub-Pat Benetar soundtrack. It features some terrible performances, howlingly awful dialogue, and for the most part it is quite a lot of fun. There is a large amount of outrageously gratuitous female nudity (including a full frontal of Blair in the bath that has no reason to be in the film whatsoever, except that the producer can promote it as the film where you get to see the girl from The Exorcist’s lady parts).
Other things to enjoy include a fun cameo from John Vernon as the school principle. Vernon gets the best line when he tells one of the punks to “go fuck an iceberg” and then advises Jake to “take your faggot friends and get out of my school.” This is the sort of strong principled leadership that would improve teaching standards immeasurably and I would like to see it promoted by the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP at the earliest opportunity.
I also enjoyed an early scene of Blair admiring hunting goods in a shop window (hmm, wonder if this will feature later on). The camera pans over various crossbows, knives, etc. before settling on a bear trap. I mean, who buys a bear trap in central Los Angeles? Actually don’t answer that, I don’t want to know.
All this is good clean exploitation fun, but then there is the scene in which Quigley is raped.
While the rape scene is nowhere near as extended as those in I Spit On Your Grave (either the original or the remake) or Straw Dogs, it is still graphic and the reason the film had censorship issues. What makes the scene especially problematic is that whilst in isolation it is quite unpleasant to watch, it sits in a film that otherwise presents female nudity frequently and purely for exploitation purposes. In fact the rape immediately follows a stunningly gratuitous gym shower scene that plays like something out of Porkys. It leaves a nasty taste and rather puts a dampener on the fun to be honest. Just when the film has recovered somewhat from this discombobulating nastiness it throws in a few flashbacks to the assault just to kill the audience’s buzz once again.
Savage Streets is a pretty bad film in all honesty, but it is the sort of exploitation tosh that can make for diverting fun, especially with a few beers and a bit of a party atmosphere. It’s just a shame that that one scene of sexual violence spoils the party. Class of 1984 is generally better, but also goes in this direction.
The now out of print Arrow DVD contained an interview with Linnea Quigley that contained some trimmed material from the rape sequence that makes clear that it was far more graphic in an earlier cut of the movie. This and Quigley’s recollection that everyone turned up on the day the rape scene was shot to gawp at a naked actress cast a further pall over one’s feelings about the film.