Tuesday, June 2, 2020


by Anthony King
“Justice for one, justice for all. You get what you give when you've broken the law.” - John Farnham

Happy Junesploitation, everyone! Revenge is such a great narrative device that can be beautiful and compelling in some directors' hands, and sleazy and compelling in others' hands. Either way, a revenge movie usually contains some sort of excitement and guarantees at least two-and-a-half stars from me on Letterboxd.

My Revenge! double feature tilts more towards the gross and sleazy side of things (fine, it's swimming in sleaze) with Michael Winner's original Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson from 1974, and Danny Steinmann's Savage Streets, starring Linda Blair from 1984. Fair warning, both films include inciting incidents that are brutal sexual assaults, and are obviously hard to watch. Bad guys, though, do get their comeuppance in each movie.
In Death Wish, we meet architect Paul Kersey (Bronson) vacationing on a beach with his wife, Joanna. Returning to the city, Paul is back at work and Joanna and their grown daughter are grocery shopping. A group of “freaks” see the delivery address, follow the women home, and attack them. Upon hearing the news from his son-in-law, Paul rushes to the hospital only to find out his wife has died and his daughter is in a permanent catatonic state. After the funeral, Paul travels to Arizona for work. We learn he was in the Korean War, but as a conscientious objector. His client gives him a gun as going away present, though, and Paul returns to the city. He goes on living his life like normal during the day but roams the city at night, seeking and killing the bad guys. The media refers to him as “The Vigilante” (brilliantly clever, I know) and a detective is assigned to bring him down.

Savage Streets is as grimy as it gets. It's like Grease, but instead Danny and Sandy run off to spend a month huffing spray paint, Frenchy marries an abusive guy who cooks meth and loans her out to his friends, and Dean Wormer is a high school principal. Linda Blair plays Brenda, a high school student and leader of a girl gang that includes her deaf sister Heather. On the T-Birds side of things, we have wannabe-badboy and high schooler Vince, who is hooked up with The Scars (I assume these guys aren't high schoolers). One day at school, The Scars corner Heather, take her into the bathroom and attack her. After another girl is killed, Brenda discovers who's behind the attacks and exacts her revenge using bear traps and a crossbow.
Let me start by saying: You will need a shower after this double. The assault scenes alone are tough to watch. But the payoff of revenge is delicious. For a good revenge movie, you need to have the most despicable antagonists. In Death Wish, the three assailants (including Jeff Goldblum in his first movie wearing a Jughead hat) who break into the Kersey's apartment spray paint swastikas and bullseyes on the walls and the women before assaulting them. I won't spoil the ending of Death Wish, but just know that it continues for four more sequels plus a remake. In Savage Streets, you have The Scars, led by Jake who has a razor blade earring, which says plenty. Along with Vince and Jake, you also have Red, the muscle, who likes to say “hide the salami” far too much (which is to say, at all), and Fargo, the laughing weasel-type.

Then you have your “heroes” with whom the audience needs to sympathize. Last year I went on a Bronson streak (a Bronsonaissance, if you will) and I have to say: he is so damn likable. His cool demeanor, his squinty eyes, his grandfatherly speech, and his mustache. Paul Kersey, at least in the first Death Wish, is a character you side with immediately. He's a loving husband and father who's just suffered a horrendous tragedy and wants to “clean up the streets.” Linda Blair's Brenda, on the other hand, goes through an interesting transformation in Savage Streets, which dictates the three-act structure. First we see her as the badass leader of the girl gang drinking peach brandy, smoking cigarettes, and wearing sunglasses at night. She then suffers tragedy and turns into a broken teenager from the '80s, driving around in her Mitsubishi Montero. After an overly-long, unnecessary shot of her sitting topless in the bathtub smoking a cigarette, she buys (steals?) a crossbow and bear traps, puts on a black jumpsuit (not the leather one from the cover art), and gets to killing.
What's interesting between these two films is that Savage Streets is your typical revenge movie where someone experiences tragedy and lets their anger take control, and then they're back to normal. Death Wish, on the other hand, shows a man who becomes addicted to the power of exacting revenge. The final shot of Savage Streets shows Brenda in her modest blouse and slacks. She did what needed to be done and it's over with. The final shot of Death Wish shows a man who isn't done killing. In normal circumstances this would be creepy and ominous, but it's Peepaw Charles. He's still the lovable man from the beginning but he's awoken a darker (albeit for good) side.

Let's be honest, these are two B pictures. Actually, Savage Streets could be the C picture playing when only the weirdos are awake. But it's Junesploitation, and we want you going to be a little exploited and a little dirty every night!

1 comment:

  1. I have noticed that the audio on Prime's version of Savage Streets fades in and out during the first ten minutes of the film. I think it is fine after that.

    My favorite bill so far at the Mahoning Drive-In was Lethal Ladies weekend in September 2017. I went both nights, and every movie was new to me.

    Friday: Angel, Ms. 45, Lady Terminator
    Saturday: Switchblade Sisters, Savage Streets, and a Filipino film I did not like

    The sleaze of Savage Streets really plays well in such a place. Despite the rain pouring down that Saturday, it did not impact the fun of everything.

    I am looking forward to being there next week for Mad Max weekend.

    The blu-ray of Death Wish sitting in my room will be watched someday. My viewing schedule for the month is already pretty full.