by Anthony King
Released: January 22, 1982
Ten years after he gave us subterranean cannibals in Death Line aka Raw Meat (1972), and one year after giving us seaside zombies in Dead & Buried (1981), writer/director Gary Sherman gave us Ramrod in Vice Squad. With crazed eyes, a ten-gallon hat, and a good ol' boy cocksure swagger, Wings Hauser is the scariest pimp you'll ever see, making Vice Squad one of the standout cop movies of the 1980s.
After beating to death one of his working girls, the hunt is on for Ramrod, led by Gary Swanson as Vice Det. Tom Walsh. Forced into an undercover role, Walsh is helped by reluctant Princess, played by Season Hubley, a mother trying to make ends meet by moonlighting as a prostitute. The opening title card claims the movie to be based on real stories provided by real Vice detectives while Wings Hauser invades our ears by singing “Neon Slime.” While it depicts some rather gruesome subject matter, this is by far one of my favorite '80s cop movies, its grit and grime making it all the more appealing. If Cruising (1980) was set in Hollywood, it might look something like Vice Squad.
Gary Swanson, as the lead detective, gives a fine if uneven performance. One minute he'll have a burst of comedic energy (“Who the fuck took my paperclip!”), followed by melodramatics you'd expect from community theater (“I'm gonna get that sonofabitch if it's the last thing I do,” clenched-fist and all), and then beautifully honest moments like after his partner asks, “How do you hack it?” (“Two days a week I don't worry about it: yesterday and tomorrow.”) But it all comes back to Ramrod. He's a southern boy who drives a pickup truck that looks like it was driven by Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A. When a homeless woman approaches him, Ramrod flicks a lighter in her face and says, “Wanna burn? I'm the the devil, baby.” Nothing is more frightening than watching a man who thinks he's invincible and will stop at nothing to get what he thinks he deserves. Having the entire story unravel in one night, the movie plays like a slasher film, which makes it no wonder why Scream Factory released the Blu-ray.
Four years after Vice Squad comes out, Penelope Spheeris' Hollywood Vice Squad, starring Ronny Cox, Carrie Fisher, Frank Gorshin and Trish Van Devere (and Robin Wright's first movie appearance), was released. Although perfectly fine, it's lighter, funnier, and much less exciting than its predecessor. So when you want to watch a movie about cops patrolling sex workers, choose the one starring Wings Hauser.
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