I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

"Gang War of the Sexes": Savage Streets

by Chris Sutton
May 23, 2014

Intentionally a promotional vehicle for the legendary Linda Blair (most notably remembered for her role as the paranormally tortured little girl in The Exorcist), Savage Streets actually nurtures and supports whatever acting talent Blair might have had and should be seen as the highlight of her small and cultish career. Her performance as Brenda, the film's protagonist turned vigilante, even earned her a Razzie award for Worst Actress, somewhat of a compliment in the world of cult film fandom. It should also be noted that this one of the few non-horror movie films she ever starred in. Directed by the late Danny Steinmann, who was forced into the role because the previous director went AWOL because of a potentially harmful situation involving mafia investors, this movie was a perfect platform for him to use his background in pornography to craft a titillating film that is equal parts sexploitation, action/thriller, and even comedy. When he took over the film, Steinmann first cut down the already extreme amounts of rape and other violence towards women and tried to focus more attention on the psychology and the hilarious dialogue, which may be the most rewarding thing the viewer can take from this movie. (Timeless lines "Go fuck an iceberg" and "Im gonna hide my salami so far inside you that Columbus won't be able to find it" should not go unheralded) What's left is a very entertaining revenge movie in the style of Death Wish sprinkled with a feminist undercurrent.

The subtitle to this gloriously schlocky vigilante picture from 1984 promises a "Gang war of the sexes" but in reality it is a tale about one woman's internal struggle within a world ruled by man's violent sexual nature and the eventual backlash that eventually ensues. Almost every male character in this movie is presented as a sexual deviant on some level including the high school's Principal, who is apparently homophobic. The overarching male evil is represented by Jake, the leader of a punk rock gang (one of them is wearing a Damned patch) who seems to be involved in whatever skullduggery that is available to him and spends the first hour of the film being the worst person you could possibly think of. He and his band of extras from The Warriors first gangrape Brenda's deaf, mute and blond younger sister, and then coldly throw her best friend off of a bridge while she is clinging to a box containing her wedding dress (is there any two acts that are more dastardly?). This obviously invokes the fury of the sassy take-no-shit moppets that make up Brenda's group of friends who do what they want and say whatever they think, much to the detriment of the flabbergasted school faculty and the sociopathic gang members I mentioned earlier (the narrative of the movie begins with these proto-Riot Grrrls stealing and then trashing Jake's beautiful car for practically NO REASON!!!, perhaps Jake is the one seeking revenge?) I would definitely not call this film entirely pro-woman however, the rather gratuitous rape and shower fight scenes (which happen at the same time through careful editing) are shot with a rather intrusive fetishism and the pivotal scene in which Brenda decides to become a stone cold killer features an unnecessarily long shot of her shapely naked form in a bath tub. The phallic symbolism of Linda's weapon of justice being a crossbow should not be lost on the viewer either, and one with an open sense humor will enjoy all of the suggestiveness.

This violent adventure was scored by a man named John Farnham, who attempted to musically charge this film by combining what he thought were the best parts of Survivor, Def Leppard, and Foreigner into pieces of music that often times take center stage of the proceedings, to laughable effect. Bombastic lyrics about justice and payback may have been thought of at the time as a way to enhance a heroic vibe ala the Rocky franchise or Hulk Hogan, but in hindsight they merely provide extra comedy to an obviously unselfconscious and incredibly dated affair.

In the end, the real star of Street Savage might be the 1980's themselves(and possibly, boobies). You can see the camera angles and story arc development utilized in so many 80's movies like Karate Kid, Dirty Harry, First Blood, and even the human elements of Robocop and the first Terminator. Linda Blairs hair is absolutely impeccable and the tight little number she dons during her eventual killing spree is definitely haute couture circa '84 dominatrix with a touch of Charlie's Angels. The whole package sums up the outlandishness and hamfisted prejudices of 80's pop culture and presents them to the viewer in a bloody, gratuitous, mess. For that alone, this movie could be seen as an interesting snippet into the psychology of that particular era but perhaps little more than that. Be open minded however, because slipping into this type of pointless deconstruction isnt very much fun at all and one could perhaps miss the little gifts that a wacky movie like Savage Streets can give to a willing an accepting viewer.

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Chris Sutton is a musician, writer, and artist who currently lives in Portland OR, and grew up in Olympia, WA. He plays or has played with numerous musical acts including Gossip, The Dirtbombs, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Spider & The Webs, Chain & The Gang, & Hornet Leg. Chris has been so obsessed with records over his life that he writes a vinyl collecting memoir/blog called Record Lections on Instagram and he is often seen Djing his new discoveries in local bars or posting mixes on SoundCloud or Mixcloud. He is also a big fan of visual art with a special passion for African American folk art, Impressionism, European New Wave cinema, and most eras of television. Most of the books he reads, whether fact or fiction, usually have drawings in them. Chris's best friends are his faithful rat terriers Juju and Queenie.