VICE SQUAD (1982)
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Vice Squad is a sleazy exploitation movie that has a bit of a cult following and another grind house flick I got to see at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. during the 80s. The story takes place over the course of one night on the mean streets of Hollywood. It tells the tale of single-mom and prostitute Princess (Season Hubley) who is forced by L.A. vice squad Det. Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) to help bust a vicious, psychotic pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser). Ramrod has just brutally murdered Princess’ friend Ginger (pioneer MTV VJ Nina Blackwood), so she reluctantly agrees. The sting works, but a daring escape puts the crazed, killer pimp back on the streets with the unaware Princess his prime target. Can Walsh and his squad track down Ramrod and stop him before Princess becomes his next victim?
Directed by Gary Sherman (Dead And Buried, Poltergeist III) and written by no less than four writers, Vice Squad is a flick filled with the sleaze of 80s Hollywood from the first frame to the last. It has some brutal violence and isn’t afraid to “go there” when it comes to the portrayal of the Hollywood nightlife and those who inhabit it. It might have been a real sleaze cult classic if Sherman’s directing of his subject wasn’t so leaden and by-the-numbers. The film can be very brutal at times, so it’s not like Sherman needed to lighten his touch, but the film lacks any really energy, urgency or intensity. Despite the sometimes disturbing subject matter, the film is presented very matter-of-factly and most of the performances are quite wooden. You would also think that with four writers, someone would have cleaned up the really bad dialogue and some of the odd randomness that slows things down (such as the scene with a cop berating everyone in earshot over stolen paper clips). The film definitely could have lost a few minutes to make it a bit tighter and would not have lost any important story elements at closer to 90 minutes. Still, it is a nostalgic portrayal of the Hollywood sub-cultures that inhabited its streets in the 80s, echoing New York’s Time Square area around the same time. Glitter and glitz by day, drugs, murder and prostitution by night. If Vice Squad gets something very right it’s the exploitative portrayal of all the filth and crime. Too bad there wasn’t a bit of a better movie around it or one that was more energetic in it’s wallowing in the muck.
Cast-wise, only Hauser and Hubley really stand out. Wings Hauser is completely over-the-top as the sadistic pimp Ramrod. He is vicious and revels in it and the actor successfully creates a villain that is both comic-bookishly exaggerated and yet realistic enough to be frightening. Season Hubley gives some spunk to a part that is basically the cliché hooker with a heart of gold. She also was brave and a good sport with some of the violence and sexuality of some of her scenes. Sadly, Swanson is pretty wooden as Walsh, as is the rest of the supporting cast, and a little charisma or intensity would have made Det. Walsh a far more endearing hero. Even exploitation films need interesting and well portrayed characters to work and here the supporting characters are all very generic and have little personality to set them apart. They all seems to blend together.
To sum it up Vice Squad is a mixed bag. On one hand it’s sluggishly directed, has some truly bad dialogue and most of the characters are bland and uninteresting. The action is very by-the-numbers and there really isn’t all that much of it. The film is also about five to ten minutes too long and would have benefited from tighter editing. On the other hand, there is some very effective and brutal violence, Hauser creates a sick, twisted and memorable villain and the exploitation elements go further than most films would dare, even in the early 80s before the MPAA started getting stricter and more conservative. There is some strong 80s nostalgia, especially in it’s sleazy portrayal of Hollywood nightlife at the time. It’s worth a look if you haven’t seen it and actually works well paired up with the similar, but much more entertaining Angel…or, do an East Coast/West Coast double feature and team it up with the equally sleazy NYC set Shakedown!
MonsterZero NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Star Wings Hauser, who was also a singer with an album, sang the film’s theme song Neon Slime that plays predominately over the opening and closing credits.
2 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.