TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: VICE SQUAD (1982)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

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COOL STUFF: ESCAPE FROM N.Y. COLLECTOR’S EDITION on BLU-RAY

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!

The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…

We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.

As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ELVIS (1979)

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ELIVS (1979)

I’m going to start off by saying I am almost embarrassed to admit that as a huge fan of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, that this is the first time I have seen their first pairing together on this classic TV bio-drama. Written by Anthony Lawrence and directed by John Carpenter, who was fresh off of Halloween, Elvis (Kurt Russell with songs sung by Ronnie McDowell) depicts the legendary performer’s life up to his comeback concert in Las Vegas in 1969. The film traces The King Of Rock And Roll’s life from his poor upbringings in Memphis to rebellious teen who dreams of being a singer. A recording he makes for his mother (Shelly Winters) gets played on the radio and a star is born. The film then follows Elvis’ rocket to stardom, his stint in the military where he meets Priscilla, (Season Hubley) the daughter of an officer, and his career after making more hits and a slew of movie musicals that he grew to detest. The film also covers well, the sadness in Elvis’s life that started with the death of his mother and continued as he become a prisoner of his own fame. Elvis laments he can’t just go out and see the world like a normal man as he is swamped where ever he goes. He also become paranoid about those around him including members of his personal entourage and bandmates. Despite his love for Priscilla, his life of seclusion and his career drives a wedge between them even with the birth of his daughter. The film climaxes with his return to concert performing and while it is a success, it is also the start of the decline of his personal life and health that would ultimately lead to his untimely death that, according to this film, he disturbingly predicted himself. Carpenter handles one of his only non-genre films very well. He gives some vibrant life to the younger days of the enthusiastic Elvis’ career when a teen with a passion for music becomes a star practically overnight. The first half of the film is fun to watch with the young Memphis native enjoying his new celebrity and being able to spend money on the family that never had any. Then as we start to get into the negative aspects of Elvis’ rise to superstardom such as his feelings of being trapped and his disillusionment over Colonel Parker’s (Pat Hingle) control over his career and life, Carpenter gives us just enough to make us understand Elvis’ unhappiness and how his love of performing keeps him from walking away from it and sadly makes things worse as he sacrifices his personal life and relationship with the woman he loves to be a star. The movie never sinks too deep in the melodrama or gets exploitative in depicting the downside of this legend’s story though we clearly get a picture of a simple country boy who became more then just a man when a simple man was all he wanted to be. The film ends at the point where Elvis was on the brink of becoming a bigger star then ever yet, would also signal the downfall of his personal life and health. We don’t see his weight gain, divorce, addiction to pills but, we are give the seeds of what is to come and Carpenter and company let history do the rest without taking us there to see what we already know. The film was made in 79 so, the details of Elvis’ final years were still fresh in the publics mind. The cast are all good with Russell giving a truly haunting performance as Elvis. Russell is Elvis for all intents and purposes, at least as far as what we knew of the man. From his youthful excitement to a brooding and unhappy man who has conversations with his long dead brother, Russell is borderline brilliant. Shelly Winters overacts a bit as his mother but, not enough to harm the film. Bing Russell, who is Kurt’s real dad, plays his father and does a good job as a simple man watching his son become a superstar. We sadly don’t get to see too much of him during the later troubling times but, when we do, his concern seems genuine. Season Hubley plays Priscilla and it is no surprise that she and Russell were briefly married after the film as there are legitimate sparks between the two when they are onscreen together and she plays a woman torn between her love for her man and her own unhappiness wonderfully. Pat Hingle is appropriately slimy as Colonel Parker and we see clearly a man who found gold and mined it for all it was worth, maybe at the cost of a life. And Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers plays Sam Phillips who gave Elvis his start and sadly let him go when he knew his stardom had outgrown his little company. One has  to wonder if Elvis had stayed with Phillips, if his star would have shown less bright but, maybe Elvis would not have had such a tragic and unhappy end to his life. All in all, this is a very effective portrait of possibly the most famous performer of all time. It takes us into his triumphant rise and then gives us enough of a glimpse of the start of his fall but, without getting exploitative. It leaves enough of the gory details to our imagination so, the legacy of The King retains some of that legendary luster and, in my opinion, that was the right way to go with it. A very good movie about a music legend with an amazing Kurt Russell performance. Available from the awesome folks at Shout Factory on a beautifully remastered DVD.

3 and 1/2 guitars!

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