Director: Robert Endelson
Blue Underground

Who ever thought that one of the most infamous, nastiest, most racist exploitation classics of all time would ever hit DVD? Anyone? It might have been a pipe dream for diehard cult film aficionados, but what company would have the balls to tackle such a controversial flick? Blue Underground, that's who, the company who unleashed the completely uncut version of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA to stores everywhere in 2003. Now they've picked another movie to outrage oblivious mothers all over the country, and what a beauty it is: FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE!

En route to a maximum security prison, psychopathic Jessie Lee Cain and his sidekicks, Hispanic Chino and Chinese Ling, escape from an armored truck and high-tail it to upstate New York in a car they stole from a drug-dealing pimp (!). Meet the Turners, led by family patriarch and local preacher Ted (yeah, like the media mogul), his anti-white wife, beautiful daughter Corrie and feisty son Floyd, not to mention their mouthy grandmother. The three escaped convicts hold up a local drug store, shooting the owner in front of his baby daughter, and take Corrie hostage. They bring her home and hold the entire family hostage at gunpoint, forcing them to feed them and calling them every derogatory term for black people in the book! For fun, Cain shoots at Ted's feet to force him to tap dance (!), beats the poor guy in the head with a Bible, and rapes Corrie before the family fights back and takes their revenge against the invaders.

Can you believe the director actually found an actual troupe of black actors to play the put-upon family? Including a little kid?! They certainly don't make movies like FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE anymore, which is why the DVD release is a real pop in the nose to today's politically correct environment. The fact that the movie still bothers viewers to this day, with its in-your-face racism, violent child murder, and over-the-top violence and nastiness makes it some kind of warped classic well worth your time. William Sanderson, best known to movie geeks from BLADE RUNNER, chews scenery and co-stars with relish as he tackles the lead role of Jessie Lee Cain, spitting venomous racial slurs left and right. There's an awesome action sequence that kicks off the movie, a cringe-worthy scene of Sanderson scaring a screaming, crying baby by shoving a loaded pistol into its face (!), a lengthy drawn-out sex scene between the late Val Turner (who died in Vietnam) and his white girlfriend, and more nasty surprises (including a lynching, a chase over a waterfall, and a nasty glass window impaling) for those who think they've seen everything exploitation could offer.

The anamorphic, letterboxed transfer (which the box says is 1.85:1, but looks more like 1.66:1) has a considerable amount of grain during dark scenes, but colors are bold and beautiful and most of the scenes have a polished look to them. Some sequences have a very soft look to them, with no detail, but this is probably due to the original shoestring photography. The restoration is from the original camera negative, which boggles the mind even further! Strangely, some scenes have major ghosting problems (Chapter 7 when the dog runs towards the camera, Chapter 11-- the entire sequence of the cop picking up the dead body). I don't know if this was in-camera or negative damage, but it's kind of distracting... The mono audio is very strong, with all the spiteful dialogue coming through loud and clear, for better or worse.

OK, first FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE hits DVD...can you believe there are extras on this disc, too?! First up is the full-length audio commentary by writer Straw Weisman, director of photography Lloyd Freidus, and BU head honcho Bill Lustig, who starts off by saying he is a huge fan of this film. There are some tense moments during the commentary, especially as the participants explain why director Bob Endelson and star William Sanderson both refused to record the commentary with them, but overall there is a lot of great information on shooting low-budget 42nd Street fare for cheapskate producer William Mishkin. The participants never run out of things to say about this little gem, including the whereabouts of the cast (Reggie Blythewood, who played little Floyd, recently directed BIKER BOYZ!), tales of working with the apparently very sweet Bill Sanderson, and the shooting conditions in the cramped house, including a hilarious story of where the grandma's wheelchair came from. Lustig also tells the 42nd Street audience's perspective (he saw it on a date double-featured with Jim Brown's 100 RIFLES co-starring Soledad Miranda!), which is always interesting. You also get two theatrical trailers, one for the original FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE release, the other for an inner-city re-release under the timely title STAYIN' ALIVE. Both are very similar, with more of an emphasis on the urban audience in STAYIN' ALIVE. There are also two TV spots, a "white" version and a "black" version. The "black" version is better, with all the black characters fighting back against their captors. The "white" version is kinda bland, actually. The poster and stills gallery gathers international posters, newspaper ads under re-release titles, foreign lobby cards, and video sleeves from around the world.

The apocalypse is coming...FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE has hit DVD with the red carpet treatment and it's definitely a keeper for the inner sleazoid within you. One of the best discs of 2004. (Casey Scott)