Badass Linda Blair hits the SAVAGE STREETS again for Scorpion Releasing’s new 2-disc special edition featuring a brand-new HD-mastered transfer and new interviews (along with the old ones from BCI’s expensive out-of-print release).
After her deaf-mute sister Heather (Linnea Quigley, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) is nearly run over by rival gang The Scars, Brenda (Linda Blair, THE EXORCIST) – leader of high school girl gang “The Satins” – and her buddies teach them a lesson by stealing and trashing their car. Jake (Robert Dryer, THE BORROWER) and his gang – including Fargo (Sal Landi, STREET KNIGHT), punk rocker Red (Scott Mayer), and high schooler Vince (Johnny Venocur, EVIL LAUGH) – retaliate by brutally beating and raping Heather, leaving her for dead with a fractured skull. Not realizing who is behind the attack, The Satins get into a nightclub brawl with The Scars and Jake is wounded by Francine (Lisa Freeman, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER). When Jake amps up the psychosis by throwing Francine off of a bridge, Vince’s conscience gets to him and Brenda overhears him apologizing to her comatose sister. When Brenda learns that not only have The Scars raped her sister, they’ve also killed her best friend, she takes a shopping trip to the local Supply Sergeant for a crossbow and some bear traps and takes on The Scars solo in a brutal night of vengeance. John Vernon (CHAINED HEAT) co-stars.
SAVAGE STREETS had a rather convoluted production history. The film began shooting with Billy Fine as producer and Tom DeSimone as director. The former had just produced CHAINED HEAT with Blair while the latter directed her in HELL NIGHT in 1981, but Blair was not the original lead. Cherrie Currie, lead singer of the band The Runaways, was initially cast, and apparently shot at least a day’s worth of scenes (Dryer would also replace a slated cast member who apparently found religion shortly after accepting the part of Jake). Blair would replace her rather abruptly (most of the interviewed cast members recall being surprised when she showed up on set) and DeSimone would also depart the production within days and was replaced by Steinmann, who rewrote the script – credited to Norman Yonemoto (who previously wrote DeSimone’s CHATTERBOX) – for the first time. Rumors of the production being shut down by the Screen Actors Guild turned out to be true (Fine is only credited as producer on six films at IMDb but apparently left more than a few unfinished like SAVAGE STREETS). Producer John Strong (KNIGHTS OF THE CITY) bought interest in the project and struck a distribution deal with Orion. Strong was not impressed with Steinmann’s script and rewrote it again. Steinmann and Strong clashed during the shooting and Strong definitely directed some of the film, but it’s not entirely clear how much. Blair remembers him directing a substantial amount while Dryer only recalls him directing the fiery climactic scene. The reason for this disagreement may be because Steinmann seems to have been more interested in the Scars scenes and shot a lot of improvisation between the four male actors, so many of Dryer’s scenes might have been in the can before he had to interact with Blair again. Motion Picture Marketing’s John Chambliss contacted Strong with interest in distributing it, and Strong “decided” to go with them instead of Orion and bought out Orion’s interest (in retrospect, Strong has stated that he thinks the film would have received a wider release through Orion).
Despite the unevenness resulting from the multiple rewrites, production shutdowns, and the input of multiple directors, SAVAGE STREETS delivers the R-rated goods with bouncy, unenhanced nudity, a lot of grisly violence, and some highly-quotable dialogue (including Blair’s “double-jointed” punch line and John Vernon’s “Go fuck an iceberg!”). The rape scene is notoriously vile, and Dryer, Landi, and Mayer maintain their repugnance throughout (Venocur’s Vince remains hesitant and eventually develops a spine, but it’s too little too late). Brenda’s take-down of the majority of The Scars is a bit too short and swift to be satisfying, but Steinmann and Strong are smart enough to linger on the final showdown between Brenda and Jake. Although the score is credited to Michael Lloyd (THE POM POM GIRLS) and John D’Andrea (TV’s BAYWATCH), the four songs by John Farnham (lead singer of Little River Band) are the highlight of the score (particularly title sequence track “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” and “Justice For One” which underscores Blair’s pensive bathtub nude scene).
First released as an unauthorized DVD in 2003 by New Star (aka JEF Films) in a fullscreen transfer probably derived from Vestron’s VHS release, SAVAGE STREETS did not get the official treatment until 2008 when BCI put out a 2-disc set. That dual-layer transfer was mastered in HD but unfortunately interlaced; however, its extensive extras included three commentary tracks: the first with director Danny Steinmann, the second with producer John Strong and actors Robert Dryer and Johnny Venocur, and the third with cinematographer Stephen Posey and actors Sal Landi and Robert Dryer (again). Like BCI’s 2008 DVD of FINAL EXAM, SAVAGE STREETS didn’t stay in print long and the BCI set started commanding high prices online. Scandinavian company later Another World Entertainment utilized the same transfer while squeezing all of the same extras (with added optional Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish subtitles) onto a single disc. I have not seen that import (different sources disagree on whether it is NTSC or PAL), but Arrow Video’s 2011 single-disc featured a poor NTSC-PAL conversion of the main feature from the same master (like the AWE disc, all of the BCI extras were present and accounted for, in addition to Arrow’s usual reversible cover, fold-out poster reproduction, and liner notes booklet). Code Red created a new HD master from the original interpositive and was expected to release it sometime in 2011, but the title was eventually passed onto Scorpion Releasing for this 2-disc set. The new transfer is progressive and framed at 1.78:1 while the older transfer was matted to 1.84:1, with the Scorpion exposing a sliver more picture information on the top and the bottom of the frame (the sides seem to be the same). Brightness and shadow detail are nicely improved, the image is a touch warmer overall (including the skintones), the neon and gel lighting in the night scenes is more evident than before (the reds in the nightclub scene are positively hellish), and there is no evidence of overt image manipulation. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean, and the music has a nice presence (too bad they couldn’t afford to do a Dolby Stereo mix).
Extras are divvied up between the two discs with the film and its three commentaries sharing space on disc 1 with three “vintage” interviews with Dryer (5:53), Venocur (14:13), and Strong (14:02) from the BCI disc. Danny Steinmann appears on the first track (moderated by Michael Felsher). He charts his beginnings in TV commercials and then several associate producing jobs – including John Schlesinger’s SEPARATE TABLES – as well as his decision to make his debut with the XXX-rated film HIGH RISE (which had a long run at the Pussycat Theater seen in the opening of the film). Just as he was going to begin a series for the Playboy Channel, he was offered the job of replacing the initial director on SAVAGE STREETS. He was given permission to rewrite the film and did so with eighteen hours of prep. He didn’t so much recast rolls as let some actors go (including John Vernon after dumping a subplot involving the police investigation into the film’s deaths). He holds nothing back when it comes to how he feels about Strong’s involvement on the picture, and points out the scene that the scene that suggests the poster’s promised “Gang War of the Sexes” (although Felsher points out that it would not have been as fun as Blair hunting them down solo). Felsher fills Steinmann in on producer Michael Franzese’s criminal background and the book he wrote about quitting the mafia. He asks if any alternate TV takes exist for the film, but Steinmann says none were shot (instead, twelve minutes were removed for the TV broadcast). Felsher also asks Steinmann about his other films, particularly his FRIDAY THE 13THE entry – which lost forty-seven seconds to the MPAA – which he was offered by the film’s investors (who at the time were among those who showed interest in getting the shooting of SAVAGE STREETS back on track). Steinmann reveals that he did not leave filmmaking after FRIDAY THE 13TH despite what IMDb says. He was offered five projects which each fell through so he headed to the UK to work with the BBC for two years before getting into an accident which kept him out of circulation for some time. Of Steinmann’s few directorial efforts, he reveals that he finds HIGH RISE to be the most satisfying and least compromised.
The track featuring Strong, Dryer, and Venocur (moderated by David DeCoteau) was edited by BCI to remove some comments made by two unofficial moderators that were found to be in bad taste during the rape scene. The track here also omits the comments of these additional participants (note that the track goes dead for second half of the rape scene). Strong briefly describes Fine’s personal breakdown a few days into the picture and how he was called onto the production. He mentions that Steinmann was not always “up to” directing, and describes how a drunken Jack Starrett (RACE WITH THE DEVIL) appeared on location drunk and asked for a part in the film but wandered off before his cameo could be shot. Although Tom DeSimone left before shooting, Strong points out that DeSimone’s brother stayed on and played the school’s bio professor (he would also appear in Steinmann’s FRIDAY THE 13TH installment). Strong describes his rewrite of the film as an “anti-violence thesis” when having to defend the film against the MPAA who gave it an X-rating initially. John Vernon reportedly insisted on his iceberg line. They mention an X-rated moment that didn’t make it to the final cut (before the MPAA submission). Strong describes producer Chambliss in vague terms that make him sound even more sinister than his partner Franzese. Dryer mentions that there were some real injuries during the fight scenes (Landi broke his nose during the nightclub fight) while Venocur praises Strong for letting them have input into shaping the characters.
Marc Edward Heuck – with some additional input from Code Red’s Bill Olsen – moderates the Posey/Landi/Dryer track (the Scorpion disc’s special features menu credits Stephen Posey as “Steven” Posey), although Landi and Dryer also pose some questions to Posey during the discussion. Landi mentions almost buying a condo from Freeman more recently (so I’m guessing she is among the man actors who end up going into real estate). They mention that a lot of the backstory for the characters wasn’t established in pre-production because of the rewrites. Heuck asks if the guys were kept separate from the women to enhance the rivalry, but it was due to scheduling. Dryer points out former championship boxer Sean O’Grady as the guy who gets roughed up by Jake early on (and that O’Grady got a little punchy after getting slapped one too many times). Landi says that the scenes between the rival gangs were almost two different movies. Posey suggests that Steinmann was more interested in the Scars scenes. He also discusses the difficulties of lighting many of the night scenes (although he is praised for his efforts by both Steinmann and Strong on the other tracks). The track is less boisterous than the other actor track so a bit more interesting information is relayed.
Disc 2 features brand new interviews with Dryer (22:02) – recorded at Monsterpalooza 2012 – Strong (12:41), Venocur (9:31), as well as interviews with the other two “Scars” Sal Landi (9:18) – who had participated in one of the original commentaries – and Scott Mayer (12:24) who could not be found when the BCI disc was being produced. There is some overlap between the three vintage interviews and the newer ones (particularly in the Strong interview), but also some new detail about the film and the actors’ backgrounds, as well as some new attitudes. In the vintage Dryer interview, he describes Billy Fine’s original concept as a Hatfields/McCoys-type feud with Brenda dating Jake’s younger brother and the fallout from the latter character’s suicide (he also describes Fine’s odd concept for a sequel that has Brenda and Jake teaming up). Frankly, it’s difficult to determine whether he is joking or not (although everyone else interviewed does mention (more vaguely) that the original script differed greatly from Strong’s rewrite. In the newer interview, Dryer discusses how he got into acting and his training at the American Academy for Dramatic Arts. He also mentions auditioning for Fine and DeSimone, and Jackie Gleason observing some of the location shoot from a nearby bar (and playing pool with him afterwards). On both interviews, he mentions replacing the original actor (who he only recalls as being one of the principals of THE WARRIORS). He also gives credit to the success of his climactic showdown with Blair to the actress’ professionalism and experience. On the new interview, he expresses how uncomfortable he was with shooting the rape scene and having nightmares about it afterwards (he and the other actors all mention that Quigley was the most composed of the performers during that sequence).
Although the Landi interview is new to the set, it was shot for the BCI release but misplaced during production. Landi mentions that the rape scene was not in the original script when he accepted the role, as well as discussing THE EXORCIST and its sequel with Blair during the shoot. Venocur was similarly starstruck with Blair (actually, “in love” with her) and traveling with her to do some of the publicity for the film. He (and some of the other actors) also mentions being in awe of John Vernon, even though their acting approaches caused tension with his “old school” approach. In the vintage interviews, Dryer, Strong, and Venocur ask about the whereabouts of Scott Mayer. Strong and Venocur ask again in the newer interviews. Landi knows because Mayer friended him on Facebook shortly before his interview was shot, and Dryer knows because Mayer showed up for Monsterpalooza 2012 (and is offscreen during Dryer’s new interview): he’s been living the “mellow hippie lifestyle” in northern California. Mayer, the son of a Hollywood TV character actor, found representation quickly and got into TV commercials. His role in SAVAGE STREETS came not from a casting call, but from being scouted at a punk club by casting director Janet Cunningham. He describes a chess-playing scene between Jake and Fargo that regrettably did not make the final cut. He also mentions not being able to work during the production shutdown because he had to keep his hair dyed while waiting for the shooting to resume.
In both interviews, Strong discusses replacing Billy Fine and rewriting the script. He rattles off a series of sound byte-type accolades when discussing each of the actors, and gives special credit to cinematographer Stephen Posey for creativity and efficiency in lighting the night scenes. Strong’s “vintage” interview must have been shot before the commentaries were recorded, because he – possibly being diplomatic – briefly describes his collaboration with Steinmann in favorable terms. In the new interview – after discussing the other actors in similar terms as the vintage interview (some seemingly verbatim), he sounds off against Steinmann’s unprofessionalism during the shoot and asserts his own role in rewriting the script, directing sequences, and editing the entire film (he says there is no director’s cut since Steinmann was never in the editing room). Strong also shows us the script of his proposed SAVAGE STREETS sequel, which is credited to Dryer on the cover.
Disc 2 also includes interviews with Linda Blair (17:02) and Linnea Quigley (10:44) which are the same ones from the BCI release (although they are not labeled as “vintage” like the other ported interviews on disc 1). Blair opens her interview by mentioning her favorite line of dialogue (which is also an audience favorite). Blair emphasizes that some projects look good on paper but undergo vast changes in production, citing EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC as an example. SAVAGE STREETS is another example, but she liked the strong female role in the original script and she is also satisfied with the changes (other than the loss of some character development scenes between Brenda and her sister). Blair became friends with Freeman on set and took her to Sweden with her to do publicity for the film, and she also admits to enjoying the bitch-fight scenes with Rebecca Perle (TIGHTROPE). Quigley mentions that she was afraid that she would be fired when Blair replaced Currie because she was the same age as Blair, taller than her, and was blond. The hardest part of the whole assault and rape sequence for her was having to play the scene mute. Quigley also describes studying sign language and trying not to look down at her hands while signing and envying the sexier wardrobe of the other actress compared to her schoolgirl outfit.
What is most interesting to glean from all of these interviews is a more rounded (or more convoluted) picture of the Strong/Steinmann clash. Dryer recalls Strong as the money man who directed scenes after the shutdown when Steinmann had other commitments. Blair’s recollection supports Strong’s claims to authorship of the new screenplay and greater participation in the film’s direction. The comments of other actors fall somewhat in between. Landi recalls Steinmann as an “actor’s director” and that Strong was more strict (which he admits the production needed). Venocur and Mayer seem to have largely avoided noticing (or at least refrain from commenting extensively) on the clash, although Venocur recalls one scene where he was receiving direction from Steinmann, Strong, and Blair (the latter necessary because she was holding a switchblade to his throat). It appears that Dryer, Landi, Venocur, and Mayer had less of an issue with Steinmann’s direction specifically because his more improvisational approach allowed them to develop their characters and the gang’s chemistry, but it might also suggest why the film ran into money and scheduling problems (especially since most of this stuff was shot at night, requiring more lighting equipment and a limited amount of time to get the required material). Steinmann had clashes with the producers of THE UNSEEN (and had his name removed from the credits) and FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, so the truth may lie somewhere between producer interference and a lack of discipline required to deliver a low budget production on schedule and under budget – especially when it’s rumored that the film is being financed by “wise guys from Chicago” – although original producer Billy Fine’s involvement seems to have initiated the money problems.
Hostess Katarina Leigh Waters – who has introduced many a Scorpion Releasing horror title under the “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” banner (along with conducting interviews and moderating some commentaries) – introduces SAVAGE STREETS as part of the “Kat Scratch Cinema” (although she calls it “Katarina’s Kick-Ass Films” which might have been a better choice). She highlights the presence of Blair, Vernon, Quigley, Venocur, Dryer, Landi, Debra Blee (THE BEACH GIRLS), as well as musician John Farnham. The film’s theatrical trailer (3:20) and trailers for KILL AND KILL AGAIN, DEATH SHIP, JOYSTICKS, AND ALLEY CAT close the first disc. As with other Bryanston Films-licensed titles from Scorpion Releasing, SAVAGE STREETS is Region 1-coded. (Eric Cotenas)
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