Fed up with the vicious gang which inhabits the basement of their tenement building in the South Bronx in New York City, the superintendent calls the police to clean them out of the area. But the punks are released due to a technicality and have their sights set on revenge. Their scheme: to take control of the building by climbing from floor to floor, butchering the inhabitants one at a time, whether they be man, woman or child...
Of all of Roberta Findlay's non-porno efforts, TENEMENT is her masterpiece. It's gritty, vile, features amateurish performances, bottom-of-the-barrel production values and a script which pulls no punches. Yet all this works in the film's favor. Shot on location in an actual tenement building in the South Bronx, and using dirty urban locations for other outdoor sequences, Findlay really wallows in the gutter with this film. Where a Hollywood film would gloss up the violence, cast beautiful people as both the heroes and villains and would transform the set with expressionistic lighting, the former Mrs. "Richard Jennings" sticks to the gritty origins of the script and bravely shot the film in dangerous turf.
TENEMENT isn't a horror film, but that doesn't mean there's a lack of sex and violence. The gang uses machetes, guns and switchblade knives to wreak havoc on the unfortunate tenants and the camera never turns away from the gruesome murders. One gang member violently overdoses on heroin, spewing blood and erupting into spasms, while another is sliced in the crotch (!). For all its grimy subject matter and bargain basement budget, TENEMENT does benefit from truly awesome claustrophobic photography by Roberta. She creates genuine suspense in a number of sequences and because the film was shot in actual apartments with cramped quarters, she still accomplishes wonders. And only a gutsy gal like Roberta Findlay would feature children and senior citizens in her stomach-turning action pic. One unlucky elderly black woman has her throat slit while a gang member plants a smooch on her lips and a feisty Russian crone takes a baseball bat to the leader of the pack! Not only does a little black girl see her mother raped and stabbed to death, but two Hispanic siblings join in the battle for survival by pouring scalding water on the gang as they ascend up the stairs. The typical mysterious black hero (shades of DAWN OF THE DEAD), a heroin junkie and his prostitute wife, a blind man and his seeing-eye dog, an elderly black couple, the greasy superintendent and a pregnant Hispanic single mother and her boisterous mother make up the rest of the cast. Keep an ear open for stock music from ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST amidst the thrashing metal rock score. Don't be thrown by the poppy rap title song by the Kool Krew. The film is a gem straight out of the ghetto and should have promised better work for Findlay. Instead, the best film of the four she directed after this was LURKERS. Currently working as a secretary for her husband, Roberta is missed from the low-budget film scene, and hopefully will one day be enticed back to create another down 'n' dirty exploitation film New York City style.
Shriek Show presents the film completely uncut and uncensored, with all its blood-spurting violence left intact. It is presented in fullscreen 1.33:1 and at times seems to be missing information on the sides, but the transfer (sporting the original title GAME OF SURVIVAL) is from the original negative, so it seems this is the correct aspect ratio. The mono audio isn't as strong as it should be, but isn't awful.
To provide a special edition for all the fans who adored this baby on 80s cable and home video, Shriek Show enticed notoriously reclusive director Roberta Findlay to be involved with the disc. Not only does Roberta provide a video interview, but her very first AUDIO COMMENTARY! In both supplements, Roberta discusses her love of the script, a vacant lot used for a location until police discovered a dead bear and a number of human remains (!) and identifies several actors as regular extras and supporting players on "NYPD Blue" and "Law Order" today. The commentary digs deeper into the casting process, pulling off the special effects, shooting on-location in the filthy South Bronx and of course the MPAA's issues with the sex and violence in the film. She reveals her pride at having her first non-pornographic film of the 80s be branded with an official X rating and even gets to tell some tales of her childhood growing up in a similar tenement to the film!! And sneak a peek at Roberta's current #1 man as a pedestrian terrorized by the gang! The commentary does have several dead spots, though, so hopefully Shriek Show will include a moderator next time to prompt questions.
Rounding out the disc is
an incredibly lengthy stills gallery (only one photo shows Roberta at work directing
the cast and several images are repeated, but there are still plenty of great
on-set photos and behind-the-scenes snapshots), the original theatrical trailer,
a TV spot and a radio spot. Trailers for THE NEW BARBARIANS, DUCK!, BLOOD SISTERS
and BLOOD FEAST 2 advertise other Shriek Show releases. ***Casey's
Choice: Top 10 Disc of 2005*** (Casey
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