Image courtesy of Shots of Anarchy (chosen by Steve Carlson).
When you say that ‘Savage Streets’ (1984) is the best movie that Danny Steinmann ever directed, you’re making quite a bold statement, and that’s because most of his oeuvre, if seen under a perfectly unstinted scope and point of view, are all pretty similar from between them. Much like you can’t rate between the Ozu films and order them between your favorites, there’s something similar for me when it comes to this American director. While featuring distinct settings and characters, they still feature some similar themes, they all revolve under a similar point of view regarding the world, as well as a scene or two featuring smutty elements from his time as a porn director of the first feature that he ever made.
In a way you could say that this particular movie is like the mirror image of ‘High Rise’ (1973) where sex was a tool of liberation, pleasure and great moments of visual pleasure as well as sexual excitement (no matter about the whole thing about the fluids that I tend to mention in that movie), while in this 1984 film, sex is actually a tool of power, an abuse of violence for the people in power to overcome those who are weaker and lower in the social scale, in this case men and women, and while there’s a male gaze thing about the whole ordeal, it still manages to subvert those same themes by having the strong willed women overcome those boundaries and traps that they put around, using sex itself as the tool to win it over in the end.
I mean, there’s really no surprise here, there’s always been overpowered women in Danny Steinmann’s film, even starting in his porn days, when the woman protagonist makes the decision to explore her own sexuality and go fucking around (quite literally) in the neighborhood. Here is like the most explosive representation of that, where a gang of women try to have some revenge on the sexual oppressors that raped one of the women that is a friend of them, and while in the end it becomes about Linda Blair’s character trying to channel her own sexual presence, body and energy to overcome those who use the sexual violence to be above the others. We’re talking about thugs who use that kind of violence against women and men alike… I mean, even the leader of them is called Dick.
Sex and Death are really connected in this movie, one is always followed by the other, like in a slasher film (the one that would later get into this director), but this is actually spelled out in the movie in the middle of a poetry class when the teacher tells them that sex and death are always connected, everything is said while the protagonist looks sad to the blackboard, as if she knew that it’s exactly that, sex, and not romance what is killing her sister in the hospital in which she had been brought.
The film has a great structure, as it quickly shows you what to do with its characters and what to understand of them, Danny wants you to fall in love with all of them, and if he doesn’t manage that, he still wants you to fall in love with someone, with one of the girls, that’s all he wants, just one, because he wants you to care, because he wants you to understand how deadly and perverse can sex be for them as a way of enduring their lives in a public school in one of the worst parts of America. They have to man up, at the start against members of their own sex, other girls calling Brenda (Linda Blair’s character) a bitch, to later become the bitch that she is being called only to then achieve the vengeance that she so dearly wants.
Among the most explicit sequences of the film you can find the whole prelude and the start of the gang-rape of Brenda’s deaf sister, the act of sexual depravation that leads and moves the plot forward for the rest of the film. The scene itself is partly intercut with a fight that Brenda is having at the showers with another woman, as a way of signaling not only that this is a violent place where everything can happen, but also as a foreshadowing sequence that tells you the great strength of the women in this picture, how the killings and the violence that follows isn’t only justified but at the same time greatly encouraged in cases like these.
Many films seem to have been inspired by the plot of ‘Savage Streets’ (1984) as well as there are some movies of the time that inspired the movie, specially the whole wave of rape revenge films that appeared in certain cinemas on the wake of the success of the trash favorite ‘Day of the Woman’ (1978), while at the same time there are certain visual elements of the rape, the violence, and the angles that remind me of certain scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece films ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’ (2003) and ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’ (2004), specially when it comes to the way that the victim looks up to the people who are making the dirty deed, and also the whole revenge plot thing, crazy death sequences included.
This movie is obviously more violent than ‘The Unseen’ (1980), other slasher films have opened the doors for greater amounts of blood and crazier deaths, using some crazy weaponry and other elements to show off the speciality of certain characters when it comes to the kind of pain they want to infringe unto the other, like in this movie when Brenda goes around with a crossbow, you know that she isn’t exactly looking for the death of those who made her sister the worst thing possible, but she wants the pain, the slow and deathly pain of the body being pierced by arrows.
And now when delving into much more frivolous terms, the movie’s music is so 80’s that it hurts, but it also means that there was a budget behind this movie, because almost all of the songs are instantly recognizable, and the foul language is so dated that you just have to have a pen and paper to write down some of the insults said here, my favorite being “Go fuck an Iceberg”… I mean, how creative is a phrase like that! It’s like if you take possibly the most used insult word ever and then add something that you’d never wait you’ve heard with that word, that’s genius, simply genius.
The cinematography is great, there’s a taste for the red and the neon lights, akin to some other modern movies want us to think that the 80’s style was, but this actually achieves that simply by being real, by tinting and finding the reds above any other color, by being at the same time dirty, finding and wanting the darkness that surrounds the darkness of the dangerous streets, but at the same time a shot structure and construction that’s intelligent and interesting at all times. Maybe the only bad thing about this movie and its visual style is how at times it looks way too much like a very bad music video from that time, with all the bars, the darkness and the murky lights, but that’s just me, I guess.
I’m guessing that at one point of development there was a decision to scrap some genre elements, and while this is closer to a thriller and horror picture, much like the rest of Steinmann’s films, this seems to be the closest to something like science fiction and a post apocalyptic landscape, with elements like the rebellious youth that is way too rebellious for it to be real, and a dystopian look at the music of those years:
Punk is Dead
Give me Rock
Or Give me Head.
With those words of poetry, love and death I leave you for today. Tomorrow, the most famous Danny Steinmann film, and also his most maligned, let’s see what’s there to write about.