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Junkfood Cinema: Savage Streets

By  · Published on December 17th, 2010

Welcome back to

food Cinema; we reserve the right. If you are looking for the internet’s premier bad movie column, you’ve been poorly directed. But if you are looking for a bad movie column that poses just as much threat to your waistline as it does to your intelligence and sense of decency, welcome! Each week I lovingly roast an especially juicy turkey before then basting it with praise that is arguably completely undue. In accordance with my long-standing feud with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, they know what they did, I will then pair the film with a delectable, if barely edible, snack food item.

This week’s snack: Savage Streets.

Savage Streets is the story of two sisters: Brenda and Heather. Brenda is a street-wise punk and the only thing she cares about more than breaking rules is her little sister. Heather is deaf and far more on the innocent side than her wild older sister. One night, a group of undesirables comes a little too close to hitting Heather with their car and Brenda decides to pay them back by stealing that car and defacing it. In retaliation the gang tracks down Heather and savagely rapes and beats her. Brenda is disturbed beyond all consolation, but when her best friend Francine is then murdered by the same gang, Brenda decides to even the score with bloody tenacity.

What Makes It Bad?

Savage Streets is many things, but what strikes me most about the film is that it is a celebration of inappropriate responses. You know how sometimes you’re crossing a busy street downtown and some jerk taking the turn too fast gets too close for comfort? You know how you then steal his car and cover it with garbage? No. Or how about when you walk outside and someone’s stolen your car and you find it later parked down the street covered in garbage. Is your first instinct to rape a deaf girl and beat her near to death? Not likely. Perhaps you are involved in a bar fight, that you totally started, and your face gets a little scratched. Is the natural recourse to throw a pregnant woman off an overpass?

An argument could be made that the violence is part and parcel with the intended message of the savagery of modern urban existence, hence the title, but everyone else in this town seems to exist in a happy little bubble far removed from Rapemurderville, U.S.A where Brenda lives.

Most likely a residual of the first problem, Savage Streets is tonally bipolar. Sometimes you don’t need to be told that a director had to be replaced at the last minute because it is painfully evident by the whiplash-like experience of actually watching the film. This thing is all over the place. Scenes of extreme violence are followed in immediate succession by teen sex romp fodder and dance sequences. It ends up hurting the film especially when, for reasons of bad editing or simply poor story cohesiveness, Brenda’s friends seem more upset by her fight with the bitchy cheerleader in science class than the fact that HER LITTLE SISTER WAS RAPED! And that’s another thing, the rape scene is really vile and hard-to-watch (as it should be), but then the film displays a similarly misogynistic devalue of women with superfluous shower scenes and a lighthearted scene of a freshly de-shirted girl being passed around a circle as she tries to flee the class room.

It’s actually those classroom scenes that suck the life out of the film for a goodly chunk. If this film were a Macy’s parade balloon, the scenes taking place in the classroom would be a giant box of hat pins being unceremoniously tossed about inside. Watching a goombah high school student rap about punk rock and fellatio while his teacher at first encourages him and then inexplicably punishes him for it is about as entertaining as watching syndicated Weather Channel reports. What WAS the accumulated snowfall in Kalamazoo in February of 1994? And oh look, someone drew a penis on the reproductive chart in bio class isn’t that funny? Again, a girl HAS just been raped. And girl standing next to the boom box, you look like a moron…please stop.

I usually turn a blind eye to bad production design in bad films, especially in 80s movies, but there is something so incredible about Savage Street’s failure in this particular facet of filmmaking. Right after Heather is attacked she is taken, naturally, to a hospital. Now clearly the studio would not pay to shoot at an actual hospital, but figured no one would be able to tell in the interiors; leaving only one pesky establishing shot to deal with. Therefore the obvious solution was to, on what is clearly a warehouse, have the director’s nephew take time away from his busy Galaga-playing schedule to build a rectangular sign to hang on the outside of said warehouse fooling the audience into believing that it is in fact a hospital. And how could you not be fooled with such a legitimate, not-fake-at-all, name plastered on the side of the building: Doctor’s Hospital. Yup, you can find it on the same street as Cooks Restaurant and Poop-sweepers Zoo. And you can fill that “night club” with as much neon and rented outdoor wedding furniture as you like, it’s still clearly a garage. Wait, that neon sign clearly spells out “Rock and Roll.” Well now I’m perplexed again.

Why I Love It!

Some pieces of casting are just too ill-advised to go uncelebrated. Linda Blair’s laughable punk princess is about as tough as the Snuggle detergent bear riding a unicorn who has magically replaced its horn with a rolled up Slanket. First of all, I am fairly certain that Linda Blair suffers from a rare form of progeria that caused her to go from age 14 to perpetually 35. Not that she’s unattractive, in fact she boasts some of cinema’s most perfect breasts. But her mom perm, cutiepie cheeks, and horrendous fighting style greatly detract from her badass persona. But it is hilariously entertaining for all the wrong reasons to watch her roll around on the floor with another girl without throwing a single punch or chase another girl around a shower…just like Bruce Lee never did. But when she turns on the vengeful bitch, before she absurdly abandons it (again, uneven as all get out), it is fantastic.

There are some stellar supporting performances in Savage Streets. The first is cult movie eye candy Linnea Quigley as little sister Heather. Despite the fact that it is nearly impossible to see the endlessly nude goth chick from Return of the Living Dead in her, she plays the younger sister with such sincere innocence and a sweetness uncharacteristic of this film that her eventual violation feels even more wretched. Her silent screams are agonizing. Without speaking a single word, she is the most likable character in the film; impressive. I also loved John Vernon as the hard-as-diamond-nails school principal. Normally, this phenomenal character actor plays the uptight asshole adult everybody hates but in Savage Streets, he is the uptight asshole adult that calls the bully a “faggot” and tells him to “fuck an iceberg.” Ballsy!

For the few fleeting moments wherein we get to see some actual revenge, it’s pretty awesome. The soundtrack becomes instantly amazing as Brenda suits up for her showdown. “Justice for one! Justice for all!” Linda Blair rigs traps, employs surround sound misdirection, and becomes adept at the crossbow surprisingly quickly. Her lack of hesitation with the first bully she dispatches is great, especially when we are forced to listen to the schmuck rail about how he is going to rape her when he finds her. When the second goon turns up with multiple bear traps attached to his corpse, I had to cheer. But the best is saved for the leader of the gang, the reptilian Vince, who gets arrows in both legs, stabbed, and then set ablaze; sweet!

Junkfood Pairing: Salami

I have to admit my ignorance here. I had no idea of the crippling food shortage that evidently swept major cities in 1984. But the problem becomes impossible to ignore when one of the hoods in the film begins screaming at Linda Blair over and over about how they are going to play “hide the salami” when he finds her. Who knew things were so bad that at one point meat products had to be horded lest they be plundered by food pirates? So, in appreciation of our living in more plentiful times, enjoy an entire salami while you watch Savage Streets. I promise you will only marginally regret it.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.