Vice Squad (1982)

AUGUST 13, 2019


No, Vice Squad is not a horror film, but with director Gary Sherman's considerable contributions to the genre (Death Line and Dead & Buried chief among them) and the release on the horror-centric Scream Factory label (as opposed to the company's mainstream leaning "Shout Selects" one) I figure you guys will let it slide if I review it here. And in my defense I hadn't seen the movie and for some reason thought it was about a serial killer preying on prostitutes, leaving the police to send one of their own undercover to pose as one. If you know what actual movie I'm talking about, feel free to remind me of its title in the comments!

Anyway it's a pretty solid "all in one night" thriller. A junkie streetwalker named Ginger has held out some of her earnings from her pimp, Ramrod (Wings Hauser), and when he finds out he beats her so hard she ultimately dies from her injuries (he didn't seem to be aiming to kill her, so at least I knew instantly I had the wrong idea of the plot). A cop named Walsh (Gary Swanson) is determined to put Ramrod away, so he blackmails one of Ginger's colleagues, simply known as Princess (Season Hubley) into luring him into a rendezvous while wearing a wire, hoping to get him admitting to being a pimp on tape. And they do! But the cops transferring him to jail are terrible at their jobs and he escapes, so the next hour of the movie is basically Princess shaking off her ordeal with Ramrod by trying to find more normal clients, as Ramrod uses his own network of assholes to find out where she is so he can kill her for revenge.

When the movie sticks to Ramrod and Princess, it works pretty well - it's fun watching Hauser chew the scenery (and he's an equal-opportunity psycho - at one point he cuts a rival pimp's balls off, off-screen), and Hubley has some of that old school Jamie Lee fierceness in some choice moments with Johns (or even Walsh). Alas, Swanson is either not a great actor or his role was simply underwritten, because he's kind of a stiff and spends most of his screentime barking out street locations ("He's on Olympic, passing Crenshaw!" and such). His fellow officers are more fun, especially considering the "all one night" aspect as Ramrod busts one guy's nose during his escape and spends the rest of the movie with those ridiculous/unflattering white bandages over it. They track their own leads and report back to Walsh as he closes in on Ramrod, and their adventures are always more fun than his - it's an odd movie in that the "hero" is the only thing holding it back.

Now, this movie is from 1982, which means younger audiences - especially those who seek Twitter validation but can't bother with context for what they're ranting about - would have a field day with the movie's exploitative and "un-woke" elements. But the ironic thing is the movie is actually fairly low on on-screen violence and contains almost no nudity despite a number of sexual encounters (I think we see Ms. Hubley's bare behind for a second, that might be about it). Ramrod's violent actions are primarily delivered off-screen, allowing us to just see the gruesome aftermath, and even some of Princess' jobs are played for laughs, like the old man who wants her to wear a wedding dress as he lays in a coffin pretending to be dead (when she screams, he cries that she "ruined it" and makes her leave). Still, if you want sanitation across the board and every word and action to reflect the current accepted limits of taste, please don't watch this movie. Again, it's from 1982; no one was making it with 2019's standards in mind.

Speaking of sanitation, for me one of the highlights of the movie was seeing old school Hollywood, where the movie is entirely set (no frequent Valley detours, so eat it Quentin!). There are plenty of old New York movies showing Times Square and the like back before it became a tourist destination, but I rarely come across any that are so Hollywood-centric (usually it's just a few scenes with most of it set downtown or in the valley). It was a real trip seeing Hollywood and Cherokee all grimy and loaded with adult-themed entertainments (plus the very obvious prostitutes), in the same spot where I now often stop for a crepe at the place that has good crepes but few hookers in my experience. Some of those valley locations have barely changed (there's a shot of Burbank in Full Moon High that could be recreated today with only "medium difficulty Photo Hunt level" differences) but nearly every storefront you see here has been replaced by some chain or at least more family-friendly, not to mention the general vibe. Now the only unsavory types you really see there are the scientologists and TMZ tour assholes.

And they're certainly easier to make out on Scream's Blu-ray, which has a pretty great transfer (though as I never saw the movie before I cannot speak to how it stacks up to previous releases). It also comes jam-packed with bonus features, including - natch - a comparison of the shooting locations between then and now, though the video quality of the "now" shots is kind of messed up (it looks like it was transferred at a different frame rate?). It's a silent collection of shots, unlike the ones Sean Clark does for Horror's Hallowed Grounds, so if you want more info about why this or that place has changed so much you won't find it, but it's got pretty much every exterior location in the movie accounted for. The rest of the bonus features are interviews with Sherman, producer Brian Frankish, plus Swanson and several of the other cast members (no Wings or Season though, dammit). The interviews all run around an hour (Sherman's is even longer) and focus on their entire careers, so if you just want Vice Squad info you need to step through a bit (they're all broken into chapters, thankfully), but if you happen to love this or that performer you'll be happy to know that these are not just quick and fluffy pieces and you'll get your money's worth on them alone.

Sherman also has a pair of commentaries; one is from an older release (seemingly a DVD? He says "20 years ago" at one point re: the movie's production which would put it around 2002) and a newer one where he's joined with Frankish. He tells some of the same stories, as you might expect, but if you're a fan I can't imagine you'll have trouble making it through both, especially with Frankish around on the latter (David Gregory moderates him on the former, though he doesn't pipe in as much as some of his contemporaries) to add some of his own insights. Long story short, it'll take you like 10 hours to get through this entire disc, so if you're a completist you best carve out a good chunk of time for it. Now if we could just get Scream Factory to release Sherman's Lisa!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. As an Austinite of some 13 years, I cannot believe I haven't seen this yet. I've had my eye on this Blu since it dropped, but alas, I've been on the Ramen-and-Hot-Dog diet for the last few weeks. But as soon as I get some disposable cash, boom.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget