Danny Steinmann never made particularly pleasant pictures.
High Rise, the hardcore porno he partially self-financed before making the jump to traditional features, is probably the most upbeat entry into his short, sordid filmography. At least in that slice of smut the stars (which include XXX legends Harry Reems and Jamie Gillis) are consensually fucking one another instead raping and murdering everyone else on screen. Steinmann’s first horror movie, The Unseen (which Phil wrote quite the love letter to a while back), is a sleazy Hitchcock riff that finds a cellar dweller mutilating an all-female news crew inside of a Victorian farmhouse. The twist contained in that movie’s finale is so unapologetically offensive it could actually cause the viewer to forget how impressively crafted the first seventy minutes are. The writer/director’s most notorious output is the fifth installment in the Friday the 13th franchise – A New Beginning. Not only does that pile of slasher hatred deny the audience their true iconic monster (spoiler, I guess), it also serves up a bevy of unbearable misfits for the imposter’s machete to slice and dice.
Yet none of Steinmann’s cinematic efforts are as mean spirited and straight up revolting as Savage Streets, the ‘84 Linda Blair-starring piece of punk rape/revenge depravity. Trigger warnings out the wazoo, as Steinmann creates a battle of the sexes that’s drenched in pure skeez, slinging sexual violence, homophobic slurs and roaring buzzsaw riffs at the audience without a whit of concern for their well-being. In this sweaty, smelly alternate timeline, rebel youth gangs have seemingly overrun Hollywood. Our heroine, Brenda (Blair), leads a group of sassy sisters (nicknamed The Satins) who pit fight cheerleaders in the high school showers during P.E. before antagonizing convertible-driving nihilists, The Scars, by night. After trashing the miscreants’ ride (they fill it with trash and then naturally go grab ice cream), The Scars retaliate the only way they know how: by gang-raping Brenda’s deaf mute sister (scream queen Linnea Quigley) in the gymnasium. It’s as awful and gut wrenching as it sounds, Quigley’s silent scream reaching the rafters as the boys hold her down so each can take a turn.
Savage Streets ostensibly takes place right down the block from its Canadian cousin, Class of 1984, as both films create a universe so filthy that showering after won’t do you any good (in fact, you should probably get checked for hepatitis once the end credits roll). Like that maple syrup slime factory, the high school Brenda and the rest of the Satins inhabit is governed by an equally ineffectual principal – this time played by John Vernon (who must’ve been demoted from Dean after the Deltas were done with him), whose main defense against the thugs running his halls is to call them “faggots” and tell them to “go fuck an iceberg”. Steinmann (along with co-screenwriter Norman Yonemoto) doesn’t even bother with trying to humanize the Scars (so don’t expect any impromptu piano sonatas revealing their untapped potential), rendering them nothing more than throaty rage mongers who deal coke and violation in equal measure. They’re a bunch of jabronis with Damned patches on their jackets, led by screaming madman, Jake (Robert Dryer), who at one point tosses a pregnant girl off of an overpass like a pro wrestler would an opponent over the top rope. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so brazenly grotesque.
Originally set to be helmed by former gay porn auteur Tom DeSimone, Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie was cast to play the part of Brenda, but dropped out mere days before production commenced. DeSimone quickly followed, and Steinmann was brought in as a last minute replacement. However, none of these ten to midnight behind the scenes shifts can be felt in the final product, as Savage Streets carries a leering, licentious air about itself, the camera gawking at the soft flesh of the female gang members. The slight elegance of The Unseen is nowhere to be found, as the director piles one skin-crawling moment on top of the next, all in the service of pushing Brenda to her breaking point. Once she finally does pick up a crossbow and starts hunting the mutants who violated her sister and murdered her soon to be wed best bud, Brenda is a woman without hope, boiled down to nothing more than murderous misandry.
Make no mistake – Savage Streets is an angry motion picture, and will only appeal to those who enjoy unrepentant unpleasantness. Nevertheless, sometimes unpleasantness is okay. Savage Streets is a distinct product of its times, and could never in a million years be attempted today. Steinmann’s punk composition is genuine in its desire to unsettle you, and won’t stop until every single audience member has renounced the act of sitting down with this hyper-violent freak out. It’s a work that feels authentically possessed by perverted madness, owning a jet-black worldview that punishes those who try to revel in its exploitation. In our modern world of corporately sanitized showbiz, Savage Streets offers a reminder that, at one point during film history, you could wander into a flophouse and watch something you more than likely shouldn’t.