Saturday Night Shocker ’82

I saw VICE SQUAD three times in the theatre, sleazy catnip to these young eyes, and I clearly wasn’t the only one as it turned out to be an exploitation hit for the late lamented Embassy Pictures. Written and directed by Gary Sherman, who made the unique, superior RAW MEAT (1972) about a cannibal dweller in London’s subway system (and features one of the best tracking shots in cinema history), VICE SQUAD tells the archetypal story of a night in the day of a Hollywood prostitute pursued by a killer pimp leaving a trail of death and mutilation in his wake. This sordid tale captured the imagination of a generation of grindhouse and HBO moviegoers for a few obvious reasons, one being Sherman’s smooth, fast-paced direction; another being the visceral, voyeuristic sense of West Coast grime, when Hollywood Boulevard was the 42nd St of Los Angeles (and has undergone a similar family gentrification), a series of ugly, bizarre and disturbing reality snapshots. No wonder since the masterful John Alcott was the cinematographer, going from BARRY LYNDON to TERROR TRAIN within the span of a decade. Of course, the major reason for the film’s success is Wings Hauser’s iconic, unhinged performance as one of the screen’s most evil pimps, the aptly named, “Ramrod.” Nobody who saw VICE SQUAD has forgotten this scary visage of cruelty in cowboy garb, beating, whipping and slicing his way along the star-embedded streets. Season Hubley, a tough, sexy actress seen earlier in ex-husband Kurt Russell’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, is his target, “Princess,” who you want to help flee the mean streets of Hollywood. Gary Swanson plays the good cop in hot pursuit who also says the line, “Go ahead…make my day” a year before whathisface. There’s also a host of eclectic supporting actors, including Nena Blackwood pre-MTV VJ fame and poor Fred Berry from WHAT’S HAPPENING, who gets castrated. VICE SQUAD is a definite totem of the 1980’s, with synth, rouge and neon galore; Sherman keeps the reels rolling with a nasty camera eye and a strong kinetic vibe. It’s a tough film to watch and even now, I don’t need to viddy poor Hubley being brutalized with a wire hangar (Roger Ebert and critics had unkind words for VICE SQUAD) — if there was ever a film that made you want to take a purifying shower afterwards, this would be one. Yet Ramrod’s comeuppance is so totally deserved and satisfying that it’s worth the grim ride. And Hauser is one of the era’s unheralded film villains, especially in the timing and delivery of his best line, “I cannot believe how stupid you are.” The dude even wails the theme song, “Neon Slime” (!). Gary Sherman would next helm POLTERGEIST III in another odd step from this stylish, unpredictable director, but VICE SQUAD stands out as his bleak 80’s testament. Scorcese said it should have been nominated for Best Picture. Cut to a century later where I find myself strolling by night the same Hollywood Boulevard of broken dreams — minus that once-steady flow of freaks, prostitutes and hopefully, Ramrods…

7 Responses to “Saturday Night Shocker ’82”

  1. Good spotlight on this one, christian. It is everything you say it is, that’s for sure.

    “Wing Hauser’s iconic, unhinged performance as one of the screen’s most evil pimps”

    How very true. When I think of these type of quintessential nutjob roles, it’s Andrew Robinson as the Scorpio Killer from DIRTY HARRY for the 70s and Wings here for the 80s. Like it did for AR, it probably pigeon-holed Hauser for sometime afterward.

    Nailed it. Thanks.

    • christian Says:

      Thanks. And Hauser did have a run as a film baddie. I always kept a lookout for him because of this one. I really like his son Cole too.

      Re: Andy Robinson typecasting, I think of David Patrick Kelly until he played a less vicious oddball on TWIN PEAKS…

  2. “Vice Squad” was one of many previously unknown horror/crime films I discovered quite by accident in the VHS ’80s (“Maniac” & “The Evil Dead” being others of notable mention) that seared each depraved frame of film deep in my brain. The coat hanger wielding “Ramrod” is indeed a villain for the ages, a character you stick around to the end of the picture to make sure is vanquished by the end. Great choice, Christian!

    • christian Says:

      VICE SQUAD is a definite hallmark of the VHS age. I saw MANIAC and EVIL DEAD on tape as well. EVIL DEAD was one of the great movie watching experiences of my youth. I was on my feet stomping and hooting with my sister.

      • Yeah, “Evil Dead” came out of absolutely nowhere to become one of my all-time favorite viewing experiences. Several of us sat down to watch it (& a stack of other VHS horrors) one night. I remember we almost gave up on “Evil Dead” and then the card scene happened and, well, the rest is history. Many great memories & surprises found in those late night viewings.

  3. I caught this film on IFC (before they started inserting commercials during their films) and was shaken and riveting by this film. Always been a fan of Wings Hauser but had not seen this one was truly horrified every time he was on screen because I didn’t know what he was going to do next and that is so unique in this cynical and jaded day and age. What a snapshot of its times! Yikes. I’m glad I saw it but really have no desire to see it again after taking several Silkwood showers after watching. Whew.

    I had forgotten Cole was Wings’ son. Man, was he good in PITCH BLACK and even generic fare like THE CAVE. Shame he seems to be typecast but hey, it’s good work if you can get it, I suppose.

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