Monday, January 31, 2011

Vice Squad (Gary Sherman, 1982)

In order to produce a truly effective piece of cinematic sleaze, and I mean one that titillates and nauseates in equal measure, you're gonna need to cast actors with names like, "Season" and "Wings." Otherwise, you're gonna end up flailing helplessly in an unsexy, not-so-seedy stew. Don't ask me why you need to cast them, you just do. Okay, you can ask me. But to tell you truth, I have no idea. It was foolish of me to think that I could use the inordinate quirkiness of the names of the film's two lead actors to sustain the narrative drive of the next five, maybe six, paragraphs worth of overstated nonsense. Anyway, the rain-soaked streets of Hollywood are overflowing with damaged souls living on the edge. How far on the edge are these people? Well, let's just say, all it takes is one false move, and bam! You could find your toes sloshing around inside the well-worn mouth of a John with advanced male pattern baldness in no time. A precursor to film's like, Angel, Avenging Angel, and, I might as well list them all, Angel III: The Final Chapter, except this one's photographed by the great John Alcott (A Clockwork Orange), Gary Sherman's Vice Squad takes place in a gritty, sordid universe where sex is cheap, illegal drugs are plentiful, and wire hangers do more than just keep your clothes from touching the ground. In other words, the story unfolds in the kind of universe that I feel at ease in. Quirky fun-fact: Robert Vincent O'Neill, the writer-director of the first two "Angel" films, co-wrote the script for Vice Squad.

Bursting out of the titty-covered barn like a rabid tapir with things to do, the opening montage is jam-packed with gaudy images that scratched me where I itch from a stylistic point-of-view. (Spotting a woman dressed as Columbia from the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the opening montage was like a lighthouse, signaling to me that it was safe to continue watching.) Establishing its time and place, after hours on Sunset Boulevard (a.k.a. The Sunset Strip), the film shows a series of street level vignettes depicting a society drowning in a lukewarm, parasite-ridden pool of its own filth. Of course, I found the decay to be downright charming. If wearing legwarmers, high heel shoes, short shorts, sequined halter tops, excessive eye makeup, studded dog collars and leaning seductively into the passenger side windows of parked cars is against the law, then arrest me at once, because I'm guilty on all counts.

It's not the clothes, the makeup, or the leaning that's unlawful, although you'd think it was judging by the way the some of the authorities behave. No, it's what happens after the skimpily attired citizens get in the vehicles they were leaning on that has everyone's panties embarking on one pickle of a misadventure. You see, there's a certain segment of the population that need to expel seminal fluid in the presence of another human being, and that's where the sex trade worker comes in.

Helping people make a teary-eyed mess since the beginning of time, the sex trade worker induces this mess via a series of physical tasks. Some are completed through external means (the human hand is a gifted mimic), while others are achieved by employing more orifice-based methods. If you carefully examine your body in the mirror, you'll notice that it is covered with these hollowed out passage ways that resemble caves. Well, some people like to insert certain items into them over and over again until a mess is made.

Now you'd think a person, at least in today's lollipop and fishstick bountiful world, would be able to hold sway over the entrances of their respective nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, there are middlemen out there who want to oversee your many holes. You might have heard of them, they're called "pimps," and in Vice Squad, a sex trade worker named Princess (Season Hubley) has to deal with a pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser). All Princess wants to do is make some extra cash renting out her vagina (one of her most popular passage ways) to strangers, so that she can take care of her young daughter, and, of course, get to a point in her life where she can wear pink blazers in the suburbs with a modicum of comfort.

Coerced into participating in a dangerous sting operation by a jaded vice cop named Walsh (Gary Swanson), Princess, employing a purple dress you know is covering up a complex array of frilly and smooth delights, lures Ramrod, who, judging by the walls of his high class apartment, is a big fan of Elvis Presley, into a simple trap. The gruff cop wants to nail Ramrod, because that's his job, man. On the other hand, Princess wants to avenge Ginger (Nina Blackwood), a naive peer with terrible taste in pimps (though, to be fair, it didn't sound like she had much choice in the matter).

Well, the ambush goes off without a hitch. Okay, sure, Ramrod ends up using Princess's head as a weapon, but it eventually works out. Roll credits, right? Uh-uh, Ramrod ain't going down without an overdrawn, turquoise cowboy shirt endangering fight. Escaping custody with an alarming ease, Ramrod vows to get revenge on Princess. Blissfully unaware of Ramrod's new-found freedom, Princess inhales a hot dog and goes about her tarty business, which includes fornicating with amputees, performing unclean toe-play with a demure foot fetishist, giving golden showers, attending mock funerals for elderly perverts while wearing a sex shop quality wedding dress (I loved Michael Ensign as the elderly perv's chauffeur), and having lifeless missionary sex with churlish conventioneers.

Feeling somewhat guilty over the fact that he bungled the arrest of Ramrod, Walsh is so determined to stop the sadistic pimp from harming Princess, that he has the entirety of his modestly sized, racially diverse unit working on the case, which include cops with names like, Pete (Pepe Serna, a.k.a. Reno Nevada from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the Eighth Dimension), Edwards (Maurice Emanuel), Kowalski (Joseph Di Giroloma) and Louise (Beverly Todd).

Never has a turquoise cowboy shirt seemed so menacing as it does on the back of Wings Hauser as the reprehensible Ramrod, the strip's most dangerous pimp. Every scene, whether he's inquiring about the location of an elusive pimp (Fred Barry) or purchasing black market firearms from overly tattooed miscreants (Richard Wetzel), seems to end with him sticking a gun, a knife, or his meaty paws in someone's face. I think it's safe to say that Wings has created one of the most loathsome characters, pimp or otherwise, ever to sully the silver screen.

While all his pimp peers appear comical, almost buffoonish at times, Wings gives his pimp an aura that is pure evil. A refreshing change from what usually passes as pimp behaviour in most mainstream movies. Oh, and I nearly lost it when I found out that Wings also sings the Vice Squad theme song, "Neon Slime." A raucous ditty with some choice lyrics: "Bang! Bang! Shoot 'em up, talkin' about crime! Somebody just bought it in a neon slime!"

Determined to control the spiritual trajectory of every cock and pussy on the planet, I was fascinated by the way Ramrod used vaginal mutilation and scrotal mismanagement to intimidate those who stood in his way. Destroying the genitals he can't have, Ramrod's rein of crotch-based terror must have been long and bloody (I'd say, judging by his track record in this film, he must ruin at least three reproductive organs a night.) Utilizing a switchblade to dethrone gonads of every colour and size imaginable from the relative safety of their fleshy perches and a so-called "pimp stick" to wreak havoc on uterine walls across the Los Angeles Basin, you have to admire the brutal whoremonger's monomaniacal approach to the vile art that is pimping.

Naturalistic, unglamourous, yet never unsophisticated, sleek and sexy, Season Hubley (Hardcore) gives an electrifying performance as the purposeful Princess, a woman so tough, that she's back on the street selling her body mere seconds after being tossed around a pimp's apartment like a rag doll. Sporting short hair (practical and fashion forward simultaneously) and glittery eye makeup, Season has a weariness in her face that most on-screen sex trade workers seem to lack.

The manner in which Season Hubley transformed herself from suburban mom to shrewd streetwalker was a wonder to behold. One moment she's tearfully saying goodbye to her young daughter, the next she's telling a pimp getting his shoes shined outside a bus terminal to basically go fuck himself. You can even see the transformation in the way she walks, as her hips begin to sway more prominently the second her feet hit the street.

The terrifically named Sudana Bobatoon, who plays Dixie, a feather-haired gal who is prone to snitching, Lydia Lei, who shows up as Coco, a side-ponytailed delight in pink trousers, and Kelly Piper makes the scene as Blue Chip, a tough as tent spikes chick in electric blue trousers, all sparkle with purpose as Princess's hooker pals.

Don't avert your gaze for a second or else you'll miss Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith (The Pom Pom Girls) as "White Prostitute," who utters the line, "Whores give it away, stupid," in response to a cop's query about the difference between whores and prostitutes (the way her right eye twitches ever so slightly when she says "stupid" was außergewöhnlich), and the gorgeous, Traci Lords-esque Stacy Everly as "Teenage Prostitute," who gives a haunting performance as a visibly distraught junkie handcuffed to a bench. Actually, you can avert your gaze all you want during the latter's scenes, as she appears twice and spews a respectable chunk of dialogue.

I don't know about anyone else, but I felt this weird sense of concern for the structural integrity of Season's black silk stockings as Vice Squad slithered along. In fact, there were times when I could think about nothing but her stockings. Unconvinced? Well, think about all the stress and turmoil your average prostitute must endure on any given night. Pretty unpleasant, right? Now think about what their clothes must go through. I know, horrifying, ain't it? Every time Princess came in contact with Ramrod, I would get this uneasy feeling, not because he was probably going to make her eat his switchblade, but because he was going to ruin her outfit. Crazy, I know, but that's what happens to a person when they spend way too much time wallowing in the neon slime.


video uploaded by ActionPackedCinema

Special thanks to Jerry over at The Dead Eye Delirium for introducing me to this illuminating slab of unsavoury cinema.
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14 comments:

  1. The greatest trailer ever made, and the film nearly lives up to it.

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  2. I remember this movie. It's been years since I've seen it, but the name "Ramrod" is still stuck in my head.

    Wings Hauser should be remembered as one of the baddest movie villains of the 1980s. He also played some unsavory characters on TV, if I remember correctly.

    What amazes me is the fact that Nina Blackwell was willing to appear in "Vice Squad", considering that she was already an up - and - coming celebrity, courtesy of MTV. I had a hard time watching her in this film, mainly because she was my favorite "vee - jay" on MTV.

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  3. *Nina Blackwood, that is.

    I think I need to get my head examined. Too many drugs in my past, and not enough brain cells to remember it... Aaargh!!!

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  4. One of my deep and abiding hopes is that someday, somehow, footage of Wings in the studio belting out "Neon Slime" in earnest will be unearthed, garnering legions of unlikely admirers on Youtube.

    I saw this at the drive-in when I was 5 or 6 and he scared the unholy shit out of me (during those years, my mom always seemed to be dating something akin to Ramrod).

    Bravo, Yum! Had I read this first, I'd never have dared attempt it myself. But then, you have that effect on me. When I read your take on "Pinball Summer", I threw my hands up indignantly, knowing damn well there was no topping it.

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  5. @Samuel Wilson: I like how the trailer shows us what happened to Coco during her brief ride with Ramrod.

    @Matt: Being a Canadian person who didn't have access to MTV during the 1980s (or the '90s, for that matter), I didn't know who Nina Blackwood was when I saw her cowering in that dingy motel room in the early going of Vice Squad. I just thought she was another actress adding her two cents to the neon slime.

    @Jerry: I'd watch that footage.

    I'm having a hard time imagining a six year-old watching this flick. No wonder your shit was unholy. ;)

    Thanks, Jerry. I'm glad you liked my take on Pinball Summer. It has slowly become one of my all-time faves.

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  6. Thank you God and Baby Jesus for teaching me how to make a pimpstick.

    Wings is great. This has to be his best role (not saying much but his flicks are always entertaining).

    See also Dale Midkiff's turn as a vile scumbag pimp in STREETWALKIN'. He gives Ramrod a run for his money.

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  7. Season Hubley always plays a prostitute for some reason. She was in an 80's Twilight Zone which was very dull, but it was kinda nice to see her not being abused. Did you see Cheryl "Rainbeux" Smith in Drum? that was just an all around fucked up movie.

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  8. No, I haven't seen "Drum." But I do love the film's tag line: "It scalds. It shocks. It whips. It bleeds. It lusts. It out-Mandingo's Mandingo!"

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  9. I am quite the Wings Hauser fan. He is a suprisingly good actor, and switches gears for exploitation nicely. I believe he has done the theme song warbling for other films as well.

    Nice to see a despicable pimp for a change. Then tend to be over romanticized, despite being mere predatory scum.

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  10. Yeah, I agree. We need to see more despicable pimps and less garishly dressed clowns in movies.

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  11. Great write-up. Wings Hauser was awesome in this.

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  12. Love your Vice Squad review! I posted it on my Season Hubley Facebook Fanpage (Come Back, Season Hubley!)

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  13. I'm having trouble identifying the real name of the fellow who plays the convention goer who buys time with Princess, only to end up robbing her and claiming her to be a "lousy piece of ass." Who is this guy? Credits are difficult to interpret.

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  14. I've haven't watched the film in quite some time. Though, I do recall the scene where Season is stiffed, the actor who played the stiffer, on other hand, isn't coming to me. :(

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