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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vice Squad (1982)

Chicago born Gary Sherman is an underrated man in my book; he’s produced more than his fair share of certified classics and remains somewhat unsung. His debut was one of British horror cinema’s greatest films of the 70’s, the Donald Pleasance staring shocker Death Line (or Raw Meat as it was renamed in the US), is as original as it is brutal. Pre-dating Chris Smith’s 2004 sophomore effort, Creep, by some 30 years, the films tells the story of Cannibals roaming the London underground. It’s a British horror classic that deserves space on any self-respecting horror fans shelf, as does his next foray...

Dead & Buried is not shy of infamy here in the Britain, after managing to land it self on the Director of Public Prosecutions list of ‘Video Nasties’ during the 80’s. Whether or not it deserved to be on that list is up to the viewer, I’m of the opinion it didn’t. It’s a confidently made piece with a true air of unsettling dread that deserved to be on top 10 horror movies of the decade and not one of the 39 titles deemed obscene and corruptive to the British public; along with schlocky titles such as Mardi Gras Massacre, Unhinged and Snuff which when compared, in terms of quality and overall goodness with Dead and Buried really does makes ones head ache. But I digress.

His third film was the lesser known, Vice Squad, a sleazy little number that focuses around the pimps, hoes, john’s and police who try in vain to maintain order in the shady areas of downtown Los Angeles. Princess is a struggling mother who has turned to prostitution in order to support her child once her business career comes to an abrupt end. Ramrod is a brutal pimp who is responsible for the death of a young hooker and detective Tom Walsh wants him behind bars and is willing to go to any length to accomplish this.

After busting Princess on an undercover sting he uses her as bait to get Ramrod, who is less than happy at being set-up and makes it his mission to exterminate the deceitful little hooker. Busting out of the cop car, he escapes and makes it his goal to snuff out the floozy that turned coat on him; it’s a race against time for Walsh and his people as they all attempt to hunt down Princess before Ramrod gets his grubby, but trusted, little coat hanger on/in her and ruins her already pretty shitty night.

Vice Squad remains something of an undiscovered gem, considering it’s made from a respected director, with the majority of his filmography available on DVD here in the UK, it’s saddening that this is the only early title yet to be made available to us; as it’s a hoot from start to finish. Wings Hauser, who plays the psychopathic Ramrod with a balls-to-the-wall performance, is one of 80’s cinemas undiscovered super-villains. His dedication to get what he wants is only matched by his need to brutalise women, and his dumb-as-a-hammer cowboy persona soon turns to unrelenting psychotic with terrifying glee.

Kurt Russell’s ex-squeeze Season Hubley does what’s required of her but she’s upstaged at every point by both Hauser and Gary Swanson, who plays Walsh, bringing an air of cool to his performance that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Paul Newman performance; though he too weans when sharing a scene with the mighty Hauser. Along with some top performances, Vice Squad also sports some great location shots; the neon strip of L.A. really gets it praise sung here. It’s as seedy and frightening as it is intriguing to watch, as people of the night stalk each corner and john’s approach pro’s for a list of shameless sex acts, from water sports to er… necrophilia.

Sherman handles the material with maturity and never exploits the situations that arise throughout the script, he also demonstrates a great knack for action set-pieces here, which would come in handy when he followed up Vice Squad with the 1987 Rutger Hauer shoot ‘em up Wanted: Dead or Alive. The fluidity of Vice Squad shows Sherman was well on his way to mastering the craft, which would then peek with his big studio horror outing, Poltergeist III, which remains as under-appreciated today as it was in 1988.

Years of slipping under the radar have obviously taken its toll on Sherman as since 1990 he’s made only 2 theatrical features, the obscure schoolgirls-in-peril movie Lisa and more recently, 2006’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane which sees Sherman departing from genre filmmaking and branching into experimental media. He spent the majority of the 90’s working in television making movies and producing such Cult classic television shows as Poltergeist: The Legacy.
He’s now a full-time lecturer of Directing & Producing at Columbia University. He’s an unsung hero of the horror genre who deserves more acclaim than he has thus far, luckily with saturated DVD companies being forced to hunt down new material, maybe we’ll see this on British shores one day soon? Here’s hoping Sherman is given the chance to speak on his career and tell us his feelings on his time as a genre filmmaker. Do yourselves a favour and check out this mans great additions to the genre cinema, if you haven’t already began doing so.

Gary Sherman on DVD:
Death Line
Dead & Buried
Vice Squad
Wanted: Dead or Alive
Poltergeist III

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