Color, 1987, 93 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Jeff Hathcock
Starring Tommy Kirk, Lawrence Scott, Susanne Smith, Larry Thomas, Guy Ecker, Simon Di Soro,
Culture Shock Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
A year after pulverizing unsuspecting video renters' brains with Night Ripper!, director Jeff Hathcock and actor Larry Thomas (the future Soup Nazi from Seinfeld) returned to L.A. shot-on-video slasher territory with Streets of Death, a combination of police procedural and scuzzy serial killer sleaze. In other words, we're back in typical Hathcock territory. This time he even gets a star in top-billed Tommy Kirk, who really just gets a glorified cameo here a long way from his glory days as a Disney kid (Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog), an AIP beach movie regular, and leading man for Bert I. Gordon and Larry Buchanan. Mostly he gets to wrinkle up his nose and yell here as a retired divorced cop, but it's truly surreal seeing him in a project like this even for a few scenes. Again this one has been given the super deluxe Blu-ray treatment from Vinegar Syndrome partner label Culture Shock Releasing including a limited 2,000-unit slipcover edition, a long way from its marginal days as a fleeting VHS release.
Low-grade synthesizer music and a pair of killers are hounding the prostitutes of Los Angeles, offering up $500 to spirit them away in a van so they can be killed on camera for snuff movies inside a warehouse. Six bodies have turned up in disreputable parts of town, with methods including strangulation, stabbing, and even a power drill. Lieutenant Navarre (de Soto) is in a foul mood about the whole thing, especially when city hall allows two preppy college students to shoot a documentary about hookers in the same stomping grounds. Heavily accented vice cop Kelly Anderson (Smith) is brought in to go undercover with a wire and gets teamed up with single cop Detective Jordan (Scott). She starts scoping out clients in front of a House of Bibles and wears a headband, but that's nothing compared to the spectacle of her in gold lamé chasing a geriatric naked john down the street. The actual identity of the guilty party gets revealed a third of the way in and shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but let's not ruin it anyway just in case.
Crammed with bizarre potty-mouthed dialogue and some very un-P.C. touches that were unnecessary even by '87s standards, Streets of Death is quite the viewing experience. The actual nudity and violence quotient is smaller than you'd think, but it's soaked in that grimy atmosphere and wonky pacing unique to these '80s SOV crime horror movies. The acting is as stilted as ever (and the live sound is filled with aircraft passing overheard), which is either a plus or a minus depending on your disposition. This one absolutely sticks the landing in terms of sheer insanity as well with a riotous wrap-up that ensures you'll never look at a Sony logo the same way again.
The Culture Shock release is obviously constrained by the original SD source material but looks fine for what it is, without any significant compression issues. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also sturdy. A new commentary by the crew at the Movie Melt! Grindhouse and Exploitation Podcast mostly follows the same template as their earlier track wreck of a track for Night Ripper!, though this time they get a reasonable amount of info and observations in there about Hathcock, Kirk, etc. in between the giggling, sound bites, and bad jokes, so it's a step up. "Director of Death" (20m21s) is a new video interview with Hathcock talking about his "straight shooter" lifestyle compared to his sordid subject matter and various anecdotes from the shoot like his big star wanting to watch Lawrence of Arabia at his place after barfing on his bedsheets, as well as his desire to work with Thomas again and the "subtly visualized" (ha) implication that two characters are gay. Next up is an interview with Thomas (14m46s) about how he learned to modulate his performance for his second go-round with Hathcock, didn't have to audition this time, and got to play around with the double team aspect of his character while doing double duty like everyone else on the set. Finally an interview with cinematographer Michael N. J. Wright, "Shots of Death" (12m16s), covers his recent graduation from the American Film Institute when he made this, his thoughts on the slasher content, and the perils of working with tungsten lights. A 1m40s production gallery is also included, plus bonus trailers for Death Collector, Girlfriend from Hell, Slashdance, and Video Murders.
Reviewed on September 30, 2022