“Too bad you’re not double-jointed…because then you’d be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!” — Brenda (Linda Blair) in Savage Streets (1984)
The year is 1984 and the streets are…savage! As in Savage Streets, a low-budget exploitation film that combines high school melodrama with vigilante justice.
Savage Streets tells the story of big-haired Brenda (played by Linda Blair of Exorcist fame), a tough high school senior who attends one of the most graffiti-covered schools in America. Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of bad high schools in a lot of not-so-good movies since I started this Back To School series but it’s hard to think of any of them that look quite as bad as the high school in Savage Streets. The halls are dirty. A fight breaks out every few seconds. Students sit in class and light up cigarettes. Can anyone be surprised that Principal Underwood (John Vernon) spends all of his time wandering the hallways and growling out lines like, “Go fuck an iceberg!” When he and Brenda have a confrontation in his office, Principal Underwood smirks and says, “You’re a tough little bitch, aren’t you?”
What’s truly sad is that, as bad as Underwood is, he’s still nicer than just about every other man in the movie.
Brenda has a lot to deal with. For one thing, it appears that she’s only enrolled in three classes. The first class is a gym class where apparently, the teacher has just written down “Aerobics” on every page of her lesson plan. While Brenda and her friends work out, local dumb jock Wes (Brian Mann) shows up to stare at her. When Wes’s girlfriend, Cindy (Rebecca Perle), confronts Brenda in the changing room after class, Brenda replies, “I wouldn’t fuck him if he had the last dick on Earth.” Cindy responds by going, “AAAAAAAAAAGHHHHH!” and then attacking her. Brenda’s other class appears to be a science class of some sort. It turns out that Cindy’s in that class, too. So, once again, it’s time for another fight…
If you’re getting the feeling that everybody at this school has nothing better to do than fight — well, you’re right.
Brenda has other problems as well. Brenda’s younger sister (future horror mainstay Linnea Quigley, giving the closest thing to a truly good performance to be found in this particular film) is a deaf mute and Brenda’s best friend is pregnant and getting married. When a really pathetic gang of losers known as the Scars assault her sister and kill her best friend, Brenda responds by dressing up in black leather, grabbing a crossbow, and giving the Scars some real scars to worry about…
Savage Streets is one of those films about people with ugly thoughts doing ugly things in largely ugly settings. In many ways, it’s a surprisingly mean-spirited film and not one that I would suggest for anyone who is easily offended. (Following his work here, director Danny Stienmann was hired to direct Friday the 13th — A New Beginning, which is perhaps the most unapologetically exploitative of all the Friday the 13th films.) And yet, at the same time, I appreciated the fact that Savage Streets not only featured a woman kicking ass but also doing it without the help of a man. Even better, not only does Brenda not need a man to help her but she doesn’t want one either. Brenda is unique for being totally independent and, whatever else one might say about this frequently messy and amateurish movie, it celebrates that independence.
So, does that make Savage Streets into a secretly subversive feminist film?
But it still makes Savage Streets better than your average vigilante-with-a-crossbow film.