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Category:    Home > Reviews > Police Drama > Urban > Vice Squad (1982)

Vice Squad (1982)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B-



Ah, the early 1980s. Those last carefree years before political correctness took over and ruined the culture.  Vice Squad is an example of the kind of film made back when cops could still be heroes, pimps could still be vicious villains and women could still be realistically portrayed as victims before they became acrobatic lethal weapons tougher than any man.  Those were the days.


The second of three guilty pleasures directed by Gary A. Sherman in the '80s, in between his Dead & Buried (1981) and Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987), Vice Squad (1982) is a gritty expose of hookers, pimps and cops on the Hollywood Sunset Strip that was considered quite brutal in its day.


Ramrod (Wings Hauser) is a psychopathic pimp dressed in cowboy duds who beats one of his hookers to death early in the film.  Nina Blackwood plays the murdered hooker, named Ginger, just prior to her becoming one of the original VJs on MTV.


Princess (Season Hubley, then married to Kurt Russell) is a street hooker with a little girl who operates independently.  After Ginger's murder, a vice-squad cop named Walsh (Gary Swanson) recruits a reluctant Princess to set up the dangerous Ramrod.  The bust goes as planned, but when Ramrod quickly escapes custody, Walsh and the vice squad are forced to launch a night-long search through the seedy side of L.A. trying to find Princess or Ramrod before Ramrod finds and kills Princess.


Vice Squad is a lurid, but never less than watchable thriller dominated by Hauser's intense performance as the wide-eyed, misogynistic Ramrod, a truly heinous villain.  But it's also somewhat of a crazy movie.  In what other film can you see Nina Blackwood and What Happening's Fred "Rerun" Berry (cast as a pimp) get brutalized, an elderly Asian kung-fu expert beat up two cops and hear Wings Hauser sing a title song called Neon Slime?


Released theatrically by the now-defunct-but-great Avco Embassy, Vice Squad is the latest good B title picked up for DVD by Anchor Bay, which continues to be the most interesting of home-entertainment companies.  And as usual with Anchor Bay, the low-budget Vice Squad gets the kind of thoughtful treatment plenty of bigger-budget, A-list movies deserve, but seldom get due to the laziness and complacency of major companies.


The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (enhanced for 16x9 TVs) is a decent one with some grain visible from time to time, and a few lines of dialogue (recorded Dolby Digital Mono) are hard to decipher, but may have been difficult to hear in the first place due to too much background noise on the original soundtrack.  But it's in the extras department where Anchor Bay once again delivers.  There's an informative feature-length audio commentary with director Sherman, who continually praises John Alcott's cinematography, but overstates the film's historical importance.  Alcott shot some of Stanley Kubrick’s films, so that could be part of it.  But Sherman’s claim the movie’s unflinching realism of the streets was the first of its kind is a ridiculous statement since the gritty police drama Fort Apache, the Bronx (also photographed by Alcott) came out just a year before.  The original theatrical trailer, radio spots and a gallery of posters and stills are also included.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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