So once again we have survived.

Vice Squad

tn_vicesquadVICE SQUAD is a gritty 1982 movie about some L.A. cops trying to catch a murderous pimp. He’s a redneck pimp named Ramrod, played by the Busey-esque Wings Hauser, who I last saw as the evil sorcerer in BEASTMASTER 2. Hauser also sings a crazy song called “Neon Slime” that’s played over the opening credits and is so interesting it does an encore during the end credits so you can re-examine it. It takes two listens to really get it, I think.

Ramrod drives a Bronco, dresses kinda like Cowboy Curtis and has a gigantic photo of Elvis in his apartment. This guy is a real psycho, he gets rough with women in general and beats his hoes especially. One of them he beats so bad she dies, but he doesn’t realize it at the time. The Vice Squad, led by Detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson), guilt a hooker friend of the deceased named Princess (Season Hubley) into wearing a wire and helping them bust Ramrod. She’s hesitant but she does it, and it works.

mp_vicesquadBut while they arrest him, when she should be playing dumb like she’s getting arrested too, she gets in Ramrod’s face and reveals what she was doing and that he’s wanted for murder. (all reviews required by trivia law to point out that she says “Make my day!” and this came out before SUDDEN IMPACT.) Wouldn’t be a big deal, except the guy ends up escaping from the patrol car on the way to the station.

By that time Princess is out on the streets again, and cell phones haven’t been invented yet, so the Vice Squad have to track down Ramrod and/or Princess before he finds her first.

Andrew Wright, my favorite critic at the Seattle alternative weekly ‘The Stranger,’ recommended this one to me. He also recommended the Cannon/Michael Dudikoff movie AVENGING FORCE a couple years ago, so I thought this was gonna be another goofy, funny kind of thing, especially since he mentioned the name of the theme song. So I was pleasantly surprised what a gritty and well-made movie it turned out to be.

I didn’t know who director Gary Sherman was, but it turns out I’ve seen his Dan O’Bannon scripted DEAD AND BURIED (don’t remember it too well) and I’ve heard good things about END OF THE LINE (RAW MEAT here in the States). Also I’ve seen the TV movie MYSTERIOUS TWO which was about the Heaven’s Gate cult and made years before they hung up their Nikes. Anyway VICE SQUAD suggests it might be worth checking out his other stuff. Somehow he got Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographist John Alcott, and the camera floats around very confidently, the way I like it. This is the same guy who shot 2001 and now he’s on the streets shooting hookers. But he does it like the guy who shot 2001 would do it.

I don’t know what it was about those first couple years of the ’80s, somehow they were just the best time to capture a creepily sleazy vibe on film. MANIAC, EYES OF A STRANGER, THE HOWLING… maybe this isn’t quite as dark as those, but in my opinion it’s the most true to life prostitution movie of 1982 (besting NIGHT SHIFT and BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS).

I like the OUT FOR JUSTICE type setup – it’s basically this neighborhood, a short amount of time, the asshole is out there somewhere and they gotta get him before he hurts somebody else. And he knows his number is up so he’s fearless.

Okay, so Ramrod isn’t exactly the most realistic pimp I’ve seen in a movie, but at least he’s not glamourized at all, and I haven’t seen too many other movies that show what pimps do with coathangers. These streets are crawling with colorful characters (neon slime?) and you never know what’s gonna happen. Princess has alot of weird johns, most of them seem pretty nice to her, but she still feels degraded by each one. The one that pisses her off the most is the weirdest, a rich guy who has her dress up as a bride and… well, it gets stranger. In fact, I’m positive that if The Beast Master went Through The Portal of Time into this neighborhood with his loincloth, sword, tiger, hawk and ferrets then Princess would take his money and not bat an eye.

The guys Ramrod goes around torturing for information aren’t exactly standard issue either. For example the bald guy with the wraparound eagle-eating-a-snake tattoo covering the entire top of his head with a claw down his cheek and the snake dangling down his neck and chest all the way down to his studded leather S&M nipple holster. I think he’s the inspiration for Joel Schumacher’s 8MM. And the bitch who works the front desk at a hotel has this old Asian boyfriend who I swear could be Mr. Miyagi’s brother. He even does old man karate on the cops.

One of my favorite parts is when Ramrod goes to this guy Roscoe’s garage to get his cuffs sawed off. Roscoe (Stack Pierce, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S 2) is willing to help but clearly despises this motherfucker. When stupid Ramrod is a dick to him and refers to his “black ass” Roscoe immediately lifts the saw up to his neck and lets him know what else he could do with that tool.

The cast full of not-at-all-familiar-faces helps too. When Fred Berry (as “Sugar Pimp”) and Wings Hauser are the biggest names in your cast you know you don’t gotta worry about overexposure. I guess Hubley played Priscilla in ELVIS and shows up somewhere in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but I didn’t recognize her. She actually reminds me most of another John Carpenter collaborator, Jamie Lee Curtis. She kind of resembles her physically and has a similar balance of strength and vulnerability.

I like all the people on the Squad, too. There’s a couple of fuckup guys trying their best but always getting yelled at, a guy with Stevie Wonder Hotter Than July era beaded braids who’s excited to try out the Jamaican accent he’s been working on, and a short-haired black lady who wears kind of a bowler hat. She’s cool enough to hang out with Cleopatra Jones every now and then.

It’s a good, atmospheric thriller with plenty of action – car crashes, shootouts, chases, fights, but all pretty down to earth and brutal. It’s not motorcycles going off jumps (not that I’m against that, obviously). If you’re not sold yet then I have no choice but to bring out the big guns: actual footage. This trailer gives you a good feel for the type of crazy Los Angelistics you’re in for here.

Enjoy!

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 at 12:50 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “Vice Squad”

  1. LMAO when I was a kid I used to confuse Wings Hauser with Gary Busey all the time when I used to see the cover to his movies (a lot of VIDMARK releases I rememeber). I’ve never seen this one but thanks to this review I’m not pretty damn curious about it.

  2. I meant “now” not well “not. Being stoned at 3 in the morning doesn’t yield the most legible posts sometimes.

  3. Just for the sake of clarity, Geoffrey Unsworth was DP on 2001, but I know John Alcott was also involved in the filming. Think he took over at some point or shot additional scenes or something. Can’t remember, to lazy to look it up.

    Hey, Vice Squad kinda reminds me of a great Korean film I saw a couple of years ago called The Chaser, about an ex detective turned pimp who catches this psycho killing all his girls. What gives it a nice twist is that the killer gets caught in the first 30 minutes or so of the film. The rest of the movie is about our hero pimp trying to find the one girl who is still missing (because she’s locked up in the killer’s house) before the killer gets released. Very tense stuff.

  4. Sleazy early 80s: Don’t forget 52 PICKUP and STAR 80.

  5. this is off topic, but I just want to say that I got the Alien blu ray boxset for Christmas and have gotten around to watching it

    so far I’ve watched Alien and Aliens and I have to say, Aliens is so fucking awesome!!! it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it so it was almost like watching a whole new movie

    Avatar is a pretty cool movie, but it aint got nothing on Aliens

  6. The Beast Master was hot. I’d lift his loincloth any day.

  7. I loved th e days when I could go to the video store and get a bunch of Wings Hauser VHS tapes and take them home and burn them onto an 8-hour Wings Hauser VHS tape that I would save to pass onto my children.

    How did Wings Hauser and David Hasslehoff not clash over the filming of BAIL-OUT?

  8. Didn’t Scorsese get into an argument with all the New York film critics for failing to recognize this movie as one of the best of its year? I don’t think he really made a dent but whaddaya gonna do? You’re never gonna change the streets.

  9. Wings Hauser has some great moments in Norman Mailer’s TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE. He gets so upset after seeing his wife (Isabella Rossellini) kissing Ryan O’Neal that he has a stroke, and then bellows “YOU HAVE NO WOOOOMB!” in a weird stroke-victim voice. At least that’s how I remember it; it’s been a while.

  10. I am going to have to add this one to the ever growing list of shit I want to see.

    Knox, THE CHASER is a really great film. Good call.

    Thomas, how do I get my hands on a costume 8 hour Wings Hauser VHS?

  11. I love the fact that Scorsese back then always stood up for badass cinema. Just more reason why he’s the greatest filmmaker alive. He appreciates quality shit all across the board. He doesn’t limit himself to just arty movies and shit.

  12. Vern, in a similar vein, I recommend Abel Ferrera’s FEAR CITY, with Tom Berenger and Billy Dee Williams. If the talent involved doesn’t entice you, maybe these three words will: nunchuck stripper murders.

  13. Early 80s sleaze: motherfuckin CRUISING. Al Pacino really gets into character in that one. “So, uh, you hips or lips?”

    John Alcott famously cinematographicized with & for the greatest filmatist of all time on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON, and THE SHINING. He did some camerawork on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as well. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005633/

    These guys did everything necessary to put the vision in their heads onto film for us to enjoy. They literally invented, changed the game, and borrowed technological innovations from NASA in order to make their films perfect. They were amazing professionals as well as transcendent artists.

    The fact that Vern’s recommendation here now carries as much weight, with me at least, as the presence of Alcott’s name in the credits for VICE SQUAD is a great, um, credit to both. Game recognize game.

  14. Ah, FEAR CITY. Now that there’s a movie that defies one of my basic filmatistic principles by actually not needing more tits to be great.

  15. You actually can’t fit more tits into FEAR CITY unless you sewed some on Billy Dee.

  16. FEAR CITY, only movie to my knowledge which has a martial artist serial killer.

    Surprisingly, Eli Roth hasn’t made a meh, derivative movie off this gimmick yet.

  17. Yeah, CRUISING and FEAR CITY–two more super-sleazy 80s specimens. : ) Sleazy in a good way, of course.

    I’d say THE TERMINATOR also hovers around the borders of 80s ultra-sleaze too. At least the first half, everything in LA and in the police station. I mean, it is just incredible how seedy and nasty the back alleys and flourescent-lit streets look. Then once you get to the police station, I swear, you can smell cigarettes and taste bad coffee.

    Is Wings Hauser the father of Cole Hauser? They certainly look alike.

  18. CRUISING traumatized the shit out of me when I was a teen and saw it. Talk about method acting. Yeah Cole is indeed the seed of Wings.

    THE TERMINATOR’s atmosphere is phenomenal. It’s why it remains my favorite Cameron movie and superior to T2 in damn near everyway. The look and feel of the TEK NOIR club is just awesome.

  19. Good call on this one Vern, the film itself isn’t great but Wings is flat out awesome in it. If you ever do a book on Mega-Acting, he certainly deserves a chapter. Also, Neon Slime is one of the greatest songs EVER.

    RRA: I think the serial killer in 10 to Midnight practiced karate, but I don’t think
    he used his skills to murder his victims.

  20. Bloodmoon (not sure if it’s one word or two) starring Gary Daniels has a martial arts serial killer.

  21. For a good ninja [robot] serial killer premise, I’m still holding my breath for RoboCop 4: Kanemitsu’s Revenge, based of course on this guy:

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/59870/robocop-3-kanemitsus-guy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otX6zo2q4z8

    I hope the prototype & design didn’t vanish forever with the climactic double decapitation & OCP office explosion. (spoiler)

    I bet Hunter D. knows the status of this project.

  22. Mr. Majestyk, thanks for the recommendation on FEAR CITY. It just so happens to be available streaming on Netflix so I know what I will be doing this evening. I am game for anything with boobs and nunchucks in it.

  23. Words to live by, Charles.

  24. Speaking of martial arts serial killers someone needs to make a slasher film where the killer is a ninja who has lost is mind. He could attack from the shadows when you least expect it and at some point there could be a POV nunchuck murder scene from the perspective of the Ninja.

  25. Even better: POV from the perspective of the nunchuck. The camera could be spinning around in a circle and then stop when it connects with its victim. We should call up Scott Spiegel (INTRUDER, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN 2), master of the rotary phone cam and oscillating fan cam. Nunchuck cam would be right up his alley.

  26. Mr. Majestyk, nunchuck cam = money in the bank! Somebody needs to get on this.

  27. Some of the Tech Noir extras are the most memorable in film history. The tall blonde girl with the braid, and the guy in the yin-yang shirt with the leather gloves–if there were Oscars for extras, man….

  28. Eh. Nunchaku cam needs more tits.

  29. Uh, “are AMONG the most memorable in film history”, I meant.

    Somebody should really do a list of films with great extras. Kurosawa always had fantastic crowds of people in the background surging forward and back in perfect timing, for instance.

  30. Mouth, good point. When in doubt more tits.

  31. Love this movie. This was my first encounter with Wings Hauser!

  32. This flick is a favorite of mine. As has already been mentioned, Vice Squad and Fear City are the Citizen Kane and The Godfather of the Neon Slime subgenre, respectively. (The genre’s chief aesthetic requirement, though far from the only, being at least one montage of neon signs that read “Sex” “Nude” or “Girls”). Other notable entries that come to mind include Danny Steinmann’s Savage Streets, Angel, Tightrope, Stripped to Kill, Cruising, 10 to Midnight, Crimes of Passion, and the flick that Season Hubely made her first prostitute-related-splash with; Schrader’s Hardcore.

  33. Raw Meat? That’d Death Line over here in the UK, and it’s great! A few critics recognise it as the classic it is. Plot is essentially this: A cannibal living under the London Underground tube system is snatching the occasional passenger and taking them down to his place for dinner. He’s the descendant of the workers who contstructed the tunnels and got trapped down there. The only phrase he knows is “Mind the doors” since the only words he hears are the public announcements.

    Great film.

  34. RED MEAT is excellent. The cannibal is both disgusting and sympathetic, and just watching Donald Pleasance studiously ignore the plot is a treat.

  35. Wings Hauser is also in this ridiculous looking thing called RUBBER about a tyre with “destructive telepathic powers”. http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3420494617/

  36. I realy,realy want to see Vice Squad.But they want about 70 Dollars for the DVD now at Amazon.
    A little bit too much for me.
    Some Company should re-release that Movie.

  37. Jareth Cutestory

    October 7th, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Fuck that. You can hire your own Vice Squad with that kind of money. For another $20 you can hire a Crack Commando Unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit, then promptly escaped. Providing you can find them.

  38. It´s up on youtube now. But i am not really convinced that it´s uncut. For Instance, the scene from the trailer, where
    Ramrod bashes the Girls Head on the Dashboard, is not in the movie.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFaaYAxbg2k

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