If you, like me, enjoy the occasional muddy VHS war against out-of-control Street Toughs, you may enjoy 1988’s DEAD END CITY, starring a bunch of people I never heard of being overshadowed by the menacingly inflated features of Robert Z’Dar (MANIAC COP, SAMURAI COP, BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME).
Here he plays Maximum (at least that’s what the credits say his name is), who leads a gang of white biker dudes with headbands, sunglasses, gang vests, chains, fingerless gloves and spiked gauntlets into a neighborhood to shoot random people, invade homes, blow up cars, etc. Maximum is mysterious in his fashion choices – he wears a suit and tie with the end of the tie ripped off, then later he adopts a studded biker look and then a band-t-shirt-sewn-onto-long-jacket punk look. The gang is called the Ratts, and they have names like Zim and Ripp, but I can’t tell any of them apart except for “Ratt Queen” (Isis Richardson, PHOENIX THE WARRIOR) because she’s the only female and the only one with big hair with a streak in it like an X-Man or a Jem and the Hologram.
Jack Murphy (Greg Cummins, Bosch) owns a factory in the area – I never figured out what type of factory – and isn’t too concerned about the radio reports or the government official (Don Barber, “Man in Bathroom,” DEATH CHASE) who comes to tell him to evacuate. The next day he gives in and sends the staff home, but, not wanting to relocate to a shantytown, he decides to stay in the factory with his friend Brett (Durrell Nelson, AN AMERICAN CAROL, stuntman in THE TOXIC AVENGER), his secretary Nancy (Aleana Downs, WITCHCRAFT III: THE KISS OF DEATH) and her visiting blind brother Malcolm (Rob Wuesthoff, stuntman in TEEN WOLF TOO).
But the place is “a fuckin war zone,” so in one drive in his pickup truck Jack and Brett get into shootouts with both the police and the Ratts.
Jack makes a speech about defending “something we believe in,” by which he means the factory that his dad gave him where he sits and eats Chinese food and watches TV while other people do whatever the work is. He’s gonna get a bunch of his friends killed for this, but he means well, and although he doesn’t know it at first, he actually is standing up against a conspiracy. Maximum keeps waiting for orders from some mysterious higher-up. Eventually we learn the Ratts take orders from police chief Felker (Dennis Cole, WHEELS OF FIRE, DEATH HOUSE). They attack the working class neighborhoods so the city can redevelop them into skyscrapers and shit. “Every block the gangs level, the city rebuilds – brand spankin’ new!” If I’m not mistaken, one of the buildings they show having come out of this corrupt practice is the Nakatomi Plaza!
But our heroes don’t know any of that when they first come under siege, having a western shootout with the Ratts, shooting through little holes in their metal walls, killing and lighting on fire enough of them to scare them off and become known as “some nuts holed up inside a factory” in “Sector Z.”
Enter local TV reporter Opal Brand (Christine Lund, HARDCASE AND FIST) broadcasting live from the front lines with “the doomed vigilante group.” She’s one of those sleazy journalists we know from movies of this era who storm in to do an exploitative, sensationalized report and you “could make ice cubes with her personality” but later she turns out to be nice and really believe in shit and try to do the right thing and also fall in love with Jack and find out what it feels like to kill a man and then run around shooting bad guys with her new man and act at the end like now they’re gonna spend their lives together. She also comes up with the amazing plan of having Jack briefly fake his death and then in the next scene reveal that he’s actually alive. CHECK MATE, MOTHERFUCKERS.
(I think he got Felker to come to the factory so he didn’t have to go find him, that’s all I could figure he might’ve accomplished with that.)
There are lots of macho exchanges like
“Nice day for a drive.”
“Nice day to die.”
“Not yet. We’ll be back.”
“You’re sposed to be dead!”
“I got better.”
“I shoulda killed him when I had the chance.”
“Wanna try again?”
“Murphy! I thought you were dead.”
“That seems to be a popular school of thought lately.”
and parts where Jack says a variation on “stay here, I’m going after him!”
Jack is one of those ’80s guys who talks real cynical, sometimes wears a brown leather jacket, has a mild mullet type hairstyle, knows how to repair vehicles and use weapons and just might fire a gun into the air to silence a bunch of people who are arguing. He seems like a working class hero, but since he’s actually a guy with inherited wealth, Chief Felker (who wears a turtleneck under a normal blazer with police patches on it) has him driven to headquarters in a limo to learn about the conspiracy and be offered a part in it. He says no. But when he returns back to the factory (SPOILER!) all of his friends besides Opal have been killed off screen! Some ALIEN 3 shit.
There’s a big reveal that (ANOTHER HUGE SPOILER FOR THE MOVIE DEAD END CITY – BEWARE BEWARE BEWARE) is that the Ratts are all cops and ex-cops fucking shit up for the money and giving a bad name to dudes who dress like that sincerely. They’re mercenaries, narcs, posers. Fuck ’em!
And at the very end there’s another one: some cigarette-smoking dudes in sunglasses, fedoras and trenchcoats have seen the scheme fail, and are going to notify the governor. THIS THINGS GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP! It reminded me a little bit of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION – the idea that something that seems random (the rampaging street gangs of ’80s b-movies) is actually an orchestrated conspiracy by the rich and powerful. Not bad.
The stunts are kinda ACTION U.S.A.esque, but not nearly as elaborate. It’s one of those raw looking movies mostly filmed in an old factory, sewers, boiler rooms and surrounding gravel lots. Cinematographer Paul Maibaum is mainly a TV guy and did the TV movie TOO LEGIT: THE MC HAMMER STORY starring Romany Malco. Art director Frank Rousseau’s only other credits are as a weapons specialist on RED DAWN, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, STEELE JUSTICE and BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III. Interestingly this is the first or one of the first credits for production coordinator Kirk M. Petruccelli, who would go on to be production designer of big movies like BLADE, MYSTERY MEN, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, GHOST RIDER, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER and THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
Director Peter Yuval got his start as producer of David A. Prior movies like KILLER WORKOUT and DEADLY PREY. His other directorial works are SHOOTERS (1989), TIME BURST: THE FINAL ALLIANCE (1989) and FIREHEAD (1991). He might be a banker now, if he’s the same Peter Yuval I found on Linked In.