Vice Squad Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Gary Sherman
Written by Sandy Howard, Kenneth Peters and Robert Vincent O’Neill
1982, 97 minutes, Rated R
Released on August 13th, 2019
Season Hubley as Princess
Gary Swanson as Tom Walsh
Wings Hauser as Ramrod
Pepe Serna as Pete Mendez
Beverly Todd as Louise Williams
Joseph DiGiroloma as Kowalski
Nina Blackwood as Ginger
Princess is a Hollywood prostitute trying to earn a living for herself and her young daughter. She doesn’t have a pimp and knows how to handle herself with some of her more eccentric clientele. She is also an occasional police informant working for Sgt. Tom Walsh, who helps keep her out of trouble. When a fellow prostitute is beaten to death by a sadistic pimp named Ramrod, Walsh uses Princess to trap him. The operation goes smoothly enough, but when Ramrod escapes police custody, Princess becomes his primary target. What follows is a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse set over one long night. Walsh and the entire police force are desperate to locate and protect her, but Ramrod proves far more knowledgeable of the city streets and is closing in, leaving her no place to hide.
Vice Squad is a gritty thriller depicting life on the streets for working girls. Women are mistreated and exploited and often come to violent ends. This is a tough world and it takes street smarts and a degree of luck to survive out here. Ramrod is a violent sociopath who gives pimps a bad name. He can be charming and sensitive when it benefits him, but just below the surface is a sadistic bastard who is violent and despicable. Princess is not much of a match for him and is immediately in over her head once he sets his sights on her. The police are well aware of the danger she is in and are desperate to capture him, but Princess is blissfully unaware that he is out on the streets in pursuit of her.
Director Gary Sherman (Poltergeist III) delivers an intense thriller that grabs you from the very beginning and does not let up until its violent conclusion. He builds suspense from one gripping set-piece to the next, placing our heroine in increasing danger without her knowledge until the villain sits merely a few feet away from her, ready to strike. Ramrod moves like a deadly shark in blood-infested waters. He keeps his calm demeanor and never raises his voice, quietly moving in for the kill. Wings Hauser (Mutant) is all menace, delivering a stunning performance as the murderous pimp. He is most dangerous when he appears rational, as his mood switches on a dime leading to some truly horrific outbursts.
Season Hubley (Hardcore) stars as Princess, the big-hearted hooker trying to earn her way to a better life. She is used to the seedy night life of Hollywood Blvd. and has made friends with some of the other ladies on the job. Hubley is convincing in the role and carries herself well as both steamy seductress and woman in peril. Gary Swanson (The Guardian) co-stars as Tom Walsh, the seasoned vice cop searching for a madman. His performance lends a sense of urgency to the proceedings as he tries to protect Princess. He is more of a supporting player for the first half of the picture but steps up to fill the hero role in time for the finale. The supporting cast of cops and streetwalkers are all solid and lend an air of authenticity to the film.
The film was beautifully photographed by longtime Stanley Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott (Terror Train, The Shining), who lends a sense of realism with his compositions and employs a surprising number of elaborate camera moves throughout. Gary Sherman states in his commentary on this disc that he wanted to make a message movie about life on the streets and the mistreatment of women. He succeeds in showing the ugly dark side of Los Angeles, a place of isolation and depression among the crowded streets. A title card appears at the beginning of the film citing the events in this film were inspired by actual cases, making this grim picture all the more disturbing.
Video and Audio:
Vice Squad makes its HD debut with a 4K scan or original negative, presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are rock solid and pop off the screen while black levels are bottomless. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and there is plenty of small object detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track preserves the audio recordings and really delivers. Dialogue is always clean and clear and free from distortion while music and effects cues are well-balanced and unobtrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
There are two audio commentaries on this disc, starting with a newly-recorded discussion with director Gary Sherman and producer Brian Frankish. This is a laid back, conversational track full of interesting production stories and useful trivia. They point out tricky camera moves and praise the cinematographer and also have great things to say about Hauser’s performance. There are some extended gaps of silence as they watch the movie. The track is pretty good but would benefit from a moderator.
The second commentary was recorded for the DVD release and finds Sherman paired with moderator David Gregory. The director has a lot to say about this film and shares many great production stories. He talks about the more ambitious camera moves and provides plenty of interesting trivia. This is the stronger of the commentaries, but both are worth a listen.
Scream Factory fills this Collector’s Edition with a series of long-form interviews with members of the cast and crew. Up first is actor Gary Swanson in Tracking the Beast (58 minutes). He offers some biographical background and how he got into the industry through daytime television. He shares his memories of this picture and has some decent production stories of his own.
Of Poltergeist and Neon Lights (72 minutes) is an exhaustive interview with director Gary Sherman. He talks about his childhood and starting his career behind the camera making commercials in England. He discusses his earlier films before focusing the conversation on Vice Squad. He stresses the importance of the message of the picture and showers praise on his cast and crew. He points out some of his favorite shots and goes on to reflect on some of his later films.
Producer Brian Frankish sits down for the interview Hollywood Magic (62 minutes) in which he discusses what he does as a producer. He stresses the importance of a good story at the heart of the project and talks about his working relationship with directors. He shares some interesting production stories from this film and appears proud of the work.
Actress Beverly Todd reflects on her role of Det. Williams in the new segment The Roots of Reality (44 minutes). She talks about her childhood and getting into theatre and early recognition for her work. The topic swings around to this film and she reveals her approach to the character. She also shares her thoughts on the lasting impact of Vice Squad.
In Catching a Killer (58 minutes), Pepe Serna talks about his character Det. Mendez among other topics. He begins with childhood memories and his love of art and becoming an actor. He talks about working within the studio system and how his role in Scarface helped his career. He shares some entertaining production stories from this film and looks back on the job as a positive experience.
Michael Ensign plays the mysterious chauffer in the picture and shares his memories in the interview segment Princess Driver (24 minutes). He reveals his approach to acting and developing his craft in the world of UK theatre. He talks about breaking into the industry as a commercial actor working with director Alan Parker before being cast in Midnight Express. He shares his memories of this picture and working with Season Hubley among other stories from the set.
In the featurette Hollywood Streetwalking (12 minutes), we take a look at the shooting locations as they appear today. Addresses are provided as well as clips from the film showing what they looked like in 1982.
The theatrical trailer is included along with two radio spots and five TV ads.
There are two photo galleries, one filled with posters and lobby cards in color and black-and-white. The second gallery contains publicity stills and pages from original press kit.
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