Corman After Dark : “Streets”

Posted: April 16, 2012 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hard as it is to believe now, there was actually a time —say, for its first season or two — when Married — With Children was considered cutting-edge, maybe even semi-dangerous stuff. Critics said it “pushed the envelope,” that it was “irreverent,” that it “took risks,” etc. Frankly, even though I was only about 15 or 16 when the show first came out, I knew all that talk was bullshit and that it was formulaic, idiotic, lowest-common-denominator garbage that had one clever gimmick in its favor — it pretended to be “self-aware,” therefore it was okay for the show’s writers to openly admit  how stupid it was. The self-appointed guardians of public taste  figured out this shtick pretty quickly, and even though it sputtered along for something like another fucking decade, it ceased to be considered “daring,” “provocative” stuff relatively early its run.

But hey, ya know what? Even though I was never impressed with the show’s self-consciously lowbrow “humor,” I still watched it back in the day anyway, and you can probably guess why. Yup, I was a horny young kid and Christina Applegate was on it — more often than not wearing something pretty form-fitting. That was enough for me, and for quite a few other randy young fellas of approximately my own age (and plenty of older guys as well), to tune in every week. What we didn’t know, however (and truth be told didn’t care about) was the fact that the fetching young Ms. Applegate was also a pretty damn fine actress.

Honestly, yer honor, I ain’t lyin’. For proof, look no further than her first cinematic starring vehicle, 1990’s Roger Corman production Streets. If you haven’t seen the film, forget what you’re probably thinking — yes, it’s low-budget, and yes, it still has some solid, old-fashioned exploitation elements going for it (primary among them being its inclusion of a psychotic police officer — they were pretty big at the time in the wake of Maniac Cop), but this is another rare example (the other being Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia) of Corman realizing that he could hire a young female director (in this case Katt Shea Ruben, who would go on to helm the first Poison Ivy film, among other accomplishments) to tell a gritty, even realistic tale about a disenfranchised segment of the youth population and he wouldn’t need to spend any more money on it than he would on, say, yet another Alien knock-off. The results are surpsingly impressive indeed.

Streets tells the story of Dawn (Applegate), a 16-year-old homeless, illiterate, heroin-addicted (well, she says she’s not hooked, but she shoots the shit into her hand, which is something I’ve always been told only the hardest of hard-core junkies do) prostitute who plies her trade in and around the Venice Beach, California area (for a movie called Streets it’s worth pointing out that most of this flick takes place on the beach, but hey, I guess the title Beaches was already taken) and crashes in a storm drain-type thing she shares with other runaways, addicts, and general teenage societal cast-offs at night. One evening she makes the mistake of crossing paths with a bully in blue named Lumley (Eb Lottimer), who has his own unique method of cleaning the streets of those who would dare try their hand (well, okay, maybe it’s not their hand they’re working — although in Dawn’s case it is, more on that in a moment) at the world’s oldest profession — he rapes them and then kills them with a homemade, high-power, double-barrel gun with  a really thick fucking silencer.  Hey, give him points for inventiveness in his method of dispatch, at least, even if the idea of a cop killing “ladies of the evening” in his spare time isn’t exactly all that original.

In any case, Dawn manages to escape from Lumley’s clutches with the help of a passer-by of roughly her own age named Sy (David Mendenhall), who befriends our young heroine and takes it upon himself to keep a watchful eye on her since that crazy cop who tried to kill her got away and might be back. Over the course of the day, they get to know each other, she shows him the ins and outs of her life, and hey, maybe they even kinda-sorta fall in love a little bit. He learns her mother was a hooker, as well, who one day just up and left her own kid, that she’s never gone to school and consequently can’t read, that she’s “successfully” kicked her heroin habit about a half-dozen times, that she only gives blow-jobs and hand-jobs to her customers but doesn’t have intercourse with them —

Whoa. Hold on. Wait just a minute right there. We now interrupt this review for a good-old-fashioned rant from your host. What, pray tell, does it  say about our society’s attitudes toward  sex that we can have in this  movie a protagonist who has no home or family, no education, is hooked on drugs, and who works as an underage hooker (and props to Ruben and Applegate for choosing to make Dawn a strong, multi-faceted character and not some one-dimensional waif for whom we’re supposed to have nothing but either pity or contempt — they really do pull out all the stops in terms of portraying her as an actual, real, living, breathing, thinking person) — but the suggestion that she might actually be, you know, fucking is somehow considered a bridge too far? You wanna shoot smack into your hand? Fine. Can’t read? That’s cool with us. Jerk guys off and/or suck their cocks for a living? Hey, it’s your life, kiddo — but for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, keep your virginity intact or, ya know, you’ll be a real whore,  and evidently that’s the point at which our sympathy as an audience (hell, maybe even as a society) runs out. Okay, rant over. We now resume our regularly-scheduled review.As the film progresses, we learn that Lumley is, indeed, on the hunt for our lovely young damsel in distress, since he’s been offing hookers in the area left and right and it just wouldn’t do to have her around to ID him given that being a serial killer in your off-hours is, I’m told, a pretty good way to get yourself kicked off the police force (unless you’re that Dexter guy). As he goes about his chase, Lumley engages in a couple instances of genuinely shocking violence (he kills one of Dawn’s friends by ramming the double-barrel of his homemade “piece” up the guy’s ass and firing away, for instance), and Lottimer’s performance really does a damn fine job of communicating that this is a guy with literally oceans of barely-contained rage seething under his forced-calm exterior, but even though director Ruben does terrifically when it comes to ratcheting up the tension throughout, and the “cat-and-mouse” struggle between pursuer and pursued is in no way given short shrift, it’s quite clear that her real passion lies in documenting the hard-scrabble lifestyle of these “throwaway” kids  and that the ultimate goal of her film is to honestly and accurately convey the struggles of their daily existences (heck, she even shows them eating roadkill and does so without a hint of condescension or freak-show finger-pointing). It’s just that today those struggles  happen to include eluding an unhinged officer of the law with a giant zip-gun and one hell of a mean streak.

My earlier quibble about its unrealistic-at-best, offensive-at-worst sexual puritanism aside, Streets, which is now available for you all to see on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of its “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series (it’s double-billed with Angel In Red, and while there are no extras to speak of apart from the theatrical trailer, the widescreen remastered picture and stereo sound are damn-near pristine — just be forewarned that a lot of this flick takes place around sunset hours and it’s filmed on location so much of it has an orange-ish hue to it) is, in my own humble opinion, a mostly-unheralded classic. It uses its genre and exploitation trappings to tell a very human-scale story about a compelling protagonist and the world she inhabits, features superb acting, especially from Applegate, and even tugs at the heart-strings a bit without ever being Lifetime-movie-of-the-week- syrupy about it. This is a film that both respects its characters and its audience and gives us a sometimes-harrowing, always- realistic look inside a world that, fortunately, most of us have never had to experience first-hand.

Oh, and since you were wondering anyway — no, Christina Applegate doesn’t get naked in it. But she comes pretty darn close.

Pervs.

Comments
  1. Lol, that’s a good message: “Hey, kids, don’t have underage, skanky, and premarital sex — just shoot up heroin instead!”

    I have not seen this one but I have seen the trailer on YouTube.

    I do have a lot of respect for Christina Applegate though, both as an actress and for her work to promote cancer awareness.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I don’t know much about her off-camera work, but I do wonder why she never really became an “A-list”-type talent, because she’s certainly a much better actress than her years as Kelly Bundy ever indicated.

    • Aaron Babcock says:

      Yeah, the film industry in general (but especially the MPAA) has a really f-ed up approach to sex in films, so the portrayal of a young prostitute as sonehow drawing the line at intercourse is actually not surprising (but still depressing in a film that basically gives her a pass for everything else). trashfilmguru hit the nail on the head when he observed that losing her virginity would, somehow, place her beyond the pale.

      I remember reading awhile back about what types of sex scenes are considered “passable” in a film (i.e. won’t earn a NC-17), and, bizarrely enough, a film with a graphic rape scene will often get by with an R while a film with a sex scene between two consenting adults and one in which “the woman appears to be enjoying herself” (I am paraphrasing here) will be charged to tone it down to avoid an NC-17. Heaven forbid that people (especially women) enjoy sex! I tried finding the article, but I couldn’t locate it. This was maybe a year or two back.

      Anyway, great review! Sorry for my own rant, but I had to agree with what you said about Applegate’s character in the movie. Its unfortunate her performance is cheapened by moralizing.

      • trashfilmguru says:

        I’m not willing to say that they give Applegate’s character a “free pass” in terms of everything else, they show her character to be deeply flawed,and that’s fine! What I resented was the implication made by the filmmakers — perhaps at the MPAA’s insistence as you suggest — that sex is somehow “worse” than heroin addiction, homelessness, or even sucking cock for money. I give Corman, Ruben, and Applegate credit — they present a compelling story about a character who’s a homeless junkie and hooker and they make her believable and real and don’t moralize about her “degenerate” ways — the fact that they bothered to include a line of dialogue specifically to address the fact that she didn’t have sex, though, was depressing and sells the audience short, I feel. If we can handle her being an addict, I think we can handle her getting laid. I’ve gotten a couple emails telling me that the reason they had to point that out is because her character was supposedly underage, but that’s bullshit, Applegate herself was over 18 and the “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” franchises, among others, are full of actors of legal age supposedly portraying “kids” having sex — and they get naked to boot. So I think the whole “no sex. please” attitude here either comes right from the MPAA, or from Corman, who knew how they’d react to the film since he’d been down that road a thousand times. I don’t think it came from Ruben, she was bound and determined to make her film as realistic as possible. Anyway, thanks as always for your comments, don’t worry about tracking that article down, I’m well familiar with MPAA hypocrisy around here and I believe every word you say. In fact, it doesn’t even sound surprising.

  2. Wow man, excellent review. I haven’t seen this one, and I don’t know if I ever will, but I now know everything I need to know about this movie. (i.e. Christina doesn’t get nekkid.)

    • trashfilmguru says:

      It’s still defiitely worth seeing, lack of nudity notwithstanding. It’s out on DVD, why not give it a go? You’ll be very pleased.

  3. […] I can imagine the tag line for a rerelease of this film — “Before Christina Applegate was keeping it Up All Night, she was keeping it up on the Streets!”  I have to give credit for this discovery to the newest addition to TSL, the Trash Film Guru.  Check out his review here. […]

  4. B Movie Magic says:

    This film deserves cult status. It is exceptionally well made and transcends it’s B movie trappings. The fact that it presents a seedy lifestyle without passing judgement is equally rare. The grainy low budget look only adds to it’s overall effectiveness, making it feel even more authentic. There is off beat humor, sadness, and suspense. Indeed, Christina Applegate is excellent in large part due to Katt Shea Ruben having a true gift for directing and getting solid performances out of her films’ lead female stars. The fact that Applegate is never asked about this film is beyond me. Perhaps it is so under rated, it went under the radar.
    I must note, the scene where the cop carries and sticks an 11 year old drugged up runaway girl into a trash can while she is sentimentally reminded of touching her father’s hand (which turns out to really be the cop’s shot gun) followed by getting her brains blown out is one of the cruelest moments I have ever seen captured on film. The fact that it was subtle and moved on to the next scene without remorse makes it all the more disturbing.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      You bring up some great poinits and I’m glad your thoughtful response was able to both augment some of the points I was making as well as get around to mentioning a truly memorable scene that I neglected (shame on me!) to touch in in my review. I agree with you 100%, this is better made than most “classy” independent features with more “artistic” pretensions, and deserves to have a much wider following than it does. It’s well and truly quality cinema.

      • B Movie Magic says:

        Thanks very much and I equally agree with your insights as well. Something about this forgotten gem stays deep in the psyche. There is nothing “classy” about this film at all. Quite the opposite, its downright hardcore. It puts many of the so called indies to shame. There is something about many of those self proclaimed “artistic” films that simply try way too hard to be groundbreaking. As a viewer, I am not so easily fooled. Pretentious, as you say. There is something very natural about Katt Shea’s obscure “Streets” (perhaps this is what made the trash can scene so cold and too disturbing to ignore) It is violent, but does not try to be shocking. It is sentimental, but there is no happily ever after about this movie either. Despite it’s genre, because of these qualities mentioned I can not write it off as an exploitation film. It could have went in that direction easily with it’s cop on the loose snuffing out bimbos. It could have also went in the direction of social commentary. It does not pretend to be anything it’s not. Independent films should take note. With it’s shoe string budget and rapid speed filming , it has accomplished more than films with bigger finances and promotion. This is movie with virtually no promotion.

      • trashfilmguru says:

        Yup, or as I once said about so much of today’s self-proclaimed “high quality” independent filmmaking — most of it is too busy trying to seem good to actually be good. If more of today’s emerging “talent” were taking their cues from directors like Ruben rather than trying to instantly become the next flash-in-the-pan indie “superstar,” we’d be in a lot better shape.

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