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November 4, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #44 - Vice Squad

If you're looking for quality '80s sleaze, you can't do much better than a film in which a pimp named Ramrod brutalizes unfaithful employees while a hooker with a kind heart runs around - backed by the police - giving "golden showers" and fending off borderline necrophiliacs.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, I did just say that.  That film is the 1982 flick Vice Squad; which certainly is the kind of film that "goes around the world" a few times and is filled to the brink with lines like 'Who belongs to these two whores?" and "If beauty was a minute, mama; you'd be an hour!"  (If you're having trouble keeping up with me, don't worry.  One of the cops in the first act gives us a nice little prostitution vocab lesson.)
Season Hubley, then the wife of (the greatest actor who ever lived) Kurt Russell, stars as Princess, the previously mentioned undercover ho.  As they say in the business, Princess is "outlaw" - meaning she answers to no pimp.  Yep, Princess is the prototypical independent woman, using her feminine wiles to get ahead in this world.  (And by feminine wiles, I mean sexing.)

With a young daughter to care for, Princess can't allow herself to end up in jail.  So, she takes up with a kind cop played by Gary Swanson, an actor who seems to exist at the midpoint between Steve McQueen and Michael Moriarty.  The cop, Walsh, has his hands full with a slew of degenerates that are shown in a frantic and awkwardly hilarious scene in the booking area of his L.A. precinct, but the king fish that he needs to find is the maniac cowboy pimp Ramrod who I mentioned in the opening.
Ramrod is played with insane vigor by Wings Hauser, father of actor Cole Hauser who spent some time on the fringe of popular cinema in the early part of the 2000s.  The elder Hauser, with his gigantic chin, curly hair, and wide-eyed Gary Busey expressions, is ridiculously fantastic in the role.  His escape from the backseat of a police vehicle is a solid action set, and the skills he shows while ricocheting his handcuffed body off a parked car are pretty impressive.  Also, if you're a filmmaker wanting to know how to create a psychotic villain, I'd say introducing him through a scene in which he sadistically mutilates a young woman's nether regions is a decent way to go.  (Hauser also sings the song that bookends the film, Neon Slime, which covers the film's perspective on Los Angeles' children of the night, and is posted below.)
I've mentioned a lot of really seedy things that are discussed in Vice Squad, and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the film's depraved mindset.  The police/killer pimp plot is surrounded by Princess' exploits and the sick characters she meets while she's spending a night on the job.  One of the most interesting scenes occurs when she begins trading workplace stories with Officer Walsh, drawing a parallel between the things he faces as an officer of the law and the things she willingly invites into her life.  She shows a tough exterior, wanting the world to know that nothing can get to her, but behind the scenes she struggles to keep up with the world around her.  A mid film scene in which she is hired by a chauffeur to deal with a very particular old man is an incredibly memorable and truly creepy scene, and is probably the high point among the film's oddities.
Vice Squad is directed by Gary A. Sherman, who debuted with previous MMOTW Raw Meat and hit a horror home run with 1981's Dead and Buried (which was written by the great Dan O'Bannon).  Like Raw Meat before it, Sherman's film spends most of its time on the fringe of indecency yet never really shows the goods.  I've mentioned a slew of lewd, pornographic, disturbing behaviors here, and of course none of them actually appear on screen.  The film claims to be based on a composite of events that occurred in Hollywood, but its goal isn't to cause a physical response from the viewer.  Sherman just wants to expose the seedy underbelly of L.A., and he didn't need to invent a clan of underground cannibals to do it.
As improper as it is, Vice Squad surprises me with moments of human decency that help the film become more than a feast of pimps and tricksters.  Hubley's Princess does dirty, nasty things; then meets up with coworkers for a bit of "girl talk".  She lets men ravage her; then smiles nicely as they finish and leaves them wanting more.  It's these little touches - surrounded by a idealist cop and a pimp that has no moral reasoning - that really makes Vice Squad a stand out piece of trash; the kind of trash that I highly recommend.


Enbrethiliel said...


For some reason, this review reminded me of the novel LA Confidential. (I haven't seen the movie.)

The Mike, what comment do you say Sherman has about that seedy underbelly of LA that he exposes here?

The Mike said...

It's kind of an odd theme. It's primarily the normal "the people on the street aren't as weird as we think and the normal people around us are weirder than we think", but then it gets kind of odd by making the police force a seemingly noble entity. The other flick I mentioned from him, Raw Meat, hinged on a rich person going missing because of his perversion - leading to an investigation that uncovers underground cannibals in London. This time, it seems like he's giving a similar message about those who appear perfect to the outside, but he's flipped the results. Then they were the cannibals' victims, now Hubley's lead hooker is their victim.

I don't know if that makes any sense now that I typed it. The short version of what he's saying is probably that not everything society warns us about is bad, and that those we ignore due to their status or appearance are often worse.

The Man-Cave said...

Dude...Vice Squad? Wow that takes me back to my youth and late night cable. I remember this flick.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hey, that makes sense! (It's in LA Confidential, too, for what it's worth.)