Wednesday, February 20, 2008

80's Trash of the Week: Vice Squad

Wherein Season Hubley's vagina must be protected from the ravages of Wings Hauser, as Ramrod the killer pimp. This was one of those movies the older kids in the neighborhood raved about when I was a little sixth-grader with raging hormones back in 1982. Ramrod was the stuff of nightmares, and the tall cowboy-hat wearing pimp might be strutting behind the bushes, to get you. The film also features breasts, a staple for the 12 year old male psyche. Sadly I could not be alone in front of the TV long enough to see this on HBO, and my grandmother would let me watch Chiller Theater but drew the line at murderous raping pimps.

The rather amusing trailer.

The story is simple, and somewhat irrelevant. Season Hubley is a businesswoman living in a nice home, and the movie begins with her giving her kid to the housekeeper as she goes out to work, in the typical 80's blazer and skirt. I guess she's a yuppie off to work! Nope, she heads right for the Hollywood strip and starts turning tricks as Princess the prostitute. How shocking it all was 25 years ago when this debuted. The one thing the movie does have going for it is a gritty depiction of street life. As far as hooker revenge films go I prefer Angel from 1984, which had Dick Shawn as a drag queen for comic relief. Vice Squad instead gives us two bungling cops, who unfortunately aren't very funny.

They arrive on the scene with Gary Swanson, a tepid hero if there ever was one. He's the cop leading the Vice squad, who are pretty incompetent. Ramrod has kicked the door in to Ginger's motel room and brutalized her for not responding properly to the pimp credo "bitch betta have my money." This ain't Hustle & Flow where Ramrod wants to be a rapper and just doesn't know any better. He's a vicious killer, and uses a pimp stick on her. No, not a pimp cane.
pimp stick, n. A wire coat hanger that is bent out straight and then folder over on itself several times. Used to beat a whore.
In this particular instance it is insinuated that he raped her with it, the imagery of which makes one curl up and whimper "no wire hangers!" as in Mommy Dearest. The 80's were not a good time to be a hooker in a Hollywood movie. Just as punks were the lowest form of life and served as the go-to villain, hookers were the de facto victim when you needed one. I remember The Exterminator, where a hooker's breasts get branded with a soldering iron. Fort Apache, the Bronx, where a doped-up hooker cuts a guy with a razor and gets stabbed and rolled up in a rug for her trouble. And who could forget the charming scene in the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force, where a pimp forces a hooker to drink Drano in the back of a cab. Screenwriters would sink to such depths to make us want the hero to avenge these poor working girls.

Ginger: Who is it?
Ramrod: It's God Almighty, that's who it is.

It was also not a good time to be a vagina. Another scene of vaginal violence I recall is in 10 to Midnight, with Charles Bronson. The killer is running naked with a girl in the park and decides to knife her in the no-no. This lets Bronson utter the classic line, "I think the killer mistook his knife... for his penis." In case the off-screen violence wasn't perfectly clear.

Back to what there is of the plot. The dead girl is a friend of Princess, who declares she will have revenge. The cops want her to wear a wire and lure Ramrod in for a sting, and she does so. They catch the wily pimp, but he escapes from the two aforementioned bungling cops by making their car crash. Now Princess has to watch her cute little ass. Ramrod is out for blood.

Ramrod's capture and subsequent escape.

First he goes to a guy to cut off his handcuffs, and then to a guy with painted on facial tattoos and piercings to buy some guns, and to find out who Princess's pimp is. Our girl is a freelancer of course, but she had a pimp in the old days. Ramrod goes to hunt him down. Ramrod has a thing for abusing genitalia, probably because of his name. He cuts the fat pimp's balls off, but doesn't keep them in a jar like in Action Jackson or Planet Terror. However, it is still effective in giving him the information he needs to hunt Princess down.

Skip to 1:40 to see Ramrod de-nut the pimp.

In the meanwhile, our bungling cops are also on his tail, and when they find the flophouse with the castrated pimp, an old Chinese man refuses to let them enter, for no good reason. He knows the kung fu, and uses it to kick their ass for our merriment. All the while, Ramrod is getting closer to Princess, and Gary Swanson is leading a one-man suicide mission to protect her vagina. They catch up with her at one of her old haunts, after Ramrod yanks an Asian hooker into his car and beats her into talking. He's rather effective that way.

He ties poor Princess up just like the girl at the beginning of the film, and makes a pimp stick out of a wire hanger again. Ramrod is the king. You'll probably never hear the words "Wings Hauser really made this movie" again, but here it is true. Ramrod is a pimp among pimps.
Just look at his fringy shirt and alligator boots. His ten-gallon hat got knocked off and is rolling down Hollywood boulevard like a tumbleweed, but see how casually he holds a cigarette while beating up Season Hubley? That's serious method acting. Joking aside, he's the best actor in the film and enjoys chewing up the scenery. As opposed to Gary Swanson, who's trying his damnedest to channel Steve McQueen and failing miserably. Season is alright when she's mad, but all too often she's called on to be a scream queen, which ruins her tough-girl act.

Why am I applying logical forms of criticism to this? It's about seeing Ramrod be a bad-ass, and get his comeuppance. And that he does. Swanson barges in at the last second to save our heroine's hoo-hoo from destruction, and as Ramrod guns down all his partners, chases him down in a huge 70's land yacht through an abandoned factory. Ramrod needs to die in a brutal manner befitting his antisocial behavior, so Swanson can't just shoot him. He crushes him against a wall with 5,000 pounds of Detroit iron and then shoots him. He's such a force of nature that mere bullets are not enough.

This is a fun piece of trash and I was glad to finally see it, but I can't recommend it unless you like trashy movies from the 70's and 80's, where they were trying to avoid the polished Hollywood glitz and show the gritty streets that we're supposed to ignore and go shopping. Movies like Taxi Driver and Nights of Cabiria might have done it with a touch of class, but someone has to satisfy the average joe's longing to see pimps and ho's punished for their sins in this Puritan nation. And Vice Squad does just that. Princess does triumph in the end, and does not repent her streetwalking ways. She's not a well-crafted character, but she's no fantasy like Pretty Woman, at least.

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