Fighting Back (Death Vengeance, Street Wars, Philadelphia Security) Directed By Lewis Teague, Starring Tom Skerritt (1982).
It's been forever since we've reviewed a non-horror film, with lots of action and "horrific" elements. The last one I can think of was The Evil That Men Do. Tonight's film is underrated and I never would've discovered had it been for a random late night search on Netflix. Before it was available everywhere to stream, it was scarce even on VHS. It was also known as Death Vengeance, I mean there's a Bronson-esque dude as the enforcer and you've got a Chuck Norris vehicle called Forced Vengeance (the only Norris flick to include a rape scene). Needless to say this impressive knock off, was soon forgotten, but thankfully now people can check it out away from the stigma of just being another DW copy.
Loud mouth wanna-be politician John D'Angello (Tom Skeritt) loses his mind after some street jerks snip off his mothers ring finger with garden shears in a robbery at his Italian deli in Philly.
|I could've used a snub nose in that tunnel with a certain H.R. Giger beast|
This is a good ripoff of Death Wish and Skeritt is more jovial in his psychotic ness than Charles Bronson (who doesn't really act, so much as show up and do the job he was meant to do). I like Teague's directing style and Alligator, is one of my all time favorites, which really convinced me to see this. He also made Cat's Eye, Cujo and The Jewel of the Nyle which are all fun in their own right.
|I'll just take that delicious grandma finger bone for my soup|
D'Angelo and his wife are pretty stupid--how stupid are they-- how about yelling at a pimp while he's slapping his bitch; the "bitch" tells them to fuck off and then they all get in a car chase! Now some people would say, that's not cool, a dude slapping around his lady product (or commodity), but sometimes you just don't get involved, even Frankie Dunlan from Combat Shock knew better not to chase the pimp. This car chase ends up causing Mrs. D'Angelo played by Patti Lupone (Corky's mom from Life Goes On) to have a miscarriage. It's all handled in a completely ridiculous way as they collide into each other on the front lawn and hop out, guns drawn at each other's noses.
|Just kill me instead, I don't want to face the humiliation of buying my mom maxi pads|
The helplessness of crime and the corruption of the justice system is the same narrative used in Vigilante (which came out a year later). Fighting Back takes the JFK assassination and other shocking Mondo footage as an example of the disillusion of society against this new breed of ruthless criminal. The media, led by the guy who played Sledgehammer (David Rasche) is out searching for someone to make an example out of and John becomes the perfect fall guy. So you can't really say that the Bill Lustig film took any plot points, because it was a reflection of a fed up victimized society and both films were sending out the same message. Vigilante in my mind is an untouchable perfect film.
|Holy Shit! Philly's own Noam Chomsky just breezed on in for a lecture!|
This film is not as well known as others in the genre, it was written by David Zelag Goodman who also penned Straw Dogs and Logan's Run.
There's an abnormal amount of famous people for this vigilante flick. And unlike the Death Wish series, females aren't rape targets or stupid idiots like they are in all the Cannon produced classics. They really amp up the revenge fuel during a scene where the family dog is strung up and covered in blood! John's chicken shit cop brother is played by Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses Don't They)?
|Man, that dog in Gremlins got off easy!|
The always riveting Yaphet Kotto shows up to tell Skeritt (who abruptly interrupts his dance class) that he's a racist. He gets into another scrape with the same black pimp who insults him by saying he can't control his woman or his bowels! He's not actually racist and never chokes back any prejudice expletives like Bronson in Kinjite yelling at Chinese people to go back to their own country! He has one black friend played by standout actor Jim Moody from Bad Boys (1983).
Ted Ross who played the lion from The Wiz, has one of those strange long mustaches that looks like a bristly caterpillar, accuses him of racial profiling but he has no evidence. It's almost as if they'd taken out all the rape scenes in most other vigilante films and replaced it with this bit of social commentary on racism.
|We only wanted you to teach us how to Jazzercise!|
Things get bizarre for the D'Angelo family as one of his middle school age kids shoots up heroin and is caught nodding out at the dinner table, he bought it from a guy that runs a fast food joint called Capt. Chicken!!
|I hope they never figure out our 11th secret herb and spice which is meth|
There are many explosive scenes with D'Angelo snapping and quickly getting enraged. He's a complete idiot and with his street team of brainless thugs do more harm then good, kind of like a more inept Guardian Angels. They basically start a minor race war between Italians and the African American Pimps. During one jaw dropping moment he has a vicious brawl with the chicken franchise manager who peddles heroin. A fight ensues and the boss defends himself with a small medieval axe!
|I like some Jazz and a cheap basketwine while I'm chasing the dragon|
There's a very special brief cameo by the mayor of Tromaville and the heavyset no guff takin' necrophile from Street Trash; the always like able Pat Ryan. The community activism starts to get out of control, on the danger level of Death Wish territory (we don't get a neighborhood armed with bazookas, yet but it's on the way)! Actually the clownish patrol car full of idiots in hats and sunglasses reminds me of the one in Repo Man.
This pimp from the beginning played by Pete Richardson (who has hardly any resume on IMDB for some reason) just won't let John D'Angelo skid by without him causing animosity. He gets burnt alive in a Cadillac fire set by John. The news media finally rewards D'Angelo for all this senseless violence and during his inauguration as councilman, they play the most overtly offensive "Goomba tunes", like the pizza pie song. It all abruptly ends as if they ran out of script or wanted to save some for the sequel that never came along. I think this film demands to be seen more than once, at first it registers as a weird TV movie drama, but then later the social commentary seeps into your subconscious, see it more then once to get the full effect.
|Don't you hate those Right wing gypsy cabs?|
|I'm the cowardly lion with more razzamatazz|
|I hate drumming for the Tangerine Puppets|