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Vice Squad – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Vice Squad has been on the Blu-ray wish list of many cult/exploitation collectors for some time now. The B-movie-like film was one that brought a sort of more seedy underground word of big city prostitution and sexual crimes to a more widespread mainstream release (It debuted at #4 at the box office back in 1982). Scream Factory (Of course) is the distribution label coming through to delight the fans and bring it to the Blu-ray format for the first time. And not just getting it to the format and calling it a day, they have slapped it with the Collector’s Edition label and put Reverend Entertainment on the job for the extras (Which always means rich, lengthy interviews!). This stacked release will be available to purchase on August 13th, but you can also pre-order the film from Shout! Factory’s website or our own Amazon link following the review.

Film 

Season Hubley (Escape from New York) stars as Princess, a single mom by day, a Hollywood prostitute by night. A volatile cop, Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson, The Guardian) uses her to trap a sadistic pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser, Bedroom Eyes II), who murdered one of her friends. But when Ramrod escapes police custody, Princess is in grave danger. No matter which way she turns, Ramrod is coming for her. On the street, the real trick is staying alive!

Vice Squad is grim, its kinda fun, and it brings a nice bit of acceptable ridiculousness to the table. Its sort of a chase/killer on the loose movie but set in the world of pimps and prostitutes. Nothing happens in the daytime here and everyone in the film has a sort of edge to them. Even the good guys are a bit bad in the film. Nobody is nice and everyone is tough. This kind of attitude would start influencing the more mainstream kind of films and television programs that would begin filtering in the low budget police dramas of the 1980s.  Sure, Vice Squad alone wouldn’t do that, and it wasn’t some big box office smash either, but it feels like people might have taken some sort of notice on it back in the day.

The film has a game cast that features a lot of male actors taking things a bit over the top, but not enough to sour too much or make the film overly silly. Leads Gary Swanson and Wings Hauser do their best to yin and yang the whole film while being on opposite ends of the film from one another. Swanson is that edgy salivating cop about to severely break any rule he can while trying to get a lead on the case. Hauser (Please, call me Wings) is a bit of the overly zealous and happy for cause some damage villain hillbilly pimp looking for vengeance. What makes these two work is the grounded realism of Season Hubley, the focus of the film, who gives a pretty solid, sympathetic, yet tough performance in her role as Princess. How her character is written and performed gives Vice Squad a bit more credence than being some trashy exploitation picture.

Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad is a fine rough and tumble picture that really has some fun in exploring the seedy underbelly of a big city. Its a film that has enough tact to keep it above being a pure exploitation film, while still having the essences of those to keep things having a bit of a toughness about it. It features some fun vignettes put together in the form of a nice thriller that delivers in some action, grit, silliness and suspense. Its the perfect kind of late night movie to take in around the midnight hour.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Vice Squad debuts on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a brand new 4K transfer from the film’s original negative. The results are pretty impressive as the film looks a bit fresh while still keeping its sort of exploitation/grindhouse edge and grit to the appearance. Its a crisp, sharper picture with a some really terrific looks at details, showcase good texture and patterns on fabrics and surfaces in the film.

Depth:  This new transfer showcases some really good spacing between actors and their environment. Scenes feel free with a good depth of field and push back between foreground and background. Character movements are smooth and cinematic. No real motion distortion problems were apparent during any of the heavier action bits.

Black Levels: Blacks levels are pretty deep and carry with them a heavier layer of grain in the film’s structure. Most details are held onto in the darkness and if they have a darker edge to their color as well. Nothing isn’t hidden that really wasn’t intended to be. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors come across as bold in their griminess that is part of the whole aesthetic. It takes place in the seediest areas of town and that filth leans on every frame. Fabrics with flashier colors pop well and the film really handles its blues with a nice palette of them on display and really engages the filtering tactics with the color.

Flesh Tones: Facial features are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures come across very clean and clear as we get plenty wrinkles, stubble, bruises, make up strokes and more in the image.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Vice Squad features its original theatrical mono mix. This is a well balanced little bit that sees a nice bit of depth in the sound effects featured. Its also pretty loud which helps in its effectiveness as well as a solid effort on the low end sounds to help sell the action of this 37 year old film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, sounding pretty clean and refreshed for the age and early 80s low budget nature of the film.

Extras 

Vice Squad – Collector’s Edition comes with reversible cover art featuring the original poster design.

Audio Commentary

  • With director Gary Sherman and producer Brian Frankish
  • With director Gary Sherman

Tracking the Beast (HD, 58:05) – Interview with actor Gary Swanson. Giving a life spanning interview, he tells stories of high diving, getting his start on soap operas and of course diving into Vice Squad. He talks his take on the script, improv’ing, doing research by shadowing actually vice cops, the premiere on 86th St (He was only notified that day about it), teaching acting and how Wings Hauser was “so damn charming”.

Of Poltergeist and Neon Lights (HD, 1:12:22) – Interview with director Gary Sherman. Sherman gives us some background on his childhood, living in England, his work on cult classics Death Line (aka Raw Meat) and Dead and Buried and of course Vice Squad. He wanted to expose an underbelly of Los Angeles that nobody understood. Sherman also touches on creating Ramrod, casting Susan Hubley based on seeing Hardcore and location shooting among other things.

Hollywood Magic (HD, 1:02:09) – Interview with producer Brian Frankish. Like the others, he speaks on growing up. Frankish talks being a can boy, working as a PA on commercials, taking over for a first AD on Savage Harvest in Africa which led him through other people to Vice Squad. With Vice Squad he was sold on the concept of “One night in the life of a Hollywood hooker”. Not a fan of exploitation films, he was hopeful he was able to tow a fine line with Vice Squad.

The Roots of Reality (HD, 44:06) – Interview with actress Beverly Todd. As per the cadence, she starts about her upbringing but then turns to telling her transition from stage to screen. Todd discusses winning 2 NAACP awards, working on Vice Squad because it was where the work was but feeling proud of the film with how it has affected the women who really experienced things in this movie and she has talked to about it.

Catching a Killer (HD, 58:19) – Interview with actor Pepe Serna. Starting with his childhood growing up on a Corpus Christi naval base performing at the age of 3 he knew acting would be his forte. Serna discusses his craft, having a story about crashing into a donkey with his car into ravine after having a nightmare about Jame Dean’s fatal crash, thoughts on the studio system and gives a bit about cinematographer John Alcott.

Princess Driver (HD, 24:13) – Interview with Actor Michael Ensign. He talks deciding to be an actor after a christmas play he did when he was 12 based on how he could make people laugh. He’s a bit foggy regarding some of his origins of Vice Squad and that he actually replaced a fired actor in the film. Ensign also talks about for director Sherman.

Hollywood Streetwalking: A Look At The Locations (HD, 11:36) – A video montage of shots from the movie and what they look like today with some info text provided at certain points.

Theatrical Trailer (SD: 57)

Radio Spots (HD, :59)

TV Spots (SD, 3:36)

Poster and Lobby Card Gallery (HD, 3:07)

Publicity Gallery (HD, 5:31)

Summary 

Vice Squad is a pretty fun, very cinematic and solid trashy little thriller. Its rough and tough. The Blu-ray here from Shout! Factory is quite the chronicle of this little film. Not only does is look and sound nice with this brand new 4K transfer from the original negative, but you have over 6 hours of NEW interviews AND a new commentary on top of that. This is quite the extensive deep dive into a film that everyone can only hope a favorite of theirs gets in 2019. A very impressive, informative and definitive release for Vice Squad is coming your way here from Scream Factory.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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