Made during the last days of exploitation's golden age, Gary Sherman's VICE SQUAD is a strange animal. On one hand, it's easily as sleazy and disreputable as any of the exploitation classics that preceded it. This is a movie that doesn't let its plot get in the way of its need to wallow in sex, violence, car chases and just about any other type of antisocial behavior you can name. It was considered fairly strong stuff in 1982 and for good reason. But on the other hand, all that depravity is covered in a gloss that its predecessors from the 1970s never had. It has some recognizable actors giving good performances, professional camerawork and actual production values, all serving to help make the sleaze go down easier. In fact, it's so slick that by the time it's over you'll hardly notice that you've been wallowing in the mud for the past 97 minutes.
The plot is paper thin. Vice squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) coerces Hollywood hooker Princess (Season Hubley) into taking a part in a sting operation to take down sadistic pimp Ramrod (Wings Hauser) after Ramrod beats one of Princess' fellow call girls to death. Of course things don't go as planned and the cops spend the rest of the film chasing Ramrod before he can catch up with Princess and kill her as well. That's about it, really. Most of the film is spent watching Ramrod stalk his prey up and down Hollywood Boulevard, with the cops in hot pursuit. Director Gary Sherman keeps things moving at a good clip, allowing just enough character beats that we feel like we're watching real people instead of cardboard cutouts.
The real star of the show, however, is Wings Hauser. His portrayal of Ramrod, the Killer Pimp has become the stuff of legend and it's easy to see why. Hauser's maniacal method performance is really something to see. He's always had a penchant for overacting if not reigned in but he's let completely off the leash here and the results are truly scary. He's alternately charming and sadistic. In his first scene he beats a hooker (his "main lady," played by original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood) to the edge of death so we see what he's capable of. From that point on we understand why everyone else is afraid of him. It's a terrifying performance and in a just world Hauser would have received awards and lead roles instead of a career filled with parts in direct to video erotic thrillers. Season Hubley is also quite good as Princess, giving life to a part that could easily have been a cipher. She played a similar part three years earlier in Paul Schrader's HARDCORE and it's easy to see this as a continuation of that character.
Anyone drawn to the subject matter will find a lot to like in VICE SQUAD. It's fast paced, exciting and shot with a professional polish that wasn't the norm for films of this ilk at the time. Plus, it not only has Wings Hauser in his best role but he sings the film's theme song, "Neon Slime," as well. What's not to love? It's interesting to note that one of this film's screenwriters was Robert Vincent O'Neill, who would go on to write and direct his own Hollywood hooker epic, ANGEL, two years later.
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