Release Date(s)1982 (August 13, 2019)
Studio(s)Dynamic/Hemdale/AVCO Embassy Pictures/StudioCanal (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad is another in a line of gritty cop thrillers from the 1980s about a psychotic killer on the loose and the attempts made by the police to track him down (10 to Midnight, Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., among others). It wasn’t a major box office success upon its original release, but it was well-received, particularly by genre fans who appreciated its verisimilitude, as well as its over-the-top performances and graphic violence.
Princess (Season Hubley) sends her young daughter away before hitting the streets of L.A. and turning tricks along Sunset Strip. After a brutal attack on a prostitute named Ginger (Nina Blackwood), Princess is brought in by Detective Walsh (Gary Swanson) to help capture Ginger’s assailant, the maniacal pimp Ramrod (Wings Hauser). Although they’re initially successful, Ramrod manages to escape custody and is dead set on killing Princess before the night is through, but not if Walsh and the officers of the Hollywood Vice Squad can get to him first.
Vice Squad is not a particularly fun movie for the uninitiated as it’s unflinchingly ferocious when it comes to the violence. It’s not altogether earnest, but it certainly tries to be with what feels like real people in the real world. The story also takes place over the course of one night, making it feel like a rollercoaster, with the end of the ride being the hopeful capture of Ramrod. The film’s unhinged, unrehearsed atmosphere is attributed to both the talent of the actors involved and a solid script. A simple moment of Princess reacting to someone’s death is highly energetic and untamed, as is the initial arrest of Ramrod – who resists not only by tossing furniture, but even using a woman’s head as a weapon. The dingy L.A. street scene also gives it an authenticity. One could even see it as a forerunner to shows like Miami Vice, which would come much later.
Scream Factory debuts Vice Squad on Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition package featuring a transfer taken from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. Shot by John Alcott, who was Stanley Kubrick’s cinematographer on 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining (as well as Terror Train and The Beastmaster), the presentation is incredibly grainy with a gritty, film-like appearance. Detail is quite high, though it can tend to get lost during darker scenes, which is inherent in the original cinematography. It’s safe to say that the film stock used at the time only allowed for so much detail to poke through. The color palette is lush with a variety of hues, particularly the Sunset Strip montage title sequence. Contrast and brightness levels are ideal, and besides the aforementioned heavy grain, it’s a clean and stable presentation of a film that will likely always look a little rough, but remains aesthetically sound.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. One certainly wouldn’t refer to it as reference quality, but it’s a potent soundtrack that aids the film well without any issues. Dialogue is always clear, though not entirely precise at all times due to overlap during intense scenes of dialogue, and sound effects, particularly gunshots, have plenty of heft to them. The score, as well as Wings Hauser’s grungy rendition of Neon Slime, are also given a boost in clarity.
The extras are numerous and they include a new audio commentary with director Gary Sherman and producer Brian Frankish, which is a lively listen as the two reminisce about the making of the film while watching it; a vintage audio commentary with Gary Sherman, moderated by David Gregory (from the film’s original Anchor Bay DVD release), which is much more of a Q&A type listen, but a good one; Tracking the Beast, a new 58-minute interview with actor Gary Swanson; Of Poltergeist and Neon Lights, a new 72-minute interview with Gary Sherman; Hollywood Magic, a new 62-minute interview with producer Brian Frankish; The Roots of Reality, a new 44-minute interview with actress Beverly Todd; Catching a Killer, a new 59-minute interview with actor Pepe Serna; Princess Driver, a new 24-minute interview with actor Michael Ensign; Hollywood Streetwalking: Vice Squad Filming Locations, a new 12-minute tour of the movie’s locations set to score; the original theatrical trailer; 2 radio spots; 4 TV spots; a VHS trailer; an animated poster and lobby card gallery featuring 41 images; and an animated publicity gallery containing 73 images from the film’s press book and other promotional materials.
All of the new material, produced by Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment, is fantastic and well-worth checking out, particularly the interviews with Gary Sherman, Gary Swanson, and Michael Ensign, all of whom give insightful overviews of their careers, as well as interesting tidbits about the making of the film. Sadly, it seems that Wings Hauser, Season Hubley, and Nina Blackwood declined to be interviewed, but the quality and the overall breadth of the bonus materials that are present more than make up for it.
Vice Squad is a film that has languished too long in film vaults due to licensing issues, but thankfully, all has been set right. This new Collector’s Edition of the film is a fantastic release and well-worth the asking price. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons