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FEAR CITY (director: Abel Ferrara; screenwriter: Nicholas St. John; cinematographer: James Lemmo; editors: Jack W. Holmes/Anthony Redman; music: Dick Halligan; cast: Tom Berenger (Matt Rossi ), Billy Dee Williams (Wheeler), Jack Scalia (Nicky), Melanie Griffith (Loretta), Rossano Brazzi (Carmine), Rae Dawn Chong (Leila), Joe Santos (Frank), Jan Murray (Goldstein), Michael V. Gazzo (Mike), Janet Julian (Ruby); Runtime: 96; Anchor Bay; 1984)
“Hit-or-miss cult director Abel Ferrara missed by a city mile on this one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Fear City is a walk in the sewers of Manhattan. Hit-or-miss cult director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant/Ms.45) missed by a city mile on this one. What he got was a humorless, sleazy, and exploitative dirty little film. It lacked quality, had a lame script, banal dialogue, an ugly story and looked much like a film released only for cable or video. It’s about strippers in the Big Apple being slashed, as a psycho serial killer tries to seriously maim them. The viewer gets to see the strippers in action at their seedy 42nd Street clubs and lots of titty shots. But what prevails is the emptiness of this venture, despite efforts to make it look like film noir for a city created in smut.

Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger) is an ex-boxer who quit the ring after killing an opponent in a bout. He’s now a legitimate businessman, partners with his longtime pal Nicky (Jack Scalia) in the successful Starlite Talent Agency. They supply exotic dancers to strip clubs and have mob connections as an insurance policy against trouble, and relish their fast lifestyle. Matt just broke up with his stripper, bisexual and druggie girlfriend Loretta (Melanie Griffith). But he pouts to Nicky that he can’t forget her. When he goes to see her in the dressing room after a show he finds her embracing another stripper, Leila (Chong), and walks away disgusted. The viewer gets to watch Melanie as a stripper in a G-string flashing her bare titties and wiggling her ass, and she’s good at it.

Matt and Nicky’s good fortune takes a sudden turn for the worst when an athletic white guy, martial arts expert, critically slashes their girls and mutilates them. He’s seen in isolated shots doing a martial arts exercise or after a slashing on the subway of Leila, writing a chapter in his diary-styled book “Fear City” from the latest incident. He mumbles something about purity, as if that explains his motivation. When four of the Starlite girls are slashed and Leila dies in the hospital, they think it might be their lowlife rival, Goldstein (Murray). But the fifth vic, is one of Goldstein’s. The two competitors pool their resources together and hire a PI and provide a taxi service for the girls. But the girls are scared to work, and as a result business takes a dive. Club owners such as Mike complain that this could put them out of business, and there’s mounting pressure to take care of this problem. Loretta gets so depressed she can’t work and goes back to taking junk.

Meanwhile the cops led by nasty homicide Lieutenant Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams), think it’s a gang rivalry and act to harass the boys. Wheeler seems to get pleasure in calling them derogatory ethnic names such as “guinea” and “greaseball”. This would be funny if there was something amusing about his vulgarity. Also, the violent slashing scenes served no purpose, except to show violence for violence’s sake. The story finally gets resolved when Matt’s guardian angel, the Mafia don, Carmine (Brazzi), meets with him in a Little Italy restaurant and the don imparts his words of wisdom to the younger man. He tells him to look him in the eye and asks him if he’s prepared to do what’s necessary. Matt in a low voice says he is: “I want this guy so bad I can taste his blood in my mouth.” Carmine rambles on saying “you can’t prevent terrorism, you can only find its roots and destroy it.” I would have preferred if he stood up at that point and sang a classical Italian song. That would have been just as appropriate as this risible dialogue.

When the psycho beats Nicky to within an inch of his life, Matt does some boxing drills in imitation of the killer’s martial arts ritual and stakes out Loretta’s pad. Of course, the psycho chooses her next and Matt and the killer fight to the death in the streets of Manhattan, as Matt returns to doing what he knows best. It had your typical cowboy ending, in a film that had nothing going for it but bad taste.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”