(director/writer: Paul Morrissey; screenwriter: Alan Bowne; cinematographer: Stefan Zapasnik; editor: Scott Vickrey; music: Andy Hernandez; cast: Marilia Pera (Rita La Punta), Richard Ulacia (Thiago), Angel David (Juan the Bullet), Geraldine Smith (Toni), Ulrich Berr (The German), Pedro Sanchez (Commanche), Marcelino Rivera (Hector, ex-cop), Linda Kerridge (Carol), Rodney Harvey(Jose), KenzoYukio Yamamoto (Captain), Susan Blond (Caterer); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Antoine Gannage/Steven Fierberg; Image Entertainment; 1984)

Edgy to a point, but mostly filled with pointed black humor.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Paul Morrissey (”Flesh”/”Trash”/ ”Heat”)directs this underrated gritty urban crime drama of rival local youth gangs, associated with the violent drug scene, who are operating out of New York City’s Lower East Side in the heavily Latino ‘alphabet city’ neighborhood (Avenues A, B, and C, an area filled with abandoned buildings and where squatters reside without the household essentials like electricity).

The abrasive authoritarian Brazilian Rita La Punta (Marilia Pera, great Brazilian actress), who left Brazil because she could make more drug money in NY, lives in an abandoned building in Alphabet Citywith her dim-witted but street-wise thug son, Thiago (Richard Ulacia), and gang of heroin and cocaine selling Hispanic adolescents and teens–whom she does not permit to take drugs and chases after them to clean their underwear, but they are allowed to drink beer, carry guns and do contract murders. Her Brazilian gang, called the Maceteros, deal with corrupt cops (the corrupt Asian police captain in the area gets drug kickbacks from the dealers to look the other way), rival gang pushers and the usual street violence. They get the attention of the Master Dancers, their stronger rival Puerto Rican gang, when they try stealing their drug shipment and engage them in a shoot-out. When the Puerto Rican gang responds by throwing a 14-year-old Macetero’s member off the roof, this initiates a gangbanger bloodbath. That rival gang is led by the gun-happy youthful Juan the Bullet (Angel David), and they are favored by the outsider older teenager drug supplier The German (Ulrich Berr) and an outsider corrupt family man ex-cop named Hector (Marcelino Rivera)–the liaison person between the police and the supplier–someone who mistakenly thinks he’s better than the druggie kids because he’s raising a family on drug money. The blonde haired thrill seeker Carol (Linda Kerridge), one of the film’s few whites, goes from being The German’s woman to living with Thiago, but when she tries talking Thiago into rebelling against mommy she incurs the wrath of La Punta and soon is in real danger.

Morrissey paints a troubling picture of living in abject poverty, living without a real family, trying to control turf gangland style, the making a mockery of the law by the gangs bringing in underage kids to do the killing and drug pushing because they won’t serve prison time, corruption by the law officers in looking the other way as drugs are openly sold in the street, the brutality of the gangs, and how revenge is welcomed as part of gang life. It’s edgy to a point, but mostly filled with pointed black humor, cartoonish violence and poignant observations delivered in a subtle way about America’s failed drug policies. Some may take heart in its wacky humor (I got a big kick out of the goofy way the characters acted). It caps things off with a catchphrase that might seem right in a children’s book but not in this ass-kicking flick. The catchphrase delivered by the ‘mother from hell’ to her animal-like son she mentors to be a criminal, is that “You must always do what your mother says.” That might be the funniest line in the film, as mother is a ruthless drug kingpin who corrupts everything she touches and misleads her extended family with bad advice and that even when she comes across as trying to act like a real mother her mothering is still perverse.

The offbeat cultish pic scores in originality and has a surreal charm as it choreographs its gang shootouts as theater. It’s the first American film to star Marilia Pera and to watch this great actress tackle this unusual role with her usual energy and wit and not show she’s in a role beneath her, playing with a cast of non-professionals who can barely act (or for that matter speak to be understood), is a real treat even when the viewing gets rough and the film’s aims get blurred in a mixture of violence and Warhol-like comedy. Needless to say, this hybrid Pop Culture and exploitative commercial film is not for all tastes (but I liked it, and it’s still one of the few drug films from the 1980s that’s not outdated).