After starring in The Exorcist at the tender age of fourteen, the world was Linda Blair’s pea green vomit-covered oyster.
She followed up that groundbreaking horror classic with the stodgily directed TV movie Born Innocent and the much-mocked Airport 1975, whose main contribution to cinema was helping birth the glorious Airplane!
In spite of their rampant lack of quality, both Innocent and Airport were massive hits. Linda was on a hot streak, but in 1977 she put her hand up for the inevitable Exorcist sequel.
Jesus Christ, have you seen this incoherent, continent-hopping abomination? Despite attracting a heavyweight director and a newly crowned Best Actress Oscar winner in Louise Fletcher, the giggles start escaping the moment an apparently drunk woman attempts some menacing tribal singing over the opening credits. One of its major problems is that Regan is happy and well-adjusted but the priestly, po-faced Richard Burton decides otherwise, spending the whole uproarious gig trying to find a cure she doesn’t need. All The Exorcist’s obscenity and danger have been removed, replaced by stuff like Burton catatonically catching a train and James Earl Jones pretending to be a leopard.
Still, Burton does deserve some credit for managing to keep a straight face throughout, even though he’s saddled with the most staggeringly absurd dialogue at the fag end of an increasingly sad career. The entire two hours is an unholy mess of locusts, flashing lights and tap dancing, remaining bizarrely horror-free until the craptastic last ten minutes when the old bucking bed puts in an appearance.
She’s eighteen years old and radiantly beautiful here and… Oh, that’s it, actually. She can’t get a handle on her role anymore than the viewer, cast adrift by the fact she’s no longer possessed by a demon and Ellen Burstyn’s very wise decision to run for the hills. Her career (or at least her chance of ever starring again in quality fare) suffered accordingly, such was the colossal stink of this fascinatingly bad fuckup.
Next was 1979’s Roller Boogie in which she strapped on roller skates to tackle mobsters before the new decade saw her sink up to her pretty brown eyes in a mire of exploitation/grindhouse trash.
Not that I’m complaining.
Let Meryl Streep gather those Oscar nods for playing holocaust survivors and nuclear whistle blowers while mastering all those fancy accents. Who wants to work with Spielberg and Scorcese when you can do Halloween rip-offs and the straight to video thing instead? By the mid-80s, Linda, whether she liked it or not, was already well on her way to becoming a cult actress banged up in dyke-filled prisons or morphing into a leather-clad avenger in reprehensible garbage like Savage Streets.
Mind you, don’t go thinking reprehensible garbage is anything other than the warmest of recommendations. This movie is a very funny blast, ideally accompanied by cold beer and hooting mates. It’s as simplistic as Death Wish II and almost as nasty, continually making me regard the crossbow-toting Linda as nothing less than Bronson With Tits.
So, where to start?
Well, I might as well introduce you to the four-strong boy gang called the Scars that Linda (playing a sassy high school girl) eventually goes up against. These are the sort of guys who are always monkeying around, mock-fighting and grabbing each other’s crotches. They’re adorned with bandanas, leather waistcoats and studded wristbands. At night they cruise the streets, swigging beer and gesticulating at other drivers. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think they’re cool and rebellious, but after a couple of minutes in their two-dimensional company I just wanted them to die in a fireball. Anyhow, although they’re very likely to fail to obey traffic signs, they simply don’t seem capable of gang rape and tossing pregnant brides-to-be off viaducts.
Their leader is Jake. He sports a black leather jacket and a razor blade earring. He mainly snarls and grimaces, although sometimes he will grimace and snarl. Disconcertingly, he bears a strong resemblance to the 80s Irish pop singer Feargal Sharkey so I shall call him Evil Feargal from now on.
His immediate subordinate is Fargo, who loves showing off his taut upper half. He looks like a muscular version of Joanie Cunningham from Happy Days. And do Evil Feargal and Muscular Joanie enjoy a kiss at any point? Well, yes, and Muscular Joanie is topless at the time, but… but… before you go launching any gay slurs at these fine, upstanding young men you do need to put things in context. Namely, they immediately laugh it off and there isn’t a second peck. Only someone with a really twisted agenda would hint at a homo-erotic pinning, especially as they spend so much time discharging their sexual energy by spitting out lines at Linda like: “The game’s over, bitch. First, I’m gonna fuck you. Then I’m gonna slice you into pieces.” I’m sure you’ll agree that such a superheated avalanche of misogyny counts for far more in establishing their true sexual orientation than one jokey, brief meeting of male lips.
Next we have Red, whose fondness for teased hair and eyeliner suggest he’s about to head off to a Cure concert. Finally, we get the only member of the gang still in high school. He’s amusingly lacking in height, is plagued by a conscience that continually pisses the others off, and looks like a shit-scared, baby-faced Al Pacino.
In truth, it’s baffling why the Scars so badly want Scared Al (who’s just not into anything they do) to remain in their loving embrace. I guess it’s because without him there’d only be three, a decrease that might lead to a bit of insecurity. I mean, if another one dropped out, they’d be down to two and no one in their right mind could call two people a gang. Then they’d just be mates.
Meanwhile, Linda shows up swaggering along the street with her five besties. From the first sight of her on full beam in a tight, off-the-shoulder, braless top, it’s clear she is going to let her splendid breasts and their jiggling magnificence do the bulk of her acting. Her crew includes her deaf-mute virginal sis, a Mexican about to get married, and a token black. Apart from sis (who’s treated like she’s brain-damaged), these are straight-talking, no bullshit kind of gals, who smoke and swear and have an earthy attitude toward sex.
At one point they pop into a newsagent to giggle over Playgirl. “Would you check out the schlong on him?” one shrieks. “I bet he has to put it on the nightstand when he goes to bed!” Another adds: “Hey, anything over ten inches is a waste, I always say.” Frankly, this kind of sexist banter is demeaning, but as the ladies in question are highly fuckable I’ll let it slide.
Next they peek in a shop window containing guns, bear traps and crossbows. It’s the sort of place you just don’t get on a British or Australian high street, adding weight to my theory that Yanks have to be among the most fucked-up people on the planet. This small scene is important because it’s where Linda will later acquire all her weapons and complete her awesome transformation into the mighty Bronson With Tits.
Anyhow, they then cross paths with the Scars, who almost (but unintentionally) run down the deaf-mute sis. This leads the angry girls to pinch their car, go joyriding and abandon it filled with garbage. Frankly, it’s little more than a skirmish and we’re soon at school in the delightful company of Principal Underwood, played by John Vernon.
I’m sure you know this guy. I just love him. He’s the one with a weatherworn face and an amazingly rich voice, appearing in a veritable boatload of classics such as Point Blank, Charley Varrick, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Animal House and, of course, the flustered mayor in Dirty Harry. How he sank so low in such a short time is a mystery, but perhaps an awful lot of luck is needed when it comes to choosing the right projects (see Linda Blair). Here he gets second billing, despite only appearing in three or four scenes and making no contribution to the plot whatsoever.
But boy, does he make the most of it. He wears a permanently sour expression that telegraphs both his utter disdain for know-it-all punks and having to work at a place where every day is obviously a bit shittier than the last.
And then there’s his dialogue. Never in my life have I heard a high school principal caress the English language like this silver-tongued educator.
“Go fuck an iceberg,” he tells Evil Feargal after catching the Scars wandering around the corridors. “Why don’t you take your faggot asses out of here?”
Elsewhere in the gym, Linda’s deaf-mute sis is sweetly giving her a heart-shaped necklace, prompting Linda to hug her and say: “Oh God, I love you so much.” In the background you can almost see someone holding up a placard which states: The retard is about to get horribly abused and killed.
But even though the signposting is clear, we’re not really prepared for the sheer viciousness of the revenge in which the Scars take turns to fuck her on a toilet floor. Given those feisty gals only borrowed and dirtied their car, it’s a pretty excessive reaction, but I guess if they just decided to call them names and maybe egg a window or two there wouldn’t have been much of a movie.
Scared Al, of course, has to prove his manhood and gang allegiance by being forced to commit the first rape. I’m not sure how being slapped, half-stripped and shoved between a sobbing girl’s legs encourages a clearly half-terrified teenage rapist to perform, but he still manages to take her cherry with a decisive thrust. Plus, he’s even kind enough to not deface her naked flesh Death Wish-style like the others.
Meanwhile, instead of looking out for her helpless sis, Linda is having a full-on locker room catfight with a busty blonde who accuses her of sniffing around her boyfriend.
Linda is unfazed. “That faggot?” she replies in a diplomatic master class. “You stupid, stuck-up cunt… I wouldn’t fuck him if he had the last dick on Earth.” Amazingly, this doesn’t cool the situation down, the inevitable brawl somehow resulting in two other naked girls having their own separate tussle. In other words, a double catfight. Savage Streets surely deserves a fair bit of credit for introducing such an inspired innovation.
After the fight is broken up by the gym teacher, Linda is sent to Principal Underwood. Her appearance in his office clearly does little to improve this poor guy’s mood. A year earlier in the groovy Chained Heat he’d played prison warden to Linda’s wide-eyed convict. In that WIP movie at least he had a hot tub in his office to ease away his stress. No such perks in this rundown inner-city school. Now he has to put up with a smirking Linda playing with her black finger gloves and lighting a fag, an in-your-face attitude that suggests he’s not generating the greatest of respect.
“I don’t understand it,” he gently begins in his latest attempt to offer sage advice. “You’re a bright girl, got a pretty face, a good figure.” Er, who wrote this? In which corner of the universe do principals speak this way to teenage girls?
Linda, of course, stomps off, telling her waiting posse outside that Underwood’s a moron who’s been trying to get into her pants since she was a fresher. This might actually be true. A few moments later they discover the sister’s appalling violation. Somehow those spirited gals are stumped about who did it, despite their rumble with the Scars the previous night. As they tearfully talk things through in their nightclub hangout, they’re asked what the school is going to do.
Linda can only sneer. “Put us in the gym and make some speech,” she says. “Even the cops are a bunch of pussies. It’s up to us to put things right.”
Not even one scene in which police officers are shown to be ineffective, disdainful wimps that would rather protect the perps than do their job. Or perhaps the implication of a broken ‘system’ was so subtle I missed it. Anyway, vigilantism is obviously the only solution. Cue Linda’s very appealing transformation into Bronson With Tits. Events quickly spiral out of control with all the panache of being hit over the head with a house brick and having it rammed up your ass. And then being hit over the head with another house brick.
I’m not going to spoil the rest for you, but I will say a tarted-up Bronson With Tits looks better in a black cat suit than the bare-chested, early-seventies Bronson could ever hope for. Savage Streets is a sleazy, triumphant whirlwind of priceless dialogue, cheesy songs, explicit group showers, appalling behavior in bouncer-free nightclubs, another even more graphic catfight I didn’t have time to detail, well-meaning teachers who encourage students to wax lyrical about oral sex, and a fiery warehouse finale. Females were clearly cast on the basis of their breast size, which I guess is as good a measure as any (and if acting skills were required, I’m not sure Linda would have made the cut). Surprisingly, there’s even a dollop of suspense as it takes our no-shit star more than an hour to unveil her goodies in the bath.
In 1990, six years after this indefensible piece of sordid schlock, Linda’s career came full circle when she spoofed her demonic self in Repossessed, a comedy that was sadly nowhere near as funny as Exorcist II. Now in her sixties, and with only a handful of movies made over the last couple of decades, a late career renaissance appears unlikely. Will she look back and be disappointed at the near-total absence of quality?
But one thing’s for sure. She’s had a pretty interesting life and is held very dearly in the hearts of cult movie enthusiasts. She also got to star in The Exorcist which trumps anything you and I are ever gonna do.
Now go fuck an iceberg.
You can watch Savage Streets free on Tubi
Dave Franklin also tries his hand at crime stuff such as Riders on the Storm and Other Killer Songs, although obviously with a good deal less delicacy.