Vice Squad is about a hooker who is forced to double-cross a vicious pimp named Ramrod (gonna have to see the guy’s birth certificate to verify that one). When Ramrod learns of the set-up, he hits the city streets to hunt down the ho who done him wrong. This wholesome family film stars Season Hubley (Escape From New York), Wings Hauser (Deadly Force), Gary Swanson (The Bone Collector), and Nina Blackwood, who was in the first lineup of V.J.s when MTV debuted in 1981.
The film is directed by Gary Sherman, who hit the ground running with his feature film debut, Raw Meat (1972, aka Death Line) starring Donald Pleasence (Halloween). Raw Meat was very well-received, establishing Sherman as an exceptional and viable director. (The movie was recently named one of "The Ten Most Important British Horror Films of the 20th Century" by a panel of British critics.) Still, it took eight years for his second film to emerge.
Sherman’s Dead & Buried (1981), was penned by Alien writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, and it features effects work by the legendary Stan Winston (the Terminator films, the Jurassic Park films). Dead & Buried gathered mixed reviews upon release (the film’s clunkiness is often blamed on meddling producers) but over the years, this movie came to be considered a classic by adoring horror fans. A year after releasing Dead & Buried, Sherman unleashed the seedy and brutal Vice Squad.
The most intriguing aspect of Vice Squad for me is that it was shot by renowned cinematographer John Alcott, whose work peculiarly spans celebrated masterpieces of cinema and low-brow genre flicks. His first film credit as a cinematographer was on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Alcott reportedly replaced the original cinematographer, Geoffrey Unsworth, mid-shoot on this milestone achievement in science fiction cinema.
Alcott was then Kubrick’s director of photography on A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975) - for which he won his Best Cinematography Oscar - and The Shining (1980). Alcott then brought it down a few notches and shot Terror Train (1980) for director Roger Spottiswoode, The Beastmaster (1982) for Don Coscarelli, and Vice Squad for Sherman. John Alcott died of a heart attack at the age of 55 after shooting Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman.
Sherman followed Vice Squad up with the action flick Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986) starring Rutger Hauer and Kiss rocker Gene Simmons – and then it was back to horror with Poltergeist III.
Directing this third installment of the popular fright franchise maybe took the steam out of Sherman’s enthusiasm for the genre. It was near the end of shooting this movie that young star of the Poltergeist films Heather O'Rourke died at the age of 12. Under pressure from studio MGM, Sherman reluctantly completed the final sequences of the shoot with a stand-in doubling for the deceased actress. The film was a critical failure and a box-office bomb, piling more misery upon Sherman’s unpleasant experience making the film. Subsequently, Sherman has primarily focused on directing for television.
This weekend represents an opportunity to catch an early film by Gary Sherman, a director whose career contains many fascinating twists and turns. If you are in the area, don’t miss Vice Squad on the big screen, in 35mm. It’s at the Hi -Pointe Theatre in St. Louis, September 7th and 8th - presented by Destroy The Brain!
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze