Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast: Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Scalia
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Plot: Fear City follows an ex-boxer named Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger), who is haunted by memories of accidentally killing an opponent. He is now a promoter for exotic dancers, and a killer is hunting them down one by one. He attempts to solve the murders while actual detective Al Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams) attempts to find the evidence pinning the crime on Matt. Also Matt wants to get back together with his ex, exotic dancer and drug addict Loretta (Melanie Griffith), who is currently in a relationship with another dancer, Leila (Rae Dawn Chong).
Analysis: Well, this movie sure is star-studded! At least to the degree that the TV movie slashers of the era were, and that's not meant to be damning with faint praise. It's even got a name brand slasher director in Abel Ferrara, who had previously helmed The Driller Killer in 1979. Unfortunately, it's merely content to be a sleazy movie that alternates slayings with long scenes of strip performances and not in the "gee, isn't this artistic and fun" approach that the later Stripped to Kill would take.
And honestly? The slasher elements are pretty shit in this entry. It's much more committed to being a psychological portrait of an ex-boxer than it is to be a movie about murder, and while I suppose that's a fine impulse, it's executed poorly and really saps the energy away from the slasher element. Like many slashers that don't have a killer picking off a group of people one by one in an isolated location, it doesn't give the victims much time to establish themselves with the audience before they're taken out, and the kill scenes are mere flashes that sometimes last no more than three seconds.
I guess I'm not advocating for this already misogynistic film to revel in the mutilation of women, but the allegedly gritty urban stories they choose to prioritize over the murders are a real bummer to sit through. While I can see some cult film audiences finding camp enjoyment in, say, Billy Dee Williams spouting off ethnic slurs like he's entering a bigotry contest, it just didn't deliver anything I really hoped I would be seeing.
The one saving grace of the movie is the fact that its killer is fucking weird. Between killings, we see brief glimpses of him at home, writing his manifesto and practicing karate moves naked. It sure isn't a film-saving element, but Fear City is in desperate need of anything remotely interesting outside of the vague inherent charms of watching a bunch of actors who know they deserve better bumming around a sleazy movie.
Killer: The Killer (Neil Clifford)
Final Girl: Loretta (Melanie Griffith)
Best Kill: One of the victims gets hit with nunchuks while walking through the park, so that's neat.
Sign of the Times: Loretta's queerness only exists in service of her relationship to Matt and not an actual thing that seems to be coming from within her personality.
Scariest Moment: One of the victims tearfully describes her fingers being snipped with scissors, intercut with shots of the previous night's incident.
Weirdest Moment: Any time the movie cuts to what the killer is up to.
Champion Dialogue: "Bad things have been happening to me. I need some money."
Body Count: 8
- Silver is stabbed.
- Mafioso #1 and
- Mafioso #2 are shot in a drive-by.
- Leila dies in the hospital.
- Stripper is nunchuked to death.
- Cindy is slashed with a sword.
- Jorge is hanged offscreen.
- The Killer is boxed to death.
TL;DR: Fear City is a sleazy exploitation movie that doesn't offer enough interesting material to redeem itself.
Rating: 4/10Word Count: 627