Aka I HATE YOUR GUTS; STAYING ALIVE; THE HOSTAGES' BLOODY REVENGE; BLOODBATH AT 1313 FURY ROAD; GETTING EVEN; HELD HOSTAGE.
Blue Underground continue to release films previously deemed as unreleasable (SNUFF; EMMANUELLE IN AMERICA; MONDO CANE series), with this shockingly anti-PC throwback to 70s taboo-trashing.
Three highly dangerous convicts - Jessie Lee Kane, Chino and Chow - escape from police custody while being transferred to a new prison. After a brief spree of murder and robbery which culminates with a liquor store shooting, the terrible trio take a hostage - Mrs Turner.
Aware that the cops are on their trail, the bandits decide to hide out at Turner's family home till dusk, when they plan to make their way to the safety of the Canadian border under cover of darkness.
However, the seriously unhinged Kane decides to have a spot of fun with his all-black family of hostages - Mrs Turner, her daughter, a wheelchair-bound grandma, the young spunky son and head-of-the-house Ted - and subjects them to all manner of humiliations, ranging from racist vitriol through rape and even an act of violence that gives new meaning to the phrase "bible bashing".
Largely set within the confines of the Turners' home, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE manages to keep the viewer engrossed thanks to the unbelievably mean-spirited dialogue from screenwriter Straw Weisman and William Sanderson's brilliant tour-de-force performance as the utterly despicable redneck thug Kane.
There are sub-plots along the way - a by-the-book cop, Reilly, desperately tracking the criminals down; a neighbouring boy and a visiting girl, both of whom fall foul of the psychotic Chow, lurking in the nearby woods …
But the bulk of the action concentrates on the Turners' unrelenting abuse at the hands of the merciless Kane … until, that is, the family see an opportunity to extract their revenge upon their tormentors …
The film has acquired a reputation over the years as quite an extreme film. It was cited as a video nasty during the UK tabloid-led scare of the mid 80s and remains banned in Britain to date (April 2004). Chas Balun ranked it alongside films such as NEKROMANTIK and COMBAT SHOCK as "Films That Bite" in his celebrated "Deep Red Horror Handbook".
For those new to the film, then, it may well be difficult to see how FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE could ever have been considered that shocking. It isn't gory, and the multiple rape of the daughter is conducted almost entirely off-screen.
But while it may hold back on the red stuff a little, there is still a definite impression that the filmmakers were out to court controversy when making this sick little gem!
The racism in the script, for example, goes beyond excessive. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is at times hilarious, due to the absolute OTT content and delivery from Sanderson. It's unrelenting at times, but is clearly used as a devise to encourage the viewer to side with the put-upon Turners and consequently cheer them on as they turn the tables upon their bigoted captors.
More unnerving than the political incorrectness of the script are a couple of scenes involving children. The early liquor store hold-up includes a scene where Kane points a gun in the face of a clearly distressed toddler. The commentary track ensures us that steps were taken to protect the bairn from any psychological harm - but I have my doubts!
Then there's the infamous moment when Chow catches up with a young boy in the woods, and relishes in smashing his skull in with a rock. You just won't get to see this type of thing in Hollywood!!
The cast are uniformly excellent. Sanderson steals every single scene with his portrayal as one of the most reprehensible characters in motion picture history. That's no exaggeration! Robert Judd as the black minister Ted evokes great empathy from his audience, as you find yourself just wishing for him to put his "turn the other cheek" philosophy to the side and kick back for once!
Then there's Reggie Bythewood as the young son who will NOT be intimidated by his tormentors.
The editing and direction are brisk and flab-free, in the best B-movie exploitation tradition. Robert A Endelson's direction is brave and confrontational considering the material he had to work with, and as cheesy as some scenes may be (the flash-back to the mixed race affair in years gone by is hilariously bad) it must be said there is not a boring moment to be had in this 86 minute schlock fest.
Jeff Slevin's score adds tremendously to the sleaze factor - whether it be with his Isaac Hayes-esque opening song, or the genuinely accomplished score accompanying the many chase scenes.
In fact, as an artefact from the halcyon days of politically incorrect, truly dangerous 70s exploitation cinema, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE delivers the sensational goods in generous, memorable portions! It's up there with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as one of the best retribution movies of it's era.
Presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and, naturally, enhanced for 16x9 TV sets, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE looks far better than it ever did on VHS.
Images are much brighter than on previous incarnations and incredibly sharp in general. Colours are vivid for the most part, although occasionally you'll find the film looks a little washed-out and there a couple of moments of softness in image clarity.
Blue Underground have located the original negative and their master is transferred directly from this, so as you can imagine it looks as good as it possibly can - any minor defects along the way are down the age of the film and quality of the original negative. All in all, though, there's very little to complain about - the reports on the video quality of this disc on other sites have, I feel, been unjustifiably harsh: FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE looks great.
Audio is presented in the original English language mono soundtrack. Some voices are out of synch during the earlier stages of the film, though this may be due to post-dubbing at the time of filming (I no longer have my original VHS to make the comparison). Overall the audio holds up well - consistent and clear, with no hiss or drop-out.
The static menu pages are pretty boring and the snippets of audio dialogue from the film are somewhat muted. Thankfully, as mentioned above, the audio on the actual film is fine. The Scene Selection menu offers 21 chapters, which are also listed on the inside of the sleeve.
Of the extras, the audio commentary track from screenwriter Straw Weisman, director of photography Lloyd Freidus and moderator Bill Lustig (not credited on the cover or disc) is the most substantial.
Lustig is an obvious fan of the film and is genuinely interested in hearing Weisman's thoughts on issues such as the racial dialogue (apparently black audiences LOVED the film), working with Sanderson - a true gent, by all accounts - and the fact that Bythewood went on to write and direct 2003's hugely popular BIKER BOYZ!!
At one point, Weisman even challenges Lustig to remake the film …!
Two spoiler-ridden theatrical trailers offer different perceptions of the movie, according to the audience they're aimed at. The "White" version makes the film look like little more than a moderately violent crime caper. The "Black" version, however, is far more manipulative in it's implication of the film being about black people striking back against the oppressive white race. Such a trailer would surely fall foul of accusations of positive racism in this day and age, but as it stands it's a highly entertaining - if misleading advert, in decent condition for it's age. The "Black" version has the title STAYING ALIVE on screen, and has a voice-over by actor Robert Judd.
There's also a 25 second theatrical 'teaser' which is basically a still image from the closing moments of the film. Pointless.
Two TV spots are abridged versions of the "White" and "Black" theatrical trailers. Nothing more, nothing less. 30 seconds apiece.
Finally you get a 32-strong posters and stills gallery including various lobby cards and video covers. Worth a look. Blue Underground's disc is Region 0 NTSC encoded (single layer) and comes in a clear plastic keepcase, with great cover artwork that resembles the UK pre-cert video 'nasty' cover, on Vision On.
In summary, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is huge tasteless fun and no doubt a guilty pleasure for the many sleaze mongers out there old enough to have enjoyed the video nasty mania of the mid-80's first-hand.
The disc does this little-seen film justice, and is one that should be snapped up by all lovers of 70's grindhouse exploitation flicks pronto!
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Blue Underground|
|Region All NTSC|
|Extras : see main review|