Hookers, Vice Squads, and Prettykills: the Sensationalized vs. the Gritty

October 30, 2017 | By

Somewhat of a follow-up to my prior smut-related reviews of Hardcore (1979) and Inserts (1975) + Editor’s Blog, this quartet deals with streetwalkers-themed films, one of which is a classic documentary.

Waiting for business in Hookers on Davie (1984).

Released as a grey market DVD-R by Mr. Fat, Hookers on Davie / Working on Davie Street (1984) is an iconic, gritty Canadian documentary by Janice Cole and Holly Dale, who trained their camera on a handful of prostitutes in what was regarded as ‘hooker central of Canada’ – Vancouver’s Davie Street.

There’s a moment at the end when sex workers have assembled for a protest march, and voice the conundrum of being perpetually trapped: if prostitution were legalized, the social stigma and the inability to work in a safe environment would remain; and if proposed criminal legislation were to pass, workers with a record couldn’t gain straight work nor find affordable housing.

The police and the legalities of the world’s oldest profession aren’t addressed in Cole & Dale’s film, whereas the friction between hookers, johns, and undercover detectives battling organized crime are central to the following trilogy of fictional sexploitation thrillers.

Sex & violence are eternal cinema soul mates, but it is bizarre how the three following films are connected to Paul Schrader’s Hardcore.

Oh Wings, you cad!

Gary Sherman’s research and a script by a vice squad insider resulted in the uber-sleazy yet shockingly good Vice Squad (1982), starring Season Hubley as a mom working the night to pay the bills as an indie hooker.

Hubley had played a more street-savvy peepshow hooker / adult actress / prostitute in Hardcore, but this is a richer role with far edgier scenes that should’ve led to bigger and better material.

As Sherman details in the commentary track for Anchor Bay’s old DVD, the career leap never really happened, but Wings Hauser certainly leapt to fame as the world’s nastiest pimp, carving (so to speak) a career in B and Z grade action film for much of his career.

Princess Leia is not the star.

Vice Quad’s executive producer Sandy Howard seemed to figure hookers would yield more box office gold, and made a sort-of follow-up with director Penelope Spheeris, Hollywood Vice Squad (1986), released on DVD by Image.

Trish Van Devere, wife of Hardcore star George C. Scott, played the mother of a runaway teen (Robin Wright in her film debut) caught in a prostitution ring, but the film is better-known for Carrie Fisher cast as a vice cop highly motivated to break the glass ceiling within the male-dominated division.

Fisher is neither a ‘guest star’ nor the star but one of many familiar faces that make up the ensemble cast, and one suspects the characters were being pitched for a possible franchise, or for a subsequent watered-down series for cable / Pay TV.

Aka ‘Prettyshitty’

Hollywood Vice Squad cinematographer Joao Fernandes also shot the hardcore porn classic Deep Throat (1972), and was hired to lens the CanCon dud Prettykill / Tomorrow’s Killer (1987), an awful serial killer-hooker thriller starring David Birney (!) as a boozing vice cop having an affair with a known upscale Madame, played by Season Hubley.

The Toronto-shot stinker is visually dated, badly directed by George Kaczender, poorly acted, and ineptly written, and represents the kind of direct-to-video and TV movie banalities shot in Toronto during the mid-80s and early 90s when it was Any City, U.S.A. Prettykill apparently received theatrical, tape, and laserdisc releases, but the review source is a medicocre copy floating on YouTube.

The three reviewed films share some of the strangest connections in cinema, with Schrader’s Hardcore being the grandpappy that may or may not have inspired the run of hooker-styled thrillers during the 1980s, but there’s an obvious slide in quality as you progress towards the third and final exploitation flick.

Coming next: a review of Brian Damude lost CanCon thriller Sudden Fury (1975), which screened this past Tuesday Oct. 24th at the Royal Cinema, and is available nowhere on home video. It’s status and its making were central to a discussion with director Damude, producer Lawrence Caza, and moderator Geoff Pevere, and I’ll have a related podcast featuring an edited version of their conversation shortly.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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