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murder, electrocution, genital stabbing…
sounds like a winner to us!
After witnessing a gang of junkies that have been squatting in the building’s basement dining on rats (?!) and doing drugs, one of the tenants gets fed up and reports the gang to the police. Assuming that their troubles are now over, the tenants of the apartment celebrate as the gang is led away by the police. Unfortunately for them, when the gang is released later that night, they come back for revenge searching the tenement floor by floor, attacking anyone they find. The tenants find themselves being picked off one by one until they band together to repel the menace.
This is a very violent and sleazy film about a tenement building in the South Bronx under siege by a brutal street gang. TENEMENT (also known as SLAUGHTER IN THE SOUTH BRONX) was directed by Roberta Findlay, perhaps best known to exploitation fans for her work with her late husband, Michael Findlay on such films as SNUFF and SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED, as well as being partially responsible for the rise of the so called “roughie films” of the late 60s and 70s. The cast is largely made up of unknowns; the only person I recognized in the film was Paul Calderon, who’s been a character actor for many years. This was his first film role, and he puts in a solid performance.
The film was rated “X” by the MPAA for its levels of violence and profanity when it was released in 1985, and an uncut version was unavailable for many years. Shriek Show released an uncut DVD of the film in 2005 and that is the version of the film used for this review. That “X” rating isn’t all that surprising to those who’ve seen it. The film features an impressive level of violence from both the gang members and the tenants. People are murdered, raped (in a particularly nasty scene involving a broom handle), electrocuted, stabbed in the genitals, and even having boiling water thrown on them, among other things. There is even a strange sex scene between two gang members where the guy rubs the blood of a murdered tenant all over the girl’s breasts while he makes out with her. This is not a film you’ll want to watch with the family on a Sunday afternoon.
One of the things that I think is a nice touch about the film is the variety of people living in the tenement building. A wide range of people from different backgrounds are featured including a prostitute earning money to support her boyfriend’s heroin addiction, a blind man and his seeing eye dog, a single mother, a retired widow, and a variety of others. The gang is also comprised of people from a variety of different racial and ethnic backgrounds which, as Findlay points out in the commentary track, isn’t all that likely to occur in most gangs.
On the other hand, I found myself constantly amused at the graffiti on the walls of the tenement building. Sayings spray painted on the walls like “Ramon is the best”, “Stinky”, and “Alf” don’t exactly inspire fear in the viewer. Another small complaint is that when the gang is trying to be destructive in the apartments, they don’t exactly seem committed to the task at hand. Instead of actually trashing the place, at times they appear to just pick a few things to break and leave most things intact. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of the gang members is dressed a bit like a circus strong man, which is always good for a laugh.
Findlay’s commentary on the DVD is full of fascinating information about the experiences that they had filming TENEMENT. The film was shot in an actual tenement high rise in the South Bronx where gangs were very active at the time. The wife of the police commissioner at the time was cast in a small role as one of the tenants, despite her husband’s protests, and the police commissioner assigned several policemen to guard the filming location to protect her. This, of course, was a great advantage to the cast and crew who still had to occasionally bribe gang members and junkies to stay out of the areas being filmed. One local gang member actually wound up being cast as a member of the gang in the film. At one point, they found a dead bear in one of the filming locations and police later turned up some dead bodies in the same lot.
On the whole, if you like very sleazy grindhouse exploitation films, you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s got it all from that standpoint. Bloody violence, nudity, and rape abound. Also, at only 94 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The films flaws can easily be overlooked in favor of its exploitation strengths if you ask me, and I give it a recommend for viewers who don’t mind the rough stuff. Just beware of the catchy customer 80’s theme song which has an uncanny ability to get stuck in your head.
Verdict: Buy it.