Fight For Your Life (1977)
aka STAYIN’ ALIVE
Directed by: Robert A. Endelson
Written by: Straw Weisman
Larry! What are you doing?!
Back in the 70s, there was a film movement called “blaxploitation.” Everybody knows that now thanks to people like Quentin Tarantino. A lot of black people actually hate these movies. Most of the black heroes in these films are pimps, drug dealers and prostitutes. (Except for Shaft. He was actually a good guy.)
What a lot of people don’t realize is that there was another side of blaxploitation. A dirty, ugly side that only reared its head in movies that were rarely seen outside of The Deuce in New York City. Fight For Your Life was one of those movies. It’s the kind of movie that really was an excuse to have white people say some of the most degrading, racist things that they can to black people.
A group of escaped convicts led by Kane (William Sanderson–Blade Runner and Larry of “Larry, Darryl and Darryl” fame) take a black family hostage. Even though one is white, one Hispanic and one Asian, all three seem to hate black people and they use this as a chance to take out their frustrations on the entire black race. Especially Kane. The entire movie is basically Kane putting the head of the family through the most torturous and degrading things that he can think of. At one point, he makes him dance a jig. Then he makes him sing. He calls his wife “Aunt Jamima.” He calls him names I dare not print.
And, of course, it all ends with a blood bath where the family has their revenge on their oppressors. By then, though, it’s too little, too late. The daughter has already been raped by all three convicts and two friends have been killed. And the audience has already squirmed enough to wear a hole in their seats. According to the book Sleazoid Express, this movie even shocked the audiences of The Deuce. In an interview in the same book, Sanderson talked about how embarrassed he was by the movie. I mean, he was seriously going to kill a baby! How could you NOT be embarrassed by playing that role?!
At least Kane is the only bad white guy in the movie. Everyone else is perfectly friendly to the family. Both friends who were killed were white and a white police officer understands the actions of the family at the end of the movie. But the damage is kind of done. This is one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve seen since Harpo danced with the enormous black family in A Day At The Races.
Just to make sure that we get that this was a divisive movie, the DVD has two different trailers on it: one black and one white. The white one talks up the racial violence and how “we live in violent times! We need to do something about it!” The black one (where it’s called Stayin’ Alive) shows the family getting their revenge and carving whitey up. There’s an announcer saying, “Get ‘im, Momma! Get ‘im, Poppa!” Characters shout “Black Power!” at each other.
Sigh. I guess there’s a place for reprehensible cinema. And that place is on this list. Funny that it turns out that the first non-horror movie I see from the Nasties list is the most horrific of all.
I did like Gramma, though. She was pretty awesome.