Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cretin Hop

SUBURBIA: Collector's Edition
(Penelope Spheeris, US, 1983, 94 mins.)

"You'll love 'em or hate 'em."

Under the heading "Roger Corman's Cult Classics," Shout! Factory does punk fans a solid with this spiky one-two punch: Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia and Allan Arkush's Rock 'n' Roll High School, both now available with a combination of old and new extras, including trailers for the next two films in the series: Piranha and Death Race 2000.

Spheeris, the director behind 1979's The Decline of Western Civilization (and the pro-
ducer behind Real Life), opens her film exploitation-style as a suburban mother picks up teen hitchhiker Sheila (Jennifer Clay, quite good). The next thing she knows, a Doberman has her young daughter in its clutches. It's unclear whether Sheila pro-
voked the incident or not. Later, it transpires that wild dogs are roaming the streets
of Orange County, and that Sheila, the victim of child abuse, wouldn't hurt a fly.

Presumably, the kids with whom she's about to co-habitate are like those dogs: rootless, hungry, eager to fuck shit up--or at least that's how the outside world
sees them. (In her commentary, Spheeris says she took inspiration for the
crazed canines from the sudden closure of a guard-dog training center.)

After that disturbing prologue, she shifts to the home life of a couple of other un-
happy youngsters in the So-Cal suburbs. Deciding he can't take his booze-sozzled harpy of a mother anymore, Evan (Bill Coyne, one of the few professional actors) runs away, though he'll soon return to collect younger brother Ethan (Andrew Pece).

On his first night alone, Evan ends up at a punk show where the discomforting ex-
ploits continue as D.I.'s Casey Royer sings, "Richard hung himself!" while Skinner (Timothy O'Brien) rips off a valley girl's dress to the crowd's delight. No one steps
in to lend her a hand. The bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then billed as Mike B. the Flea, watches with his pet rat. Oh, and someone doses Evan's beer.

So far, the punk scene seems more creepy than cozy as the kids also take issue
with homosexuals and the disabled. Charming. Then bleached blond Jack (Chris Pedersen) spots Evan crashed out in front of the club and lets him sleep in his beat-up car. Stepson of a cop, Jack commiserates. "Parents are so lame," he sighs.

The next day he throws a beer bottle at a vehicle, because "I hate buses." Jack, in short, is an idiot, but at least he has a heart, and Evan moves into his roach-infest-
ed crash pad. Turns out his roomies, who call themselves The Rejected, are the same creeps who put last night's party girl in her place, but they have more re-
spect for the women--and the one-legged guy--who populate their own tribe.

So, Evan gets a T.R. tattoo and a haircut. Just as he's found a new home, a couple
of rednecks start taking out the dogs, indicating that the punks may face similar treatment in the days to come. Now Evan's life revolves around TV, Rodney on the ROQ, stealing food from the garages of unsuspecting suburbanites, and defacing property (at least the skinheads in This Is England targeted condemned buildings).

If the kids aren't initially sympathetic, Spheeris gives the the blue-collar guys and
the cops, notably Jack's stepfather, Officer Rennard, back stories of their own. The former, for instance, have just joined the ranks of the unemployed through factory layoffs. They're angry, too. Consequently, comparisons to Easy Rider don't quite work.

Instead, Suburbia updates earlier entries about kicking against the pricks, like If..., A Clockwork Orange, and Over the Edge. And with their flat, but effective line readings,
it comes as little surprise to find that most of the cast didn't go onto acting careers, but they add the verisimilitude for which Spheeris was looking. As she explains, "It was easier to turn a punk rocker into an actor than an actor into a punk rocker."

Her first feature also offers some choice quotes. Here's Redneck #1 on the gang, "Mental rejects running wild on our streets!" Here's Skinner to Don Allen's Rennard, "If we didn't have each other, we wouldn't have anything." And then there's this pungent exchange: Redneck #2: "Where's the war?" Skinner: "Up your ass!"

As with Over the Edge and Rock 'n' Roll High School, the film ends with a showdown between the outlaws and straight society. I won't say who wins, only that Spheeris captures the feel of an old Western as surely as John Carpenter did in Assault on Precinct 13. Extra features include a photo gallery, three original trailers (two of which refer to the film as Rebel Streets), and two commentary tracks; Spheeris on one and Spheeris, Clay, and mattress king-turned-producer Bert Dragin on the other.

Next: Rock 'n' Roll High School

Images from MovieMeter.
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