Cast: Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Scalia, Rae Dawn Chong, Maria Conchita Alonso
Genre: Action Thriller
Plot: A killer is targeting New York City strippers, and world-weary policeman Al Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams) confronts sleazes Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger) and Nicky Parenzo (Jack Scalia), who have a hand in the local adult entertainment scene. Wheeler wants the duo to dig up some clues and threatens to find a reason to put them behind bars. But, as Matt watches his stripper ex-lover, Loretta (Melanie Griffith) cope with the murders through drug abuse, he decides to hunt down the killer himself
'Decent Thriller On Depths of Stripper-Adjacent Misery'
It's funny that many critics label Fear City as an example of the lowest trash, in terms of it being an erotic thriller is one of those movies where as I watched it, that it doesn't appear to be as so monumentally seedy and trashy compared to a couple of other erotic slasher movies I've come across before. Rather this unfortunately overlooked 1984 affair is not just a product of its time, but it is also entertaining and thoroughly interesting throughout.
What makes Fear City different to so many other erotic thrillers is the casting and the lavish and bold bright lights, big New York City flavour that really lends itself to the settings authenticity. It gives off that really nice big city vibe that one would come to associate NY with. Abel Ferrera's direction is quite fascinating; I loved how it looked and this from the man who did King of New York with Christopher Walken and the original Bad Lieutenant with Harvey Keitel.
The different striptease bars, alleyways that we get to see in this film that other directors wouldn't generally considering shooting on camera. & in through this, you get to see what seedy New York looks like late at night. It presents this morbid, dangerous, gritty and yet unfriendly vision of New York with some odd characters that appear at night. & having Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith and Billy Dee Williams - so called well known Hollywood stars of '80s (B) movies at the time - gave off that somewhat mainstream-ish feel. The casting is very good and Berenger, Griffith and Williams gave exceptional performances. Although with Billy Dee for me, he is way too much of a nice guy to play a hard-ass, angry detective. Berenger plays the down-on-your-luck boxer, Matt who is also the owner of a strip club, who still harbours feelings for his ex/on- and- off old flame, Loretta (Melanie Griffith) and seeing her wallow in despair as a heroin addict. She is in a relationship with another woman, but as the movie progresses, she falls for Matt and they resume their relationship.
The movie's notable strength is in that the 2 lead characters, Matt and Loretta are flawed individuals, who though have their share of woes to contend with, succeed in the end and they end up in each other's arms. This was what I found most appealing whilst watching this movie.
And then we have the antagonist: the scrawny looking, no-name, karate-kicking murderer who pounces on and kills his victims on site, and of whom barely says a word. This character as good a fighter as he is, personality-wise, is completely void and is as bland as porridge. If there is one flaw about this movie, it is the total lack of characterisation with regards to the villain. Given that no background information was given about him, to me, he is just some wacko, nut-job who slices and dices strippers of whom he targets as his prey. The fight between him and Rossi was good, although realistically perhaps, a martial arts fighter would more likely win against a person who uses just punches all the time in an actual fight.
This is an erotic action- thriller, 80s noir- style; simultaneously, it is a crime story, a slasher film, a cop drama, a mafia film, a love story and a film noir, all wrapped up into one package.
The plot is sub-standard, like with any other erotic thriller-type movie - but the twists here aren't as serious, shocking, nor surprising as one would usually expect from a movie of this genre. I understand that 20th Century Fox produced this movie, but then passed on the distribution of it, as they weren't too keen on how sordid it was. Looking at it today, it is no more sordid and seedy as one would enter a strip joint or sex club on the corner of Soho late at night.
Like I said earlier, people who watch this movie will think this is cringe-worthy sleaze and erotic trash; upon further inspection and deeper viewing into this movie, I realise that Fear City, though it may not offer much, its atmospheric night time setting, pleasant cast and some exceptional performances makes it a rather decent crime thriller, altogether.
It may not be the best movie of this genre and there aren't too many shocks and plot twists, which would have spiced things up even more, but I liked a few things about it and it maintained my interest until the end. On paper, Tom Berenger and Melanie Griffith sounds like an unusual romantic pairing, but on screen, I could sense their chemistry and they looked good together as the troubled couple- to- be, who eventually rekindle their relationship.
Fear City is an interesting and decent effort by Abel Ferrera and one worth a watch, particularly if you are into noir crime thrillers. Just don't expect too much out of it.