If you've been looking for a Quebecois hooker revenge flick to round out your collection, Judge Paul Corupe urges you to look no further.
Revenge is a dish best served with a side of backbacon.
By the mid-1970s, the exploitation film genre was beginning to change. That not-so-venerable staple of the grindhouse, the docile cheescake film, had run its course. Producers were now pushing boundaries by mixing sex with violence and repulsion, offering up unpalatable fare like SS Experiment Love Camp and Deep River Savages. Following their lead, the fledgling Canadian B-film industry gradually introduced a strong measure of violence into their films too, supplementing the softcore sex films that had virtually defined French-Canadian cinema throughout the late 1960s. One of the first and most graphic examples of this sensibility was East End Hustle, a unqiue Quebecois hooker revenge flick.
Facts of the Case
Young Marianne (Anne-Marie Provencher, Bingo) is being pushed into prostitution by her sleazy sweatshop boss. She's rescued at the last minute by embittered ex-call girl Cindy (Andrée Pelletier, Outrageous!), who snatches her from the clutches of prospective pimp Dan (Miguel Fernandes, Ghost Story). Recent violent behavior by both Dan and the johns have already left one of her girls dead, and she has broken free with a plan to help the rest of the stable escape. Dan is already upset with Cindy for leaving. When he loses Marianne on the deal as well, he decides it's time for some retaliation of his own, having his thugs brutally rape Cindy and calling in a couple of New York mob cronies. But this only inspires Cindy to step up her efforts, secreting the girls away to an abandoned flophouse. When Dan blackmails one of them into revealing the holed-up hookers' whereabouts, Cindy knows she must confront the pimp to end his persistent and dangerous exploitation of the girls.
Distributed in the US by New World Films and later picked up by those toxic cineastes at Troma, East End Hustle was the second and final collaboration between director Frank Vitale and his screenwriting partner Allan Moyle. (Moyle would later go out on his own to script and/or direct a few Hollywood hits, including Pump up the Volume and Empire Records.) While not for all viewers, it's a compelling, if offbeat little flick that simultaneously repulses with its disturbing mix of dirty thrills and gritty cinema verité, and surprises you with its staunch feminist stance.
Though the exploitation meter runs into the red with frequent scenes of gratuitous nudity and softcore dry-humping, it's the character of Cindy who really excites. Perhaps one of the most fully realized females to appear on any movie screen in the 1970s, she is a smart, self-poised, and occasionally ass-kicking Montreal hooker running a one-woman rebellion against the mistreatment of her sex trade sisters. In scenes that you would never see in a Hollywood retelling, Cindy mops the pool table and humbles a couple of lovelorn hosers not more than 15 minutes into the picture. She later pulls a switchblade on a pair of prospective Romeos to teach them a lesson on respecting women-all after luring them into her car with promises of some backseat action. A character extension of the strong, sexually free female characters that populated the earlier French-Canadian sex comedies in celebration of Quebec's cultural revolution of the 1960s, Cindy is a refreshingly real person leading her friends out of bondage, not a shotgun-toting cartoon character blowing away pimps in velour outfits.
Unfortunately, this is East End Hustle's greatest flaw. Despite Troma's best promotional efforts, this film doesn't even approach the blood-drenched fury of Bo Vibenius' conceptually similar Thriller: A Cruel Picture. It's easy to see how most viewers will come away disappointed by the lack of revenge-fueled violence, sexual or otherwise. The one concession to the raincoat crowd, Cindy's rape scene, offers up no winking vicarious thrills at all. Instead, it's the film's most brutal sequence, made tragic by the strength of her character and the sheer viciousness of the attempt to put her back in her place. Perhaps the Quebecois just have too much respect for les belles filles; the film works best as a celebration of female freedom and form, divorced from the sometimes salacious appetites of the 1970s grindhouse crowd, even if the premise is loaded with seedy potential.
In terms of presentation, fans of the film will not be disappointed at all. Troma has scraped together the fully uncut version on the film for this DVD release. It's full frame, but appears to be an open-matte job. Quality of the transfer could be a spot better, but it's certainly an improvement over prior VHS versions. They were often so dark as to be almost indiscernible. Here everything is quite sharp, and there are no artifacts to speak of. I did notice some pixelization during night scenes, however, and the black levels aren't solid throughout. Sound is about what you would expect: a flat mono Finally, there are no meaningful extras included, just an intro by Mr. Skin about the film, and an unrelated interview with the celebrity nudity internet "expert" by Troma's Lloyd Kaufman
Forget Troma's hyperbole, focus on the story, and you may even end up enjoying this one. A unique French-Canadian entry in the exploitation canon, East End Hustle is a gritty crime flick with an uncommon respect for the fairer sex.
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