Fear City 1984 movie Tom Berenger with his hands up

Fear City [1984]

Oozing with sleaze and pulp, Fear City is a movie that boiled down all the necessary ingredients for an eighties slashers into a strange potion. You will be overloaded with nudity and graphic violence to the point of desensitization. This is a story about a serial killer who targets exotic dancers and two guys trying to catch him. One is an official version of a pimp and the other is a hard-boiled detective. Can it get more eighties than that?

Along with neon signs, increased contrast, and obligatory male nudity during martial arts exercise in the style of Russel Crowe in Virtuosity, I submit to you that it cannot. Director Abel Ferrara already explored serial killers in his previous movies The Driller Killer and Ms .45 with a more creative and edgier approach. With this movie, he tried to break through into the mainstream while still keeping that edge. Something he so gloriously achieved with the gritty masterpiece Bad Lieutenant some eight years later.

Fear City may look and feel like a noir movie but I think the superficial approach to subjects and characters explored here puts it more in the edgy thriller/horror section. I mean, sure we get the usual flashes of past trauma and heavy baggage that all characters carry but somehow you don’t feel that all this goes anywhere. It’s merely a backdrop for visually intense scenes of half-naked girls dancing intercut with brutal attacks. Still, if you wanted to go deep you could, the characters are open to interpretation. This is that type of movie where a narrative isn’t pushed down your throat but left shrouded in mystery. Especially when it comes to our serial slasher.

Matt Rossi is a retired boxer who ended his career after a horrible accident that still haunts. Living in New York and being close to the mob, he easily found a new job. Matt is now running a talent agency that hires exotic dancers for strip clubs. When the girls working for his agency start getting attacked by an unknown assailant he will have to find a way to protect them. And catch the killer at the same time. This attacker is however like no other. He’s very proficient in martial arts and uses a blade to slash and cripple his victims, beautiful and innocent girls…

Starring young Tom Berenger and Billy Dee Williams, Fear City also features Melanie Griffith nine years after she took a swim in one of the best noir movies out there Night City. You can compare her screen presence here with that of Demi Moor in Striptease. She’s naked in almost half of her scenes, along with the rest of the female cast. I also have to mention Michael V. Gazzo who played his role as the sleazy bar owner brilliantly. You might remember him from another eighties classic Alligator, covered in our list of movies about crocodiles.

Ferrara successfully captured the neon glow of eighties New York and this movie is sort of a time capsule of that period. Other than that, predictable story and not fully-fleshed-out characters marred the potential of Fear City. It’s still worth watching, especially if you like this setting and serial killer movies. If you’re looking for similar movies you might want to check out classics that inspired Fear City like Maniac, The New York Ripper, Wolfen and Escape from New York.

Finally, I should tell you that the movie Fear City is actually inspired by real serial killer Richard Cottingham. He prowled the streets of New York city in the late seventies raping, torturing and killing more than 80 victims. He’s also known as The Times Square Killer as he operated in that area of the town that was full of sleazy bars, peep shows and other unruly establishments. If you want to know more about him I suggest you check out the Netflix miniseries Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer.

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Nicholas St. John

Cast: Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Scalia, Melanie Griffith, Rae Dawn Chong, Joe Santos, Michael V. Gazzo, Maria Conchita Alonso

Fun Facts: The name of the killer featured in the film was never revealed. Nor is the actor who played him during the end credits of the film.


IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087247/

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