Deep Cuts: “Fear City” 1984 Dir. Abel Ferrara

With Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Melanie Griffith, Jack Scalia, Rae Dawn Chong and Michael V. Gazzo

“There’s nothing I hate more than guineas in Cadillacs.” –Al Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams)

    I absolutely love Abel Ferrara’s films. While I might not enjoy watching them, I do appreciate and respect the shit out of them. I’ve seen most of his films, and they’re very hard to come by. His staples, “Bad Lieutenant”, “Dangerous Game” and “The Funeral” are floating around on DVD, but it’s his deeper cuts that are very, very hard to come by. This is mainly due to the fact that most of his films fail to find distribution.

If Ferrara ever made a mainstream film, it would be “Fear City”. Starring, at the time, an A-list cast, which is very unusual for a Ferrara film. This film, much like his others, takes place in New York City where the city is turned upside down by a serial killer who is preying on strippers.

    Tom Berenger headlines the cast as Matt Rossi, a former boxer who is now a talent agent for strippers. He runs the agency with his best friend and partner, Nicky (Jack Scalia). Rossi lines up all the girls for most of the clubs in New York that the Italian mob owns and runs.

He frequents one club that’s run by Michael V. Gazzo (most known from “Godfather 2” and “Fingers”) to see his ex-girlfriend Loretta (Melanie Griffith) perform. Rossi is a complex character; he’s haunted by his last boxing match that left the other fighter dead. He’s also trying to vie for the attention of Loretta, and now he’s out to find the serial killer.

    Billy Dee Williams gives a command performance as Al Wheeler, a hardnosed vice cop who now works for homicide. He’s also on the hunt for the serial killer, all the while clashing with the mob and Rossi. Williams has always been an excellent character actor, and I will always think of him as Lando and the original Harvey Dent, but in this film, he’s the anti-Lando. He’s terrific.

“Fear City” is a very strange and bizarre film. What else would you expect from Ferrara? This film is very choppy and disjointed, due to two reasons. The first is because the version I watched (DVD from Amazon) is the “cut” version that edits out a lot the gruesome violence and unapologetic nudity that was in the original cut. I’m Not saying the version I watched is tame, because it’s not.

The second reason this is such a disjointed movie is because that is essentially Ferrara’s authorship. All of his films aren’t cohesive or even coherent. Why should they be? Life isn’t. Ferrara and his screenwriting partner Nicholas St. John create yet another film that displays the dark side of humanity that doesn’t need explanations or accountability, because the evil that brews inside this killer reminds me much of Travis Bickle, he is a manifestation of society.

    What I found really fascinating about this film is the fact that the serial killer in the film isn’t given a name and even more interesting is that he’s not even credited in the film. He’s an actor I’ve never seen before, and while searching the IMDb message boards and using the Google Machine, I still can’t find out who this guy is. But I can tell you one thing; he scared the shit out of me in this movie.

“Fear City” is available for purchase on DVD on Amazon, and also to rent on Amazon Prime for $1.99.

Rating: 8/10