The film is essentially a rethread of William Wyler’s Desperate Hours, refitted for the 42nd St crowd. Three convicts have escaped during a routine prisoner transfer. Led by Southern white trash Jessie Lee Kane, the convicts hide out at the home of a middle class God-fearing black family and subject them to an ordeal of abuse, violence and rape, that is until the tables are turned… Also known as Getting Even, I Hate Your Guts and in the disco era Stayin' Alive, Fight for Your Life is one of the most incendiary exploitation films ever made. While the power of most horror films is diluted over time, Fight for Your Life looks and sounds even more astonishing nowadays as actor William Sanderson (who went on to play the doomed replicant designer in Blade Runner) lets loose a humiliating tirade of racial slurs upon his hostages. Besides the sickening racism, the film is also critical of organized religion – when the head of the family, a pastor chooses to turn the other cheek in the face of such tyranny, Kane beats him senseless with his bible.
|Who could kill a child ? William Sanderson could...|
Subtext aside, Fight for Your Life is a shameless button-pusher and gleefully plays the race card to the hilt specifically to infuriate black audiences – at one point Kane makes the pastor do a jig and call him “master”, while in another scene, Kane tries to lynch the wife in the woods. Producer William Mishkin was notorious for his spartan budgets but the film is surprisingly competent and well shot, perhaps making the film a little easier to withstand. Had the film the same raw power of say Last House on the Left, scenes like a little boy having his head smashed with a rock, or the moment when the daughter emerges from a gang rape battered and bruised, would have rendered the film unwatchable. Good work too from the cast – it’s William Sanderson’s show all the way as the spiteful and sneering Kane, and Robert Judd who plays the much abused pastor gives a fine, gutsy performance. Fight For Your Life is a significant moment in the annals of American Exploitation, and perhaps one day it will finally claim the honour of being the final Video Nasty on the DPP’s list to remain banned in Britain.
Blue Underground’s 2004 DVD of Fight For Your Life is marvellous. The transfer framed around 1:77 looks great and does a fine job of reproducing the film’s autumnal look. The image is sometimes soft looking and there are one or two weird motion blurs but this is faithful to the way the film was shot and developed. For extras Bill Lustig joins writer Straw Wiesman, and DP Lloyd Freidus for an engaging commentary track. Sadly director Robert Endleson and William Sanderson are absent, both notoriously reticent to discuss the film. There’s also a gallery of publicity material for the film as well as two trailers, both tailored to white and black audiences.