Fear City Review

Fear City is a lurid exploitation thriller by cult director Abel Ferrara, most known for such work as King Of New York and Bad Lieutenant. Released in 1984, Fear City stars a couple of big names early in their respective careers, Melanie Griffith and Tom Berenger. Berenger is Matt Rossi, an ex-boxer turned private detective, looking for a slasher roaming the streets of Manhattan that is targeting strippers. Melanie Griffith plays Loretta, a drug-addled stripper that happens to be an ex-lover of Rossi’s. Billy Dee Williams plays a small role as a cop also chasing down the slasher.

Fear City is presented here in both its original R-rated version and an uncut version. There are minor differences between the two in terms of overall story, but the uncut version does paint a more explicit picture of Loretta’s lesbian relationship with another stripper. Much of Fear City takes place in strip clubs and the camera revels in the naked flesh at times. One of the key attractions to this film by its fans are the extended stripping sequences, especially by Melanie Griffith in all her glory as a young actress. The lurid violence and graphic sexuality were too much for Fox, who passed on releasing the movie theatrically to a smaller distributor.

Fear City works within the confines of its genre but ultimately fails to be satisfying as anything more than cheap thrills because of the principal villain, the slasher. We never hear him except in voice-overs and his visual look is laughable. Instead of looking like a true psychopath, the killer comes off as a buff karate kid that happens to be deranged. His undeveloped characterization leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the movie. It takes most of the menace out of the story, which is a shame as so many other elements are in place for a solid thriller.

Note: Currently Fear City is an exclusive at the Shout Factory Store.

Movie ★★★☆☆

And blacks crush everything @ 39:06

Shout Factory has provided both cuts of the film on a BD-50, encoded in AVC. The video encode averages a very strong 28 Mbps and cleanly handles the gritty film without artifacts or errors. Fear City is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio at 1080p resolution. A viewer knows something is up when the packaging warns about a change in picture quality for the uncut scenes. The 95-minute theatrical version uses a fresh high-definition transfer, while the roughly two additional minutes of uncut material are sourced from something akin to VHS. Watching the uncut version, one will notice a huge lapse in quality from the regular film source to the uncut scenes.

The R-rated theatrical version looks okay but is a bit rough in places. The transfer is clearly taken from a film source one or two generations removed from the camera negative, but the movie always had a tough, gritty presentation to it. Expect a large amount of grain and noise, particularly in the darker scenes at night. The strip club scenes look the best of all, as the dancers are all lit so brightly that every detail can be seen with solid clarity.

The transfer eschews filtering out the grain and shows no signs of possible ringing, indicating the transfer has not been harmfully manipulated. There is some softness to the picture and black levels do get crushed in spots. This is not a film with abundant shadow detail, most of that is likely due to the original budgetary and filming limitations. A moderate amount of degradation is evident in the master, as there are a number of both white and black flakes peppering the image in some scenes. The uncut scenes are sourced from a vastly inferior standard-definition source that immediately lowers the clarity and resolution from the rest of the movie.

Shout Factory has done about all they can do for this film on Blu-ray and the score only reflects problems in the source material. Fans should be happy to know it’s an upgrade in real resolution and detail over the DVD. It’s unlikely to look much better in HD but the movie always had a rough-hewn aesthetic for its era.

Video ★★☆☆☆

The only included soundtrack is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 option. The soundtrack has limited fidelity and it would be hard to differentiate it from mono sound. There is a surprising amount of bass to the music, particularly the Pop and Rock songs.

The cheesy music score from the 80s is probably the only thing that sounds decent from the soundtrack. Dialog gets muffled on occasion and sounds badly dubbed in a couple of scenes. The sound effects are weak and very thin, with no real power behind them. Not one cue in the entire movie has any real directionality. This mix reeks of being a low-budget effort that was largely an afterthought to the movie’s producers. It gets the job done but does absolutely nothing of note to stand out or enhance the cinematic experience.

Audio ★☆☆☆☆

Fear City offers no extra features, outside of including the uncut version of the movie.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.