Although the tagline for Sudden Death reads, “Don’t mess with this Dirty Harriet,” I practically had to be hit over the head with a user comment on IMDb before I could make the connection. Valerie (Denise Coward), the protagonist of this movie is actually not a hard-nosed city cop like Mr. Eastwood’s most famous counterpart, rather she’s far more akin to his revenge seeking nemesis played by Sondra Locke in Sudden Impact (again, how lame is it that I didn’t make this connection? The word Sudden should have been my first clue). And in some respects she’s an awesome female companion to Robert Forster’s angst ridden vigilante in, you guessed it, Vigilante.
After Valerie is brutally raped and told her case isn’t all that high on the priority list, this hot mamma grabs a gun and decides to hunt her assailants while cleaning up the streets of New York along the way. The problem is Valerie isn’t all that good at the vengeance thing. I mean, she becomes a notorious multi-murderer (nicknamed the Dum-Dum Killer based on the bullets she uses), but she always let the culprit get just a tad too close. This girl is on death’s door (or more aptly, rape’s door) almost every time she encourages a situation. So, she gets points for effort but loses some in execution. Ha! Get it? Execution…? Well, it seemed funny at the time…
Released in 1985, Sudden Death is pure exploitation, and somewhat enjoyable. Writer/Director Sig Shore goes out of his way to capture New York as a city living in fear. Empty, rain-slicked streets become the stomping ground for the human animals. Every male is potentially a rapist, or at the very least, a really gross dude (check out the drug addict cab driver for proof). The women aren’t exactly portrayed as pure victims, but in an interesting scene featuring Valerie and her friend window shopping, they pass a confederate flag and a gun shop. This is not just a man’s world; it’s a universe devoid of anything not completely masculine (beside the feminine targets) and these guys apparently haven’t set foot outside the civil war (why a confederate flag is being displayed in New York is beyond me). With the exception of Detective Marty Lowery (Frank Runyeon), there are no likable men to be found. Even Valerie’s (soon to be ex) fiancé doesn’t understand why she can’t just go back to normal and screw him. It’s important to note that this film came out just a few years after the courts quit blaming the victim as much as the rapist himself. That’s probably why this revenge fantasy works. Although slow and somewhat flawed, the filmmakers put in an earnest effort to showcase Valerie as a woman lost in the scuffle of new system, which might not be able to implicate the woman in the court room, but can certainly incriminate her in the eyes of a still ignorant public. Anything that gives people an excuse not to care, right?
Australian born Coward gives the film a rocky start, but becomes more likable as the film progresses and she’s allowed to not just be wide-eyed and sweet. It is suggested that she treasures the battle wounds she retains from each murder, and these counter attacks allow her to move forward with her life. Of course I’m not saying assault victims should grab their favorite gun and right the wrongs of the world, but it certainly feels good to watch a pretty lady exact revenge. What can I say, I’m a softie!
This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.