MOVIES

CRACK HOUSE

Doing a little retro review today of this mostly-forgotten movie. This film was released in 1989, a year after COLORS and two years before BOYZ N THE HOOD, the Powers That Be at B-Movie powerhouse Cannon Films gave us this gritty look at the gang-infested streets of South Los Angeles. Written by Blake Schaffer and Jack Silverman and directed by Michael Fischa this film stars Gregg Thomsen (credited as Greg Gomez Thomsen) and Cher Butler (credited as Cheryl Kay) as a pair of teenage lovebirds, Rick and Melissa.

Rick is a Hispanic former gang member, who has put that life behind him, while Melissa is a White girl who lives with her promiscuous and alcoholic single mother.  The two of them want to marry and get out of The Hood that they live in, Rick plans to join the Air Force while Melissa wants to become a fashion designer. They’re presented as a typical Romeo and Juliet couple, with the odds stacked against them. Melissa’s mother doesn’t like Rick, and Rick still feels pulled towards his old gang. We get one love scene between the two, in the backseat of Rick’s car at night, which is supposed to be tender but just looks kind of awkward.

One night, Rick’s cousin Jesus (Louis A. Rivera, credited as Louis Rivera), who is also the leader of the gang, is killed in a drive-by shooting. Rick is angry enough to impulsively rejoin the gang and lead them in a revenge attack on the gang that shot at them (I’ll note that Rick’s gang, the Pocos, are Hispanic and the other gang, the G’s, are Black, and racial tension between Hispanics and Blacks is a huge motivation in this feud). What follows is a brutal shootout scene (in which Rick is seen shooting his gun, but it doesn’t look like he actually hit anybody (a different Poco is seen killing the man who killed Jesus), in which Rick is the only member of the Pocas who doesn’t manage to get away and gets caught by the police.

Richard Roundtree (that’s right, SHAFT!) plays a small but pivotal role as Lt. Johnson, the cop who arrests and interrogates Rick. But he can’t get Rick to snitch on his homies, so he’s the one charged with attempted murder and other charges, now facing 10-20 years in prison. Realizing that he’s thrown his life away, he tells Melissa to just go on and forget about him.

Next, we see Melissa walking home from the grocery store when she’s followed and then jumped by four of the Pocos. Despite knowing who she is, the Pocos apparently have no loyalty towards Rick and proceed to attempt to rape her, but she’s saved by the timely arrival of B.T., a local Black drug dealer whom we’d earlier seen flirting with Melissa at the high school, even though he knew she had a boyfriend. B.T. (played by Clyde Risley Jones, credited as Clyde R. Jones), convinces the Pocos to leave Melissa alone and he takes her away. She’s understandably shaken up by the experience, so he gives her some whiskey followed by a line of cocaine to calm her down. Later he takes her with him to a party, where he gets her to smoke crack and then takes her into the back of his van where they have sex.

Well, actually, you’d technically call this rape, because she’s clearly high out of her mind and saying no, that she doesn’t want to, but she’s unable to put up a fight as B.T. refuses to listen to her and just keep going. It’s a thankfully brief scene (although Cher Butler’s bare breasts are exposed during it, even though they weren’t during her earlier consensual love scene with Thomsen, which is a bit odd when you think about it).

It’s not clear how much time passes next, but we see her in school where her guidance counselor notices that her grades have been slipping and she’s looking worse.

Note: the guidance counselor is played by Anthony Geary, aka Luke Spencer, from LUKE AND LAURA. This was during his initial 7-year hiatus from General Hospital when he was apparently desperate to distance himself from his most famous role by taking roles that were completely different,  but he’s clearly wasted in this minor role.

When her mother finds some crack in Melissa’s bedroom and threatens to kick her out, Melissa leaves to go live with B.T. Then we see B.T. getting jacked by the Pocos, who steal all of his crack and money. B.T. and Melissa are now full-blown addicts, suffering from withdrawal, and Melissa ends up being forced to perform some kind of sex act with another dealer in exchange for some more crack for her and B.T. This scene shows how degraded Melissa has become, although thankfully doesn’t show the actual act, she strips down to her bra and panties before the scene cuts away.

And then in comes football and blaxploitation legend JIM BROWN, as Steadman, the drug kingpin who B.T. works for. He’s mad that B.T. lost his drugs, and demands repayment. And he kidnaps Melissa, taking her with him to his main Crack House, where he plans to keep her until B.T. can pay him back. At this point it’s an hour into the movie (which is about an hour and a half long), where we finally see the Crack House that this film is named after. It’s a surprisingly small house, occupied by a bunch of Black guys with guns.

The first night he takes her there, Steadman takes Melissa into a room and beats her with a belt (thankfully that’s also off-camera). The next day he forces her to watch as Annie, a beautiful blonde White girl introduced earlier in the film (and played by Heidi Thomas), who we learn has also been kept captive in the crack house for reasons that are never explained, gets held down and raped on a table by some of Steadman’s men.

In a later scene Steadman is preparing to have sex with Melissa but thinks she stinks, so he then strips her naked and forces her into the shower with the hot water running, and keeps pushing her under the shower spray as she screams and tries to get out. The scene is short and brutal but, also, surprisingly kind of funny, just for how over-the-top it is.

Albert Michel Jr. plays Chico, another member of the Pocos. He’s hot-headed and always causing trouble. He’s the one who starts the conflict between the Pocos and the G’s, which lead to the driveby that killed Jesus. He resented Rick for leaving the gang in the first place, and still hated him even after Rick helped them get the G’s. He’s the one who lead the attempted rape on Melissa and robbery of B.T.  He ends up getting arrested for some other crime and is sent to the same jail as Rick. He ends up taunting Rick with everything that’s happened to Melissa since he’s been locked up. After beating the crap out of Chico, Rick contacts Lt. Johnson and offers to make a deal. Rick is friends with one of the guys working in the crack house, and says he can use that to get in and make a drug deal with Steadman while wearing a wire so Johnson can arrest Steadman.

A deal is made, although the details are never revealed. Does Rick get complete immunity, all charges against him dropped, or just leniency? We don’t know.  I’d hope it includes some kind of free rehab services for Cher because with all the drugs, physical and mental abuse she’s been through by now, even if Rick can get her free from Steadman, she’s going to need a lot of help to recover. But he’s soon back on the streets where he immediately tracks down B.T., beats the crap of him and sets his van on fire. B.T. then skips town, heading for Vegas to raise some money and planning to move to Hawaii. Rick then begins his plan to contact his friend at the crack house.

Well, I guess I won’t spoil any more of the film. If any of this sounds interesting to you, you can track it down yourself to see how it ends. I’ll just say there’s a lot more violence and drama before the credits roll.

Overall, for an exploitative B-movie, Crack House has its charm. I mean, I was in Junior High when I first saw this, and it made an impression on me. I can’t overlook the racism of the film though, as pretty much all the Brown and Black characters are despicable, just out to brutalize each other, do and sell drugs, and rape White girls. Still, the cast does a good job. The accomplished actors, Roundtree, Geary, and Brown, all do their best, although I’m sure none of them thought the script was Oscar-worthy when they read it, none of them half-ass their performances, and that helps the film.

Gregg Thompson had only had a couple of Television roles before this but does rather well as Rick. He showed promise as an actor, although according to his IMDB he only continued for another 5 years, with his last credited role being in 1994.
Albert Michel Jr. had been acting for 3 years at that point, and was probably the most convincing of the younger cast, although his IMDB shows his last role in 1995.
Clyde Risley Jones had already been acting for 10 years by this film and has had the longest career since, still acting today.

But the real standout and surprise is Cher Butler. This was her first professional acting role, and she becomes the focal point of the film once Rick is arrested, and has to go from sweet innocent girl to heartbroken teen, to debased crackhead. She was 25 at the time of this film, four years earlier she had appeared in Playboy Magazine, as Miss August 1985. You can see some of her pictures HERE and HERE (NSFW, obviously).

And she was clearly not just hired for her looks, as the film plays down her sex appeal, with hair shorter and darkened to begin with, plus with her deteriorating looks as she gets hooked on drugs.

I’d argue that this is the most pivotal role in the film, if we didn’t believe this actress, we wouldn’t care. But Cher’s vulnerability makes you feel sorry for her, as she falls apart, and you want to see if she can be rescued. That’s what keeps you watching. Based on her performance here, I would have guessed that she would have a long and successful career, but this is her one and only professional acting credit. Other than appearing in 3 Playboy video compilations, that last in the year 2000, she seems to have retired to a life outside of show business. I wish I could hear he explain the reasons for that, but wherever she is now, I hope she’s happy.

I can’t think of how to rate this film, it just is what it is. One of the strangest things I discovered while looking up links for this review is that this film is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films from his youth.  I think that fact is better than any rating I could give it.

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