Vice Squad is one of the exploitation classics of the 1980’s. It’s got the right combination of sleaze and style, it hits as hard as an exploitation classic is supposed to hit and it’s topped off by an indelible performance from Wings Hauser as the psychotic pimp Ramrod. All these elements are highlighted in its trailer, which happens to be one of the best and punchiest of its kind.
Technically speaking, the Vice Squad trailer is a teaser: it only runs one minute and bypasses such niceties as plot elements, character descriptions and dialogue to give you a highly concentrated essence of the film’s tone and content. It’s built around an simple but effective framing device where a grim-voiced narrator delivers a few lines at the beginning, followed by a bullet-paced montage that stops on a dime for a few more terse lines of narration and some end title cards.
This teaser pumps up tension and throws punches from its opening moments: percussion sizzles under a medium-paced zoom on the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles as the narrator muses “Hollywood: the dream… and the nightmare.” The second half of that phrase is punctuated by a hooker’s limp body getting shoved out of a sedan into a pile of trash as a derelict howls “Somebody call the cops!” The latter element is the only line of dialogue in this trailer.
From there, we’re off to the races on the seamier side of Hollywood Boulevard. Ominous metronomic rimshots begin to punctuate the jittery, cymbal-heavy percussive sounds. The trailer begins to smack the viewer around with a series of images that alternate three themes representing the film’s elements.
The first theme is no-holds-barred brutality: Ramrod slamming a prostitute face-first into a car’s dashboard, cops subduing unruly lowlifes, a mirror getting smashed, etc. The second theme is surrealism that is sometimes comical and sometimes perverse: a dog eagerly bathing its female owner’s mouth and face with tongue licks, a guy in a Superman costume trying to hitch a ride, a rough-trade guy with a tattoo on his blowing someone a kiss. The third is prostitution, with an emphasis on money changing hands: transvestite hookers give ominous leers to passers-by, a prostitute negotiating with a guy in a car and, most ominously, two adults with unseen faces exchanging money as a confused kid between the two looks on. Is he being sold to the one of them?
Halfway through the trailer, the percussion abruptly shifts to an intense, jazzy drum solo that takes an already frantic pace to greater heights. The mixture of elements shifts, as well. There’s only one surreal/humorous moment – an apparent dead man popping up with a grin in his casket – as the rest of the images shift to violent conflict in two formats. The first of these is the cops closing in on the bad guys with guns drawn, tackling the occasional foe and heading into danger as bullets fly. The other violent format at play is Hauser unleashing fury on everything and everyone in his path. He’s whipping people with coathangers, throwing them into gutters and wrecking cars.
Just when your brain’s about to explode, Wings jumps out a window and the trailer finally slam-cuts to its end titles. The narrator affects a Joe Friday cadence as he says “The Hollywood vice squad. The real story. The true story. Coming soon from Avco Embassy Pictures.” You feel like you’re finally allowed to breathe again as the titles fade out.
In short, the Vice Squad trailer is a brutal and sharply-paced gem. You might not know a thing about the story or characters when it ends but you know exactly the kind of movie you’re going to get: a fistful of gritty action delivered in the sleaziest of urban settings, thoroughly laced with all the illicit thrills and accompanying dangers suggested by its gutter-level vision of Hollywood. Exploitation film promotion is supposed to sell the sizzle rather than the steak – and this trailer sizzles like no other.