In the forgotten annuls of exploitation films from times past lies 1977’s Fight For Your Life. When it comes to discussions about Rape/Revenge flicks, Fight For Your Life is a film that is rarely ever mentioned. In fact, information about this film is rather scarce: it is known that this film was played in Grindhouse theatres, that it had a very bizarre marketing campaign that consisted of multiple trailers that targeted black and white communities, and it was a really controversial movie at the time, but little else is remembered about this film. In England, Fight For Your Life has been almost completely forgotten. Although this movie became swept up in the ‘Video Nasty’ phenomenon of 1984, it has not received a re-release, and even while engaging in discussions about ‘Video Nasties’, Fight For Your Life is rarely ever brought up. In my opinion though, it should be brought up in Video Nasty discussions because it stands out as being the only film that was banned on the grounds of its racist language. Although it’s never brought up in film discussions, Fight For Your Life is regarded as one of the most racist movies in existence. The film’s plot revolves around a racist, white supremacist convict, Jessie Kane, who escapes from jail with a Hispanic and a Chinese convict, and they hold an African-American family, the Turners, hostage as they hide from the law. As one can imagine, this plot comes complete with the humiliation, physical and psychological torture of said family that one usually finds in Rape/Revenge flicks. Although the movie does contain other content that one might describe as being ‘nasty’, especially during that era of cinema, Fight For Your Life was singled out mainly because of Jessie Kane’s brutally racist dialogue. Every sing racial slur imaginable is not just uttered, but screamed during the entirety of this movie, and the amount of racist dialogue used was enough to have the film become banned and never re-released in multiple countries. What’s interesting to note though, is due to the fact that it was quickly forgotten, the actor who played Jessie Kane actually went one to have a star-studded career. Fight For Your Life was one of William Sanderson’s early roles, and William Sanderson went on to have an incredible acting career that involved main roles in the phenomenal Blade Runner, and the critically acclaimed TV Series’ True Blood and Deadwood.
To begin with, Fight For Your Life is a very basic film with a very basic plot. The main plot concerns itself with Jessie Kane’s psychological torture of the Turners, and although the scenes where Jessie Kane humiliates the Turners are quite gripping, the shallow plot doesn’t have anything else to offer. However, the film does contain a fair amount of subplots in an attempt to bulk up the runtime. For example, there’s a subplot about a really uptight detective hunting down Kane who gives in to his emotions by the end of the film. However, the whole detective story arc really doesn’t add anything useful to the main plot, and it’s actually quite distracting in my opinion as it’s overshadowed by the brutality and emotional force of Kane’s scenes. It’s not just the detective story, though, Fight For Your Life contains a lot of semi-tasteless subplots that mean absolutely nothing in the long run, and they only serve to stretch the runtime as much as possible because the main plot is incredibly shallow and can’t uphold an 80 minute running time on its own. These subplots are filler at best, empty and tasteless at worst. They distract from a main plot so shallow it demonstrates that the writer behind Fight For Your Life had very few ideas on how to develop an evolving plot. Despite this, it’s very evident that Fight For Your Life is a more character centric movie than a plot centric one, but even then there’s a major problem with this approach: all the characters are cartoonish stereotypes. None of the characters in this movie feel genuine, or even believable. The Turner family borders on blaxsploitation levels of silliness, and Kane’s character is way too extravagantly racist and overtly ‘southern’. As a result, I could hardly take these characters seriously. Although Kane’s continuous racist diatribes were meant to be shocking, the fact that his character was personified in such a cartoonish way meant that I was nullified by how shocking the language was supposed to be. In contrast, I’ll take an example from another film about racism: This Is England. The racism in that film comes off as genuinely uncomfortable because the characters are grounded in reality, therefore it’s believable and gritty. Fight For Your Life is far too over the top to take seriously and the intended ‘shock factor’ ended up washing over me in the end.
As for the Rape/Revenge content, the rape scene comes quite far into the movie, at about the one hour mark. This is an interesting approach as in my previous reviews, the films used the rape as the catalyst for the events of the movie, whereas Fight For Your Life uses it as the point which drives the protagonists over the edge, and the revenge comes very quickly afterwards. The rape itself is mainly implied, however, as it’s heard and not really seen. The woman is stripped, but the film cuts away quickly and her screams are heard over images of the police, and images of the family sat in the living room. It’s still a distressing scene to witness, but because of the placing and the way the scene was approached, the rape scene isn’t actually the most distressing scene of the movie. Before this we had scenes of an attempted lynching, child murder, and even a scene where a gun is held to the head of a crying baby. These scenes in particular are far more shocking than the rape scene. Thus, the rape scene blends into the background as just yet another atrocity by the hands of Kane, and it doesn’t really stand out. However, despite this, the rape is not quickly forgotten as it’s referenced time and time again, and it’s the ultimate factor which drives the family to fight back as hard as they can, turning the non-violent father into a violent avenger. Although the rape is shown in the third act, I feel that it is handled fairly seriously as the victim is certainly shown to be affected by Kane’s actions. It isn’t just passed over like it’s unimportant, it’s referenced until the end of the film as a despicable act that Kane deserves due punishment for, despite the Turners being a religious family and the father himself being a pastor at the local church.
I realise that this a plot-point that’s remarkably similar to The Virgin Spring, although because of the film’s content, I believe that that similarity is more coincidental than intentional.
Nonetheless, the rape is the point which pushes the family to fight back, and the family decide to do unto Kane what he did unto them. The Turners beat Kane down, threaten him at gunpoint, and shoot one of his friends to show that they’ve had enough. In all honesty, the revenge is incredibly cathartic to witness. Kane’s beatdown feels like it’s been a long time coming, and when the family eventually does rise up against his aggression, I was actually empathising with the family. Although the revenge is objectively not that brutal in comparison to other Rape/Revenge flicks, there’s a sort of empathetical joy that comes with the revenge. It isn’t like Last House On The Left, The Virgin Spring or Deliverance where the revenge is questionable and morally challenging. Fight For Your Life definitely focuses on the dumb cathartic enjoyability of watching one of cinema’s worst, most horrible antagonists getting destroyed by those whose lives he destroyed himself.
However, one of the greatest aspects of Fight For Your Life is the acting. Despite the film being chocked full of non-actors who deliver lines blandly and unconvincingly, two actors definitely stand out amongst the others: Robert Judd – who plays Ted Turner, the father of the Turner family – and William Sanderson who plays Kane. Robert Judd gives a very toned down, grounded performance as the peaceful, concerned father, yet throughout the movie he displays an ability to give very contrasting performances as Ted Turner is a completely different character at the end of the film than he was in the beginning. Robert Judd plays it calm throughout the first half, yet as the movie continues, his performance becomes convincingly angry and hate filled until he rises up against Kane at the end of the movie. Robert Judd displays a clear transition in his character through his performance, and his acting is far beyond any of the other actors portraying the rest of the Turner family. However, William Sanderson is the ultimate star of the movie. His performance of the despicable Kane is over-the-top and deranged. He throws himself into the role, and his performance is actually very enjoyable despite the character’s despicable actions. If there’s one thing that makes Fight For Your Life stand out amongst other Rape/Revenge flicks, it’s William Sanderson’s performance. It’s the fact that William Sanderson shows himself to be a damn good actor who looks like he’s enjoying every minute on camera. True, he may be a bit hokey at times, but his characterisation of Kane is unforgettable, and it shows the acting talent that pushed him to becoming an acclaimed character actor.
As for the production itself, Fight For Your Life is a shoddily made film. The whole production is amateurish, and nothing technical-wise really stands out. The cinematography is generic, the lighting is non-existent, the sets are plain, costumes are nothing spectacular, and even the special effects range from okay to incredibly shoddy. The editing is the worst of all though. The film contains a lot of distractingly basic transitions, such as wipes and fades that are wholly unnecessary. It actually feels like there was no creativity behind the scenes of Fight For Your Life, and the movie really suffers because of it. There should have been more of a concern for camera angles, editing style and lighting, but Fight For Your Life is as generically made as it comes.
Overall, Fight For Your Life was underwhelming. I’ve seen better Rape/Revenge films. It’s obvious to me that Fight For Your Life contains no underlying social message, or questions on the moralities of man. It’s just dumb, cathartic entertainment for dumb, cathartic entertainment’s sake. A viewer is supposed to despise the villain, rally with the main characters and delight in the climactic battle between them, and that’s it. It isn’t the most insultingly tasteless movie I’ve seen as far as content is concerned, not even for a Rape/Revenge flick, as the movie does demonstrate some concern over the despicable acts that it contains; and despite the silliness of the characters, it does try to show them in a realistic light from time to time. However, I’ve definitely seen better executed movies than this one. In conclusion, Fight For Your Life didn’t impress me that much. I wouldn’t really recommend it.