In 1984, director Walter Hill was riding high on four successes in a row: The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort and the mega-hit 48 Hours. Having earned carte blanche, he used it to create a strange, one-of-a-kind pet project that blended genres, eras, and musical styles in what he termed a “rock and roll fable,” Streets of Fire. His high concept description: “The Leader of the Pack kidnaps the Queen of the Hop, until Soldier Boy comes to the rescue.”
And how did it do?
It tanked. Man, did it tank. Produced on a then-hefty budget of $14 million, it took in a paltry $5 million at the box office. It confused critics and audiences alike. I saw it during its theatrical run, and could feel the audience around me having a collective WTF moment.
I loved it. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I mean, hell:
it’s a musical….
…with a sledgehammer duel.
Here’s the trailer:
And time has been kind to it. Whereas in 1984 the contemporary influences (clothes, hairstyles and music) jarred against the Fifties retro elements, they now blend seamlessly; after all, twenty-five years and sixty years both qualify as “old.” The main musical numbers by Jim Steinman, of Meat Loaf and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” fame, now sound bombastically timeless instead of crassly contemporary. Ry Cooder’s buzzing guitar score, sadly unreleased to this day with the exception of one track on a compilation, rocks harder than any comparable soundtrack. And the film has acquired an all-star cast: subsequent Oscar nominees Diane Lane, Amy Madigan and Willem Dafoe, as well as Rick (Ghostbusters) Moranis and Bill (Titanic) Paxton.
More crucially, even nearly a quarter of a century later, the film remains unique. Nothing else has come close to this combination of music, action and filmmaking style, which doesn’t so much embrace MTV cliches as sidestep them and approach the same sort of material as if from a parellel universe. In fact, to my knowledge no one has even tried.
Director Albert Pyun and screenwriter Cynthia Curnan are putting the finishing touches on Road to Hell, what they term a “dark tribute” to Streets of Fire. Only Michael Pare and Debra Van Valkenburgh return from the original cast, but the other main characters (sidekick McCoy and rocker Ellen) are back, played by new actors. Jim Steinman songs will again be featured. And while it’s not an “official” sequel, it’s as close as we’re likely to get, and more than enough reason for Streets of Fire fans to get excited.