Bite Size: Alley Cat (1984)

Alley Cat‘s path to release was just as patched together and scarred as its animal namesake. The production burned through three different directors, and the film’s original producers ran out of money, causing the film to be shelved for several years. Film Ventures International both finished the picture and picked it up for distribution. Alley Cat finally saw theatrical release in 1984, which was handily kneecapped by Film Ventures collapsing in a flurry of lawsuits and embezzlement. After a very truncated run on the big screen, the film was dumped onto home video, where it also failed to make much of an impact.

Billie (Karin Mani) wakes up in the middle of the night to find two thieves trying to steel the wheels off her car. Billie looks like a lost extra from the Charlie’s Angels set, but has a karate black belt along with the jiggle. The thieves rush off into the night with faces as bruised as their egos. The beating of his underlings angers gang leader Phil “Scarface” Krug (Michael Wayne). Scarface retaliates by not only mugging Billie’s beloved grandparents, but stabbing them as well.

Billie’s grandmother eventually succumbs to her injuries, but not before Billie has a meet clumsy with Johnny, a rookie cop (Robert Torti). The two soon begin a romance in spite of their first interaction being an angry Billie smashing him with a door hard enough to break his nose. Johnny also would love to collar the high profile gang to raise his profile in the police force. Billie, after seeing how slowly and rarely the wheels of courtroom justice actually turn, decides to mount some vigilante justice of her own. She takes to the streets to take some bad guys down, in an impressive array of matching tracksuits and some equally amazingly mismatched daywear.

Film Ventures International wasn’t exactly known for the originality of its productions, and Alley Cat is no exception. The base plot is basically a gender swapped Death Wish, mixed with Lady Streetfighter’s insanely low budget charms. What makes Alley Cat more entertaining that such a shoddy production likely should be is that it never tries to rise above its Z grade station. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, there’s a blithe bit of undressing, a brief street fight, an angry gangster flatly delivering the line that gives the film its title, and a bit player gleefully cackling about giving Scarface the clap.

Karin Mani isn’t much of a thespian, nor is she terribly physically coordinated (though the movie manages to make the cuts to her stunt double not unduly jarring). However, she is quite attractive, and delivers her lines with the camp glee of an actress that knows this is likely to be the only top billed role she was ever going to get. Robert Torti has had a long career as a character actor, but his main purpose as Johnny is to be the square jawed, six packed voice of reason. All of this vengeance leaves little time for character development, but these two dimensional caricatures’ romance manages to at least look like the drawings belong on the same page.

Alley Cat realizes its limitations, and never goes much more than 5 minutes without giving us something to gawk at, be it nudity, another fight sequence or hilariously misguided dialog from a gang leader that looks more like an annoying Billy Idol fan than any actual menace. It’s all shot pretty listlessly, often far too dark, and scored with a random spin of the library music wheel, but at least the film isn’t too unduly filled with dead air. Something is always afoot, no mater how coincidental or lacking in logic that something might be.

All of Billie’s human punching bags have to come from somewhere, and pretty much every man Billie meets is an aspiring rapist, corrupt, a criminal or some combination of all three. When she is unjustly imprisoned for stopping a rape with her karate kicks and an unlicensed handgun, it even allows for a short tour of women in prison greatest hits like a lesbian encounter, a shower scene and a multi member catfight in the yard.

Alley Cat is clearly the dollar store cola to Savage Streets‘ (which came out later the same year) Coke, but for those who have a taste for this particular flavor of action oriented, female fronted vengeance, even the off brand of cinematic empty calories still tastes pretty good.