Tag Archives: William Sanderson

Fight for Your Life (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Racist thugs terrorize family.

Three escaped convicts (William Sanderson, Daniel Faraldo, Peter Yoshida) find an isolated home in a woodsy are of upstate New York where they barge in on a black family headed by Reverend Turner (Robert Judd).  Jessie, the gang’s leader, is quite racist and uses the opportunity to spew out his hateful side forcing the home’s occupants, particularly the father, to do all sorts of humiliating things all to the amusement of the three men, but the family remains stoic determined to turn-the-tables on their captors the moment they get their chance.

The film could best be described as a variation on the Last House on the Left theme and in some ways does it much better. There’s none of the campy ‘comic relief’ humor here that almost ruined that one and the film is unrelentingly violent and grim. So many exploitation flicks from the 70’s would usually sell-out and never be half as provocative as advertised, but on that regard this movie delivers in ways that would still be considered jaw-dropping today and most likely not have any chance in this modern PC-era of getting filmed.

However, with that said, it’s still quite obnoxious and even repulsive to watch. There seems to be no other reason to have made this then to shock and appall and I’m genuinely surprised why anyone would’ve agreed to act in this particularly the black performers, who get forced to go through some truly tasteless and degrading acts.

The directing at times comes off as amateurish. It’s supposed to take place in the fall with leaves having turned color and almost fully off the trees, which is what we see when the thug’s car pulls up to a toll booth on a cloudy day and yet when the camera cuts to show the car leaving the toll booth the sky is now sunny and full green foliage on all of the trees. The music is also too loud, gets in the way of the action where natural ambience would’ve created more tension, and seems like a soundtrack better suited for a blaxploitation flick.

I wasn’t real happy with Sanderson’s presence either. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a gifted character actor, who’s best known for having played Larry in the ‘Newhart’ TV-show where he’d enter every scene by introducing himself as well as his two brothers named Darryl. In the comic realm as a backwoods hick his accent and talents are perfect, but here I could never take him seriously. His voice is too high pitched to be menacing and his wiry physique isn’t imposing. This might’ve been the intention at showing how without a gun he wasn’t much of man, but for the film to be truly scary there needed to be someone with a very intimidating look running the show.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending just about destroys what little potential this production had as it features an entire police force coming to the home, but instead of rescuing the occupants they choose to instead just stand outside and do nothing even as two of the women get raped. Supposedly this wasn’t for racist reasons, but more because they feared the victims might accidently get killed should they rush in to save them, but what’s the use fitting a police department with weapons and training if they’re going to be too timid to use it when they need to?

The idea that the black family would become aware that the police where outside, but stall them simply so they could enact their own revenge on the bad guys was too much of an overreach. The ending would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the police not arrived at all and thus forcing the victims to use their own wits and ingenuity to overtake the brutes and then allowing their anger to spill over causing them to become far more vindictive than anyone could’ve imagined.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert A. Endelson

Studio: William Mishkin Motion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube