Ah, sweet sleaze. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. As offensive as films like Tenement are, there’s something oddly admirable in their level of don’t-give-a-damn-ness. Rape, sodomy, murder, torture, humiliation; everything goes in this movie. That said, there’s only one particularly nasty scene involving attitudinal (and thus expendable) black female Leona (Rhetta Hughes) that perhaps crosses the line.
Playing on the fears of crime in 1980s New York City, Tenement is essentially a poor man’s Assault on Precinct 13 set in a South Bronx apartment building instead of a prison. A scummy, caricatured gang straight out of The Warriors begins squatting in the building’s basement (eating rats!), and the tenants call the cops to arrest the gang (after which the tenants actually throw a party). However, they’re let out that same day and return for bloody vengeance. They cut the phone lines and set about killing everyone in the building.
Both the tenants and gang members are primarily black and Latino, so viewers sensitive to racial stereotypes may want to close their eyes…and their ears…and their mouths (just in case). The lead good guy is, refreshingly, a black man — reluctant hero and burly sax player/renaissance man Sam (Joe Lynn). Olivia Ward meanwhile plays Mrs. Wesley, a kindly old black lady…who gets her throat slashed. Walter Bryant is her kindly old husband…who gets shot. Such is life in a tenement. Even with all of its flaws (of which there are many), Tenement is quick-paced and entertaining cheese, tapping into the trashy sensibility within all of us. Now fuck off.