I’ve been championing movies that others find appallingly bad for most of my life. So I feel comfortable saying with some authority that Lady Street Fighter (1981) is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Of course then, I absolutely love it. It’s so bonkers, so incomprehensibly strange at times, that I can’t help but marvel at its utter commitment to being terrible. It’s that commitment which makes it required viewing for fans of low budget, exploitation films.
Lady Street Fighter is a cult classic for several reasons, but the one that matters most is the jaw-dropping lead performance by the triple-threat star, writer (uncredited), and producer, Renee Harmon. She is our lady street fighter, Linda Allen, and everything revolves around and hinges on her performance, and what a perplexing performance it is. I’m still wrapping my head around it. Let’s start with the fact that the buxom, German-born brunette spitfire has an accent so thick that it’s only possible to understand one out of every five words she utters. Yet, it’s not what she’s saying, but how she is saying it that matters. Everything is spit out with a intoxicating combination of bemusement, contempt, and pure unadulterated sexually charged bro. Harmon has panache, in spades.
What’s Lady Street Fighter about anyway, you may be asking? I haven’t really gotten into the plot because, frankly there isn’t much plot to speak of, really. Allen is out for revenge against a drug cartel that murdered her sister. This bare-bones plot allows us to watch Harmon dive headlong into a variety of dangerous, sexual, and sexually dangerous encounters with a series of increasingly slimy men. Scenes feel randomly throw together, which might well be the case. Director James Bryan—uncredited here, and whose other directorial credits include Boogievision, Sex Aliens, and of course Revenge of Lady Street Fighter—shot the film in 1975 before it sat unreleased until 1981. I’d love to see what other lunacy was left on the cutting room floor. Thank your lucky stars, and of course editor Eric Jenkins (also uncredited—are you sensing a theme here?), that we got as much of this insanity in the final cut as we did.
Enough about the mostly nonexistent plot though, let’s get back to what Harmon actually does in the film. Sure, there’s some rough and tumble street fighting, but not nearly enough for a movie called Lady Street Fighter. Harmon certainly gives as good as she gets in those fights—and in the bedroom, and everywhere else, for that matter—but for an accomplished lady street fighter she also gets her bodacious behind kicked around quite a few times. She’s not just about fighting, though. No, she’s also a practitioner of the subtle arts of seduction. Like the scene where she lustfully licks a telephone receiver while a man on the other end of the line gets extremely excited, in what has to be one of the most hilarious attempts at phone sex in the rotary phone era. Yet everything pales in comparison to the uncanny Linda Lovelace impression she does on more than one occasion by going down on the luckiest celery stalks in the world. Again, she’s trying to seduce men into…doing something…that will help her find her sister’s killers…I think? It doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s entirely inexplicable and utterly unforgettable
Did I mention that the celery sucking scene segues naturally into a foot fetishist grossly running his tongue all along Harmon’s feet, culminating in an unexpected BDSM moment where Harmon grinds her high-heeled shoes into the man’s hand as he moans with orgasmic pleasure. In fact, this entire scene, set at a groovy 1970s swingers party, with disco music blaring, builds to a pulse-pounding, nigh-unbearable climax comprised of chaotic and nauseating fast cuts that will leave you on the verge of losing your lunch entirely. Quite frankly, it’s terrifying. Like most everything in the film, it must be seen in order to be believed.
In the annals of truly, outrageously bad cult movies, you probably won’t find a performance that’s more gloriously strange than Harmon’s in Lady Street Fighter. She’s absolutely astonishing, entertainingly weird, and unlike anyone before or since. She’s the most important reason to watch Lady Street Fighter. In fact, she is the only reason to sit through this movie. It’s as weirdly compelling a performance as you’re ever likely to see. And Harmon, ultimately, is why Lady Street Fighter matters and belongs in any thoughtful conversation about memorable cult classics. She carries the entire shambling mess of a movie on her sturdy shoulders, brawling and bedding her way straight into the pantheon of deliciously unforgettable B-movie performances.