Monday, 3 November 2008

Teenage Gang Debs (1966)

Teenage Gang Debs is a story of overwhelming ambition and of revenge of almost Shakespearian intensity. It’s the tale of a ruthless woman who uses sex and manipulation to satisfy her insatiable thirst for power, and it’s a tale of a terrible and horrifying vengeance exacted by women upon their tormentor. And it’s also a 1960s juvenile delinquent movie, with a frenetic soundtrack and go-go dancing. So it’s clearly a movie not to be missed.

The Rebels are a teenage gang in New York. The movie was released in 1966 but (like a lot of juvenile delinquent movies) it actually has the look of a slightly earlier period, more early 60s than mid-60s. Everything changes for the Rebels the day that a new girl, Terry, arrives on their turf. Terry decides that there’s only one place to start, and that’s at the top. The easiest way to get to the top is by being the girlfriend of the gang president. He already has a girl, but Terry disposes of her very quickly.

The only problem now is that gang leader Johnny has one little quirk. He likes to carve his initials into the breasts of his women, as a token of his ownership. Terry isn’t very impressed with this idea. So clearly Johnny has to go, and that’s arranged by manipulating his second-in-command Nino into challenging him for the position. The manipulation is simplicity itself. She seduces Nino and makes sure Johnny discovers them in the gang president’s bedroom, giving Nino no choice but to fight Johnny. The fact that Nino already has a girlfriend is a very minor complication, and she is rapidly discarded. To make sure she gets the message she’s no longer wanted Terry persuades Nino to sanction a fitting punishment Nino’s old girlfriend - she has her raped by the entire male membership of the gang.

The next step in the achievement of Terry’s boundless ambitions is to establish the Rebels as the premier teen gang, which requires the other gangs to be brutally dealt with. A major rumble with a rival gang leaves five teenagers dead. Terry’s methods naturally make her plenty of enemies and the stage is set for a final violent showdown.

This isn’t a campy 50s juvenile delinquent flick. There are numerous murders and vicious bashings as well as the previously mentioned gang rape. The stark black-and-white cinematography accentuates the mood of casual violence. There aren’t many laughs, but the movie undeniably has a certain power. The acting is fairly amateurish but has an intensity that you don’t often get in teen B movies.

It’s released by Something Weird, paired with another movie (Teenage Strangler) which I haven’t watched yet. Something Weird really do come up with some strange and fascinating forgotten movies. Teenage Gang Debs is unquestionably a must for any fan of juvenile delinquent films. It’s interesting to compare it to Jack Hill’s Switchblade Sisters - very different movies made in very different styles, but both having a Shakespearian quality to them.

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