You know we’re in the golden age of physical media when exploitation flicks from Canada are finally making their disc debuts. Frank Vitale’s East End Hustle, a nasty little exploitation film originally distributed in the US by Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment in 1976, has received the red-carpet treatment from Canadian International Pictures with a 4K Blu-ray release that offers a gorgeous new HDR-aided transfer of the film, plus a stellar selection of special features to give viewers a crash course in Canuxploitation. This release comes Recommended!
Exploitation can be much more than just what the definition states, with the genre’s often very grungy and realistic take on the seedier side of society showcasing much more than what’s on the label. Such a thing is explored in Frank Vitale’s East End Hustle, a very low-budget production that saw Vitale try to tackle something much crasser than what he was used to. You see, by the mid-1970s, Canadian distributor Cinepix had realized just how violent many works of exploitation had become, and they set out to appeal to that blood and violence-hungry audience. As such, Vitale’s sensitivity as a dramatic filmmaker seemed like a bad fit for a story about a prostitute rebelling against her pimp, but that same sensitivity is what sets this one apart from similar works.
East End Hustle starts with the young Marianne (Anne-Marie Provencher), a seamstress working in a dismal factory under a boss who routinely forces her to give him sexual favors. Once her boss introduces Marianne to seedy pimp Dan (Miguel Fernandes), she’s in for a world of pain. But Cindy (Andrée Pelletier), another prostitute fed up with Dan, has a plan to free Marianne and Dan’s other employees from abusive customers and the even more abusive pimps. Naturally, the dispute leads to a war between the women and the seedy pimps.
Going back to talking about Frank Vitale’s sensitivity for a moment. What struck me while watching East End Hustle is something that often happens when I size up Canadian-produced exploitation flicks against their American peers. There’s an openness that’s missing from American exploitation, with some nice male characters peppered into the story to showcase that these women’s lives aren’t all hell. To this writer, however, it makes the exploitative moments hit even harder, like Cindy’s prolonged rape sequence that’s shocking through and through. The combination of cinema verite technique and the queasy violence makes for some prime exploitation.
That isn’t to say that film is all that successful in telling a story, however. Cindy speaks as if she’s a union delegate on a soapbox, negating much of any insights into her own character outside of what she spouts. Vitale’s direction isn’t suited well for getting you emotionally involved in the story, although the kitchen-sink realism he doles out certainly bolsters the story as is. I’d even argue that the film is an invaluable document of a specific time and place.
The sex and violence are rough, as are the characterizations, with many of the male characters not much more than gross rapists. You can feel something dramatically deeper underneath the bloodshed and sexual assault, but unfortunately, Vitale’s hand is forced to be as seedy as possible. The result is crass work that deals in sleaze more than story.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Cindy is ready to revolt in East End Hustle, presented here with a two-disc (4K and Blu-ray) release that comes housed in a standard black 4K Blu-ray case. The case offers reversible artwork with original poster art on the reverse side, plus it comes with a limited-edition slipcover showcasing art by Chris Barnes. An essay booklet with writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is included in the case as well. The 4K disc is a BD66 and the standard Blu-ray is a BD50. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio and video, explore bonus features and select chapters.
East End Hustle makes the jump from DVD to 4K Ultra HD with an HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation from Canadian International Pictures. The film was restored by CIP in 2023 from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative performed by the American Genre Film Archive. I’ll preface my review of the transfer by saying that this is a very, very low-budget film shot on 35mm. Like in the mid-70s, the stock used is awash with grain, sometimes even seeming like details may be lost in the grain layer. That’s why I’m eager to report that this presentation looks terrific, with black levels, contrast and colors all dialed in perfectly. All of the exterior shots have gained new life in 4K, picking up details that were far, far lost on the DVD transfer. Flesh tones look good as well and the HDR layer really brings the most out of the muted shades of brown that occupy much of the film. The source is in good condition, with only a small bit of damage to be found throughout, and the encode handles it all with ease. This is a stellar presentation.
East End Hustle is presented here with a 1.0 DTS-HD MA track that overall sounds good, but it very much exposes the limitations of the production. Music and dialogue are handled well, although the softer the dialogue the harder it is to discern what people are saying here. One of the key villains speaks almost at a whisper and is incredibly difficult to understand sometimes, although I chalk that up to the original production rather than this presentation. The source seems to be in good shape as well, with little-to-no hiss found throughout.
Just as East End Hustle has made the miraculous jump from DVD to 4K Ultra HD, so do the supplements! This release comes packed with interviews, including a great interview with Frank Vitale as he details how his career led to the film. Plus, Lloyd Kaufman has a couple of interviews recalling working with Frank on many different Troma productions, and even before Troma with Frank acting as Lloyd’s boss on the film Joe (1970). It’s clear that Frank had a much different approach to exploitation than the producers wanted, which explains the uneasy marriage of violence and drama in this one. Kudos to Canadian International Pictures for filling this release with supplements, especially since there’s not much writing or history on the film to begin with.
Disc 1: 4K UHD Feature
Disc 2: Blu-ray Feature & Supplements
Cindy used to be a hooker. Now she’s carrying a gun and is going to do something about all the people who treated her like dirt. Frank Vitale’s East End Hustle makes its 4K Ultra HD debut courtesy of Canadian International Pictures with a two-disc release that comes with a stellar new transfer and a great collection of supplements to enjoy. This release comes Recommended!