[i]Tenement [/i]is a poorly made film. It takes place at night, yet there's so much daylight in the shots you'd mistake it for a [i]Mad Max[/i] rip-off. The special effects are crude. When characters are supposed to be beating the hell out of another character, they're obviously just punching the bed she's on.
It's also overwhelmingly violent and terribly sadistic, and it's these traits that win out over anything else. No matter how badly put together [i]Tenement [/i]gets, you can't help but get involved with it, as the film runs entirely on adreneline-fueled thrills rather than coherent displays of film as an artistic craft. In short, it's one of the best drive-in movies ever made simply because its impact manages to be more than its' considerable incompetence.
Essentially the same story as [i]Death Wish 3[/i] without the Charles Bronson character, [i]Tenement[/i] is the story of a dozen or so residents in a low-rent part of New York who have to fend off a gang of drug-crazed psychos bent on killing them over the course of a night. That's it as far as plot. There's a few sub-plots here and there under the lingering guise of character development, but most of them turn out to be irrelevent as the folks involved find themselves beaten, raped, impaled, cut up and shot by the group of thugs.
Roberta Findlay didn't make many good films once her husband Michael died. (The pair were responsible the the [i]Flesh[/i] trilogy and the obscure Yoko Ono flick [i]Satan's Bed[/i]), and [i]Tenement [/i]isn't a good film by any means. But it's such an aggresively furious film, with the weak, elderly or useless tenants constantly at an impasse with the increasingly sadistic batch of leather-clad jerks that look like they just stepped out of a new wave video. Even when they fight back, it just pisses off the gang more--a woman bashes a scissors into her rapist's eyeball, and is rewarded by being raped by a broomstick instead.
It's an unpleasant, seedy movie to watch, made more so by the fact that the acting by most of the tenants is actually pretty good. You feel for these people, and want them to get out or at least fight back, and each person is clearly given a distinct personality, even if they're one-note. The gang (which includes the only "name" in the cast, character thesp Paul Calderon) is as sadistic to each other as they are to their hostages, gleefully giggling when one of their number O.D.s and nonchalantly offing another with a blade. They're not in this for money, the tenants realize, they're in it to torture and kill everyone in the building.
As I said, technically, the film is pretty bad, but as it was filmed in a New York tenement, it does have a good grimy feel to it. Things only get really out of character during the opening and closing credits with the film's theme song, a goofy rap number that sounds like you just stepped into [i]Breakin' 3[/i].
[i]Tenement[/i] is an unsettling, bleak, sadistic and perverse film experience, but it's never dull and it'll stick with you--the two most important qualities that a drive-in movie should have. It may seem so horrifically flawed to a standard movie viewer, but fans of drive-in flicks should check it out immediately and prepare for a sick treat.