While household names like Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader are always mentioned in the annals of classic movie villains, Ramrod could school them all. To call this character 'villainous' is like calling Saddam Hussein a capricious malcontent. As Ramrod, Hauser is on fire from start to finish in this film. While almost every movie villain is allowed at least a small moment of empathy, or some insight into their deeds, Ramrod is irredeemably evil and yet somehow Hauser avoids coming off like a cartoon bad guy. Even as you can't believe the extremes that Ramrod goes to as a character, Hauser's performance never feels overplayed or exaggerated. He makes it easy to believe that someone like Ramrod is really stalking the streets of Hollywood, able by sheer tenacity and force of will to frustrate the efforts of an entire police force to stop him. He's not superhuman, he's just bad but he shows just how far being truly bad can get you.
A lot of pimps in TV and film may have beaten hookers to death over the years, but not with the gusto that Ramrod does (and to MTV's Nina Blackwood, no less, in her role as a not-so-savvy hooker named 'Ginger'). Ramrod is so hardcore that he even literally rips the balls off a lesser pimp (played by Fred "Rerun" Barry of What's Happening fame), just because he hates it when other pimps can't keep their bitches in line. In the course of Vice Squad's tight 93 minute running time, Ramrod is on a mission to kill the hooker (Season Hubley as 'Princess') who helped the cops set him up after Ginger's murder. Once Ramrod escapes from custody while en route to the police station, the chase is on with Princess still turning tricks, unaware that Ramrod isn't safely in a jail cell. And whereas other criminals may have used their lucky break to flee further away from the law, Ramrod has no thoughts of letting Princess survive the night. To paraphrase a famous movie tagline, you will believe a man can choke a bitch.
Vice Squad is a movie that sadly could no longer be made today. It's lurid in a way that genre cinema is no longer allowed to be - an example of an era of exploitation when violence was still allowed to be ugly and hard to watch rather than sensationalized (ironically, one of the executive producers is Frank Capra Jr.!). Even the 'gritty' crime films of today, like Street Kings (2008), have a sanitized quality to them whereas Vice Squad - outside of the occasional canned-sounding cop dialogue - still feels like the real deal. And as riveting as Hauser is here, Hubley matches his intensity in her own way with a bravely unguarded and unapologetic performance. No movie made today with a hooker as a protagonist would ever pass on forcing an element of redemption onto the character's arc. But in Vice Squad, there's no change of heart for Princess. Even though she has a young daughter to think of (who's unaware of her mother's occupation), she isn't turning away from prostitution. A lesser movie than Vice Squad would've surely had Princess find a way off the street through the attentions of the concerned police sergeant (Gary Swanson) who's out to put Ramrod away - a movie-style romance between these two would've been a guarantee. But there's no such false sentiment to be found in Vice Squad. Princess has no illusions about life and she isn't waiting to be rescued. No matter how degrading her existence is, it's the only way she knows how to make a buck and throughout Vice Squad she never turns down an offer.
Even though Sherman allows Princess to make it through her ordeal intact, the sting of Vice Squad is that we know that the next night will only bring more of the same. As one character says, "this city sucks." And while you'd be hard-pressed to disagree, the movie itself is another story altogether.