Favorite Retro Gangs

Tough Guys, Bad Girls and Urban Ninjas? Read on!
October 30, 2008

If there's one thing I've learned from my days in the D.A.R.E. program of the late 80's and early 90's it's that GANGS are NOT cool. Now you probably expected me to say that DRUGS are NOT cool, but during my time in D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) drugs took a back seat to anti-gang affiliation programs.

It must have had something to do with the fury of the L.A. Riots after the Rodney King trial, mixed with the rise in popularity of Gangsta' Rap music or maybe it really was a legitimate problem.

Either way, the soccer moms of the suburbs were scared and taking it to the classroom. But no matter how many lectures we got from Officer "Chicken Legs" Bob Anderson in his police issue short-shorts, we all knew the real "truth" was being displayed on TV and in the movies.

In the world of entertainment Gangs come in all forms: troubled youths, urban ninjas and even devious girl scouts. In this article we're going to take a look back at some of my favorite Gangs of television and film, starting with probably the most recognized bunch of young toughs in town: The Warriors.

"Caaaaannnn Yoouuuu Dig Iiiiiiiiitt?" If you haven't seen this movie, walk out the door right now and rent it. The 1979 film "The Warriors" is the movie you need to see if you want to learn to how to survive the mean streets of 1970's New York City while wearing nothing but a brown leather vest and jeans. It's basically just a series of cool street fights, one after the other, but the action is intense and awesome!

Short Story: A Coney Island gang named The Warriors are framed for the murder of a gang-prophet named Cyrus and are pursued in the name of vengeance by every other gang in New York as they try to make their way back to their home turf. Other gangs in pursuit of The Warriors include the dirty t-shirt wearing Orphans, classic girl gang The Lizzies and of course, the face-painted Baseball Furies.

Although the characterizations are not very distinct, each member of The Warriors is at least visually recognizable. Whether it's their baby-face good looks, Feather Head Dress or cowboy hat, each of the Warriors stands out in any number of bathroom brawls and central park throw-downs.

Brotherhood and Pride are the common threads of The Warriors philosophy as they try to protect each other and never chicken out by taking off their "Colors" to sneak through rival territory unnoticed. Instead they opt to fight anyone that stand between them and home turf.

My personal favorite member of the crew is the potty-mouthed pervert, Ajax who is always ready for a fight, but makes the fatal mistake of forcing himself on an undercover female cop. IDIOT!

Girls can play the gang game, too and no group of wild women did it better than The Jezebel's from the 1975 film "Switchblade Sisters". Short Story: When the rowdy "Dagger Debs" (girlfriends of the male gang the "Silver Daggers") decide that their boyfriends are too soft, they kick out the boy toys and re-name the gang "The Jezebels" to take on the villainous rival gang leader, Crabs!

Salt in the eye, chain whips, cigarettes put out on bare skin, these girls are ruthless as they fight amongst themselves and against those who have wronged them. Girl power is the order of the day. What makes the Jezebels so cool is that while The Warriors were trying to escape trouble, The Jezebels go looking for it.

Cool nicknames abound, with handles like Patch, Doughnut and Lace. My favorite character is Maggie, the feisty and vitriolic new girl in town who eventually takes over leadership of the gang and teams up with Muff and her soul patrol to take down Crabs' empire.

Moving into the 80's the idea of gangs seemed to become a bit more comical, especially as presented in the superior (IMO) but often overlooked sequel film, Short Circuit 2.

Short Story: Johnny 5 is back and on a quest for more "Input" in NYC, so you know he's going to meet some colorful characters. No characters were more colorful than the local Latino street gang, Los Locos!

These upright citizens (who all look like Tommy Chong mixed with pop star Gerardo) take Johnny 5 under their wing and teach him the fine art of ripping-off car stereo equipment. They are quick to inform him that they do this in order to fix it for the owners and return it. How benevolent.

Those wacky Los Locos even have their own theme song:
Los Locos kick you're a**
Los Locos kick your face
Los Locos kick your balls into outer spaaaaace!

Eventually Los Locos "Pimp Out" Johnny 5 by adding custom graffiti and spikes to his metal frame, making him one of the boys. I really dig this movie! The main reason is Los Locos and the hilarious way they take advantage of the small town robot visiting the big city.
Moving back into the female perspective of the 80's gang mentality, we have a group of evil Wilderness Girls calling themselves the "Red Feathers" in the Shelley Long classic "Troop Beverly Hills".

Short Story: A ditzy Beverly Hills housewife seeks to deal with her pending divorce by becoming a troop leader for a bunch of spoiled Beverly Hills brats, who are constantly thwarted in their attempts to prove themselves as "real" Wilderness Girls by the nasty tricks of the reigning poster troop the "Red Feathers".

You may be thinking, "This is a girl scout troop, not a gang!" That's true, but gangs cause trouble don't they? So do the Red Feathers. Gangs identify themselves with colors or clothing, right? So do the Red Feathers. Gangs invade each others turf as a sign of disrespect, yes? So do the Red Feathers. Only in this case it's the cookie selling turf that's invaded.

The Beverly Hills girls are so sad when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells them, "I already bought 12 boxes from your friends...you know, the one's with the red feathers?" Those stinking horse feathers!

It bears mentioning that Troop Beverly Hills features all sorts of forgotten 80's child actresses such as: Heather Hopper from the pre-Saved by the Bell series "Good Morning Miss Bliss", Ami Foster who played Margeaux on Punky Brewster, Emily Schulman who played the annoying neighbor, Harriet on the TV show Small Wonder and Kelly Martin from Life Goes On.

Also in the mix is a teenage Carla Gugino from the Pauly Shore classic, "Son-In-Law" and soon to be featured in the 2009 blockbuster "Watchmen". Most recognizable though is a young, brunette Tori Spelling who actually plays one of the evil Red Feathers.

On the animated front no gang was more feared than those dastardly dogs of Duckberg, The Beagle Boys. Short Story: Always looking for a way to get into Scrooge McDuck's money bin, the Beagle Boys were the most recurring nemesis for Scrooge and his nephews during their adventures on the Disney Afternoon classic "Ducktales".

Led by the gravel-voiced Ma Beagle, the Beagle Boys came in all shapes and sizes, as well as mental capacities. There was Bigtime Beagle, who while the smartest was also the shortest (short, but his name is Big, ha!) although he had BIG attitude. Bankjob Beagle was the strongest and biggest by comparison and usually took over if Bigtime wasn't around.

My personal favorite was Burger (or Boigah!) Beagle who had an annoyingly high pitched voice and was basically the stupid fatty of the group, but was always good for a laugh.

As the 90's rolled around gangs started getting even more militant, shown to an extreme degree in the form of the Foot Clan from 1990's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" the movie.

Short Story: The evil, Oroku Saki aka the Shredder has gathered the wayward teens of NYC into his Pleasure Island-like lair of cigarettes, video games and violence by training them to be members of the Foot Clan.

As you may remember, in the animated series the Foot soldiers were robots and thus could chalk up their evil works to evil programming. In the film, however, the Foot Clan was made up of rebellious teens trained as urban Ninja thieves. They steal, they threaten female reporters by slapping their faces, these are definitely gang related activities.

What was cool about the Foot is that there were so many of them. Sure, they could all be taken down by quick jump kick, but for sheer volume of members you have to give them props.

My favorite Foot Clan moment is when Master Tatsu is training the new recruits in the martial arts and one of them bows to him while looking at the floor, so he kicks him in the face! Tatsu then warns fiercely, "Never lower your eyes to an enemy!"

There are a lot more gangs to speak of but I'm going to leave that up to you guys. So tell me, who are some of your favorite gang-related folks of yesteryear?
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