To paraphrase 1930s wit Wilson Mizner, Fear City is like a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottom boat. In exploitation-flick fashion, the film exposes the seedy "nether world" of contemporary Manhattan. Unsavory Matt (Tom Berenger) and Nick (Jack Scalia) run a topless bar/booking agency, in direct competition with equally scuzzy Goldstein (Jan Murray). It's hard to imagine anyone lower than these low-lives until we're apprised of a serial killer who dutifully keeps a record of his murders in a diary. The killer's victims are all exotic dancers and hookers, prompting Matt to suspect that Goldstein is behind the crimes, and vice versa. Once they've decided that it's better to unite against a common enemy than to throw volleys at each other, Matt and Goldstein arrange between themselves to insure the safety of the women in their employ. Meanwhile, Matt's ex-girlfriend Loretta (Melanie Griffith), saddened by the murder of her lesbian lover Leila (Rae Dawn Chong), resumes her drug habit, while a dispirited Matt begins harking back to his own sordid past. The one redeeming aspect of Fear City is the ultimate triumph over the odds by Loretta, who by process of elimination emerges as the most likeable character in the bunch. For a film of this nature, Fear City boasts an unexpectedly strong cast, including the aforementioned actors and Billy Dee Williams, Rosanno Brazzi, Joe Santos and Michael V. Gazzo.
by Hal Erickson synopsis