Around this tenement in the Bronx region of New York City, the police are gathering because the local residents have called them to sort out once and for all the problem of the gang who hang around inside and terrorise them, causing more than a nuisance and resorting to physical threats to intimidate. This gang are currently indulging in their other favourite pasttime other than violence, and that's taking drugs, which they are doing in the cellar of the building - then the cops show up and escort them from the premises as the residents celebrate, thankful that this is the end of the issue. But oh dear, it is in fact the beginning of a new nightmare, for the criminals are released on a technicality shortly after...
Tough-minded director Roberta Findlay made her mark in the exploitation field along with her husband Michael Findlay, often helming pornographic movies on tiny budgets though they were not averse to other genres by any means. By the time she made one of her final efforts, Tenement, Michael had passed on she and was branching out on her own, devising this tale of urban nightmare not as a rip-off of Death Wish 3 as many believe, but as a tribute to her early years growing up (or at least that's what she said). What this entailed was a hard luck story of a bunch of poor, impoverished souls whose already miserable existence was made even less palatable by the inclusion of that gang of thugs.
Who look as if they've stepped off the set of an Italian post-apocalyptic flick, as was the fashion of the day, in movies such as this at an rate. But don't go thinking this was some high camp gigglefest at the expense of some cluelessly out of touch filmmakers, for though there were plenty of aspects to the action which were less than convincing, the very low budget contributed to a genuinely scuzzy, down and dirty mood. While reports of gangs working their way up apartment blocks one level at a time and bumping off those they encounter are thin on the ground in real life, if they ever did happen you'd imagine they would play out something like this, mostly thanks to Findlay establishing the doleful characters who have no way out.
Not out of their lives, and not as it turns out this night any way out of the tenement for the baddies have taken the ground floor and have aspirations to avenge themselves for the inconvenience of being taken to the police station that afternoon, the lack of efficiency on the part of the law setting up the manner the residents must take that law into their own hands. Not that they are best equipped for such an undertaking, which results in a DIY approach to preserving their safety even as gang leader Chaco (Enrique Sandino - they're a very Hispanic collection of thugs, this lot) is picking them off one by one, usually by introducing sharp implements to their bodies. The one scene that likely got this banned in the United Kingdom was the gang rape of one young mother which ends in a painful use of a broom, but really the atmosphere was sleazy throughout.
It's not banned anymore, and that was because it actually wasn't that graphic, it just splashed the tomato ketchup around (to represent blood) liberally but unconvincingly. In truth, rather than squeezing the last drops of tension from the situation the plot grew rather monotonous and repetitive, basically the residents bickering as one of them is captured, then murdered at the hands of the villains, then as a variation one of the gang members will meet a sticky end when the dwellers work out a method of getting their own back: carry on in this vein until there's hardly anyone left in the cast and eventually one side will emerge the victor. That's not to say Findlay and her screenwriters wanted for ingenuity when it came to killing a character - well, sometimes - one abseiling out of an upper window with predictable consequences and another infamously squashed by a refrigerator, but it was really simply one damn thing after another with only the prospect of surviving the night (captions tell us what the time is throughout) the reward awaiting them, yet nothing more than that. With a rap theme tune!