Of all the trends to weave their way through the hor­ror films of the 1980’s, per­haps the most unex­pect­ed was the brief craze for pris­on-set super­nat­u­ral hor­ror films.  This trend came out of nowhere and burned bright­ly but briefly.  Around the same time, there was also a brief vogue of movies about seri­al killers who were fried but not Destr-vhsfelled by a ses­sion in an elec­tric chair, i.e.: Shocker and The Horror Show.

Destroyer is a unique film in that it com­bi­nes both of the­se eso­ter­ic trends in one pack­age.  It is set at a pris­on aban­doned after a riot in its recent past.  A group of film­mak­ers cash in on the site’s noto­ri­ety by shoot­ing  an exploita­tion pic­ture there enti­tled “Death House Dolls”: this group includes direc­tor Robert (Anthony Perkins), snarky screen­writer David (Clayton Rohner), and David’s stunt­wom­an girl­friend, Malone (Deborah Foreman).  When they shoot a scene involv­ing the elec­tric chair, peo­ple start dying in mys­te­ri­ous ways — and it all has some­thing to do with the exe­cu­tion of infa­mous seri­al killer Ivan Moser (Lyle Alzado), who might be refus­ing to rest in peace.

Destr-02The results are a ser­vice­able if some­what ram­shackle pro­gram­mer.  The script, penned  by pro­duc­ers Rex Hauck and Peter Garrity with Mark Rosenthal, has a solid premise and is pep­pered with plen­ti­ful cre­ative-kill set­pieces.  Unfortunately, the sto­ry feels like key sce­nes are miss­ing as it will intro­duce ele­ments that are nev­er fol­lowed up on (like Moser’s mur­der of a game-show hostess) and detracts from its scary/thrill-oriented ele­ments with a lit­tle too much clichéd movie busi­ness satire and pro-for­ma dra­mat­ic sub­plots.

Destr-01That said, Destroyer moves quick­ly enough that it can get past its bumpy nar­ra­tive.  Director Robert Kirk made his debut here before going on to a long career in tele­vi­sion and he gives the film a decent, music video-style sense of atmos­phere.  He soft­pedals the gore but goes all in for a sur­pris­ing­ly bru­tal finale with plen­ty of peo­ple being thrown around and both car and motor­cy­cle stunts.  Chuy Elizondo’s pho­tog­ra­phy gets a lot of mileage out of a few smoke machi­nes and ex-Missing Persons key­boardist Patrick O’Hearn gives the film a sub­tly creepy syn­th score reminsi­cent of the music from the t.v. show The Hitchhiker.

The film also boasts a good cast for a low-bud­get effort: Perkins shows a wry sense of humor in an under­writ­ten role, Rohner car­ries his expo­si­tion-ori­ent­ed part with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and Foreman is a like­ably plucky hero­ine.  Ex-foot­baller Alzado might be stunt cast­ing as the vil­lain but he digs into the role with vig­or: his eyes and his biceps seems to be com­pet­ing for who can do the most bulging as he Destr-Edge-blurants, laughs and body-slams his way through the role.

In short, Destroyer is the mid-tier pro­gram­mer of the ‘80s pris­on-hor­ror sub­gen­re: stronger on sen­sa­tion than inter­nal log­ic but enter­tain­ing enough to sum­mon up a lit­tle nos­tal­gia for any­one who was a Fangoria kid dur­ing the Reagan era.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory has issued this title as part of an Anthony Perkins-themed blu-ray dou­ble bill with Edge Of Sanity.  A pre-film dis­claimer says it was tak­en from the only avail­able film ele­ments in the vault and the results look decent, reflect­ing the soft “music video” look of the film but offer­ing an improve­ment over past SD ver­sions.  The orig­i­nal 2.0 stereo mix is pre­sent­ed in loss­less form and gives a nice boost to the elec­tron­ic score.  The one extra for this title is a brief trail­er.