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 felled 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.
The 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.
That 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 rants, 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.