[review by JA Kerswell]
DESTROYER is one of the less
remembered prison horror flicks from the 1980s.
Partly that obscurity is deserved, but there's still some
enjoyment to be had here - including winning turns by Deborah Foreman
and Clayton Rohner (reunited from Fred Walton's APRIL FOOL'S DAY
Azado - as the hulking slasher in DESTROYER
- doesn't do subtlety.
A hulking serial killer called Ivan Moser (Lyle Azado) is put to
death by electric chair, but the current trips during the execution and
he escapes as the rest of the prison riots. Fast forward an
indeterminate amount of time (the film doesn't say, but the back of the
video box says 18 months) and the jail has
been decommissioned after it became mired in scandal. It has also
become the set for a trashy Women in Prison flick called DEATH HOUSE
DOLLS. Malone (Foreman) is the stunt double for the difficult
actress (Lannie Garrett) and David (Rohner) is the writer of the film
and Malone's lover. The exploitation film is being directed by Robert
(an arch turn by Anthony Perkins), who is increasingly exasperated by
the pathetic performance of his leading lady - and spits with gusto the
line "Cecil B Fucking DeMille!".
In true exploitation form one character says: "All you need now are tits!". Sure
shower scene follows which leads to the bizarre image of Anthony
Perkins surrounded by a bevy of big-haired models as nature intended.
The film's sometimes playful nature throws out some jokes that
work and looks forward to the knowing post-modern slasher flicks of the
mid 90s, including one gag about Michael Myers and Bobby Ewing's
it-was-all-a-dream shower revelation. However, featuring a song called
'Kiss my stinky white ass' might have been pushing the envelope.
The ex-Governor of the prison turns up only to fall foul of an
unseen killer with a flamethrower, who roasts him in a toilet stall as
the shoot carries on unawares. However, the film soon dispenses toying
with the audience and it quickly becomes clear that the person doing
the killing is Moser. When an electrocution stunt goes awry, the cast
and crew of DEATH HOUSE DOLLS
find themselves locked inside the prison
with the hulking, half-fried all-pissed serial killer ...
Foreman and Clayton Rohner are imprisoned for crimes against hair in DESTROYER.
A tighter script could have made DESTROYER
a better film. It is
littered with plot holes so gaping you can see alternate universes
through them. It is never really explained how Moser escaped the
electric chair and no one seemed to really notice or follow this up.
Bizarrely, when the cast and crew find themselves locked inside the
prison the audience presumes that this is so Moser can pick them off
one-by-one. But then this lockdown isn't really mentioned again. Then
there's the shower full of naked women who mysteriously vanish ...
Part of the problem lies with Azado's performance as the killer. As
was the norm by this point in the 1980s, he makes wisecracks (although
thankfully fewer than some other nut jobs such as the one in PSYCHO COP (1989)).
However, he spends much of the film's running time laughing and rolling
his eyes like he's channeling Jake Steinfeld's giggling loony in HOME
SWEET HOME (1981). When he's not laughing maniacally he's
a musclebound chipmunk. That's not really a good thing. To be fair,
not given much to work with. Although Azado is a physically powerful
presence (his neck really is thicker than his head), any semblance of
menace is lost when he mugs for the camera and squeezes the head of a
plastic doll so it makes farting noises. Whilst this does sometimes
make for a cheesy good time, the film too often veers into the mean
spirited when Ivan Moser torments and tortures Malone (although given
Foreman's crimes against hair he can half be forgiven - and at
one point he cuts some her locks off and eats them!). This seems very
much at odds with the tone of much of the rest of the film; jarring
with what is otherwise pure 80s popcorn horror. This uneven tone and
half-baked script do DESTROYER
Director Kirk made his feature debut with DESTROYER. It was his only feature film and he went on to make documentaries. Richard Harrington in the Washington Post sniffed: "Although the ads suggest a cross between "Rambo" and "The Terminator," "Destroyer" is actually just another lousy rip-off, mostly of "Halloween," but with drips and drabs of a half dozen other subgenre films. Director Robert Kirk may not know how to make a film, but he obviously enjoys watching them."
Perkins looks like he's trying to remember his agent's number in 1988's
uneven slasher movie DESTROYER.
Perkins replaced Roddy McDowall at short notice. At this point in
his career he seemed enjoy playing in horror thrillers (and would
follow this up the next year with a bravura, manic performance in EDGE
OF SANITY). Of course this might be all he could get. He sadly
passed away a few years later in 1992. Azado also died in 1992. He
reportedly blamed his terminal cancer on steroid use. Foreman's career
as a scream queen shined brightly for a short while in the late 80s,
but burned out quickly. She appeared the same year in WAXWORK, as well
as the uncompleted GRIZZLY 2: THE
CONCERT (1987). However, she is set to appear
in the new subgenre ensemble piece THE
For some reason, prisons were horror/slasher vogue for a short
period in the 1980s - initiated by TERROR
ON ALCATRAZ (1986). Renny
Harlin's PRISON (1987) was a
relatively big budgeted affair and was
followed by SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK
(1988). Wes Craven's SHOCKER (1989)
also used the executed-prisoner-returning-from-the-dead as a jumping
The film was developed under the perhaps too cerebral title THE EDISON EFFECT, so it is no great mystery as to why it got changed to both SHADOW OF DEATH and its alternate tile DESTROYER. The film got brief releases under both titles to US screens. The film quickly came out on VHS on the Virgin Vision label in 1988 under the DESTROYER moniker, with a cover that emphasised Azado's massive muscles and comparative pin head.
Sadly, DESTROYER is too
unfocussed to work as an effective slasher movie, but there's enough
weirdness and quirks to at least stop throwing the book at it.
female:1 / male:13
1) Male's neck broken and thrown through window (dream sequence)
2) Male burnt to death with flamethrower
3) Male run through with pnuematic drill
4) Female strangled with sash
5) Male found hung
6) Male's head found on photocopier
7) Male killed in electric chair
8) Male run through with pnuematic drill
9) Male seen dead
10) Male seen dead
11) Male seen dead
12) Male seen dead
13) Male has head bashed in
14) Male burnt to death in explosion