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Destroyer
(1988)
 

Director:Robert Kirk                      
Cast:
Deborah Foreman, Lyle Alzado, Anthony Perkins


Lyle Alzado, a professional football player who tried his hand in acting in the '80s, had a rare spark that even many professional actors wish they had - presence. In any film, no matter the genre, whenever Alzado walked onscreen, the focus immediately was on him, and him only. It's too bad that the handful of movies he made before his death of brain cancer wasted him and his talents, including the movie Destroyer. In fact, Destroyer not only wastes Alzado, but also a good premise and talented actors.

At first glance, it might seem this movie gave Alzado the kind of role that would best use that raw presence he gave out. In this movie, he's cast as Ivan Moser, a hardened criminal who has been sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 23 women. The opening scenes of the movie show him being lead out of his cell to the electric chair, though his clearly demented character is more interested in the moronic game show playing on every TV set in the penitentiary than his approaching execution. It's an odd opening, but it weirdly works, somehow managing to put together the absurd with the serious. The creepy mood it generates makes it a splendid way to open the movie.

Things keep working for the next few minutes as well. As Moser is being executed, a riot breaks out in the penitentiary, leading to chaos and Moser disappearing, presumably burned to death with several other prisoners. Cut to eighteen months later, where the abandoned prison is reopened, but not to let in more prisoners. Instead, the new occupants of the prison are schlock filmmakers making a women-in-prison film called Death House Dollies. The central protagonists in this fray include  David, the movie's researcher who is studying Moser's case file. His girlfriend Malone (Foreman, and yes, she's called Malone by even by her boyfriend!) is one of the stunt people, and starts to observe funny things happening around her - stuff like mysterious messages appearing for her and members of the crew disappearing. Need I write any further description?

Despite it being obvious from this point on that things will be predictable, the movie still had a chance of being fun. After all, the backdrop of the filming of a sleazy W.I.P. movie promises nudity, a chance to poke fun at low budget filmmaking, and maybe even teach us a few things about how movies are made. For the most part, Destroyer fails to deliver on these things. The main problem is that the members of the crew are not very interesting people. For example, "Rewire", the F/X artist on the set, is a "Hey, dude!" kind of person, and nothing is done to take his character beyond saying such generic statements. Still, he's one of the more lively characters, because almost everyone else is usually seen walking around silently...muttering something quickly....becoming quiet again...over and over. With no life, or liveliness to these characters, it's then hard to find the fun side of anything.

Only Anthony Perkins shows any enthusiasm; in fact, his acting here shows Perkins had a hidden talent for light comedy. In what is basically an extended cameo, he sees the stupid side of the entire movie, and has some fun with it. He utters his lines in a deadpan way, putting a nice tongue-in-cheek attitude in his scenes. When his character has a kind of tantrum, that and his uttering of four-lettered words is also funny to hear. The best scene in the movie has his character directing a communal shower scene, taking it way more seriously than anyone should - it's both funny and sleazy, and generates what mood the entire movie should have had. The scene also is the only time the movie gives us the idea what making a movie is like. Aside from this scene, the characters don't seem to have any idea how to make a movie. Dangerous stunts like air bag jumps or working with electricity come across like such scenes are rehearsed and subsequently filmed in less than five minutes. It comes across both as stupid and having not even a toe in reality.

You might be wondering why I haven't talked about the character of Moser for some time in this reviews. That's because it's easy to forget about him - the movie certainly does. There are long parts in the movie where Moser is simply forgotten about. Sometimes when there is the threat of danger, he still doesn't make an appearance. There's the inevitable descent into the basement (that's lit by that neon-blue kind of light you see in countless B movies) to find the fuse box to fix the lights, though I can't remember any previous version of this moldy scene being both so slow-moving, endless, and without any consequence. When Moser finally gets to do his thing, these scenes are hardly an improvement. Though the cover of the video box shows Alzado bare-chested and holding a jackhammer, he only uses the jackhammer once - and the director is more interested in showing the participants' faces during the hammering than anything resembling gore. Until the last twenty minutes or so, we are only given a smidgen of lackluster slaughter in-between the zombie-like crew's wanderings. Then Moser finally starts doing his thing in spades, generating mass slaughter, but this is also a disappointment. That's because practically of this slaughter happens offscreen. The climax is quite agonizing to sit through, consisting of an incredible amount of time running down corridors, climbing around, and trying to escape. And do you think the killer is really dead after he goes through something that he could not possibly live through? To add insult to injury, the movie concludes with a Carrie-like "shock" at the end. Oh, I guess this stuff could have been funny or even scary, had they had some fun with it. But not here.

I remember this movie actually played in theaters, though I don't know how. The movie has a shabby look; despite filming in an actual abandoned prison, it usually looks more like an abandoned warehouse. The room of execution is the worst setting, with the stone walls appearing to be made of something like painted plywood. There's a slow, gloomy atmosphere here. That may explain why Alzado, though formidable-looking, seems a little down. When his character explains his acts by simply saying "Why not?", I couldn't help but wonder if Alzado found anything ironic with that line.


UPDATE: B. Schmidt sent this in:

"Read through your review of the 1988 sleeper Destroyer starring former Denver Bronco Lyle Alzado.  In the last paragraph of your review you mention the movie having been filmed in an abandoned prison.  In actuality, I believe it was filmed in an abandoned portion of the Great Western Sugar factory in Brighton, Colorado.  I grew up in Brighton and it was a really big deal that year that a former Bronco was starring in a horror movie being filmed downtown.

"Meaningless minutia I know-- just thought I would share the trivial nature of one of the worst movies ever made."

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Check Amazon for Anthony Perkins biography

See also: Bloodfist 3, Slaughterhouse Rock, Sorority House Massacre

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