"3000 volts couldn't kill him... it just gave him a buzz"
Serial rapist and murder Ivan Moser is sentenced to die in the electric chair but an ill-timed riot in the prison at the time of his execution allows him to escape. Years later, a film crew descend on the now-abandoned prison to shoot a women-in-prison skin flick. However, they don’t realise that Moser is still very much alive and living in the prison.
In cinema, there tends to be little flurries of similarly themed films released within a short period of time. You had Armageddon and Deep Impact. Volcano and Dante’s Peak both did the natural disaster thing too close together. There was the spate of underwater sci-fi horrors with Leviathan, Deepstar Six and The Rift in the 80s. Destroyer belongs to a short-lived late 80s fad of murderers coming back from the dead after an execution including Prison and Shocker. The fact that this came along towards the end of the decade is never a good sign of quality.
At first glance, Destroyer sounds like it has the recipe for a great 80s slasher ride, with the prison setting always being a good location for a horror, a big lumbering supernatural slasher walking the corridors and a large cast filled with plenty of characters to kill off. But the film is rarely as much fun as it would appear to be, quickly fizzling out after a promising opening act. The real problem is that there’s no story and it takes forever to get there. The film-within-a-film schtick could have been a good chance for the film to poke some fun at itself with a sharper and smarter script but appears to have been included solely to give the characters an excuse to go inside the prison. Moser doesn’t start killing people until thirty minutes in and even then, there hardly any exposition to what is going on. Moser’s origins are never fully explored, just like how he managed to survive the execution in the first place and how he’s been living in this prison for years since without anyone realising. None of the characters involved in the film-within-a-film have any connection to him. He just randomly pops up after so many months away in hiding and begins killing people off.
The fact that Moser just skulks around the prison murdering people who get in his way is the formulaic cycle that Destroyer continues to revolve around. There’s no depth to the killer, there’s no attempts to build up any atmosphere or develop the story. The large prison sets promise a lot at the beginning, but the film doesn’t know what to do with them, resulting in some very cheesy set pieces in the second half. Even the killer, an imposing individual in his own right, comes off more like some goofy henchmen than the main bad guy and isn’t scary – in fact, I dare you not to laugh when you see this guy strut his stuff on the camera, shirt off and all oily and ripped for the camera. He’s like something out of an Italian Hercules movie and with about as much brainpower to boot. Destroyer does forget about him quite often, relegating him to the background whilst Death House Dolls is being filmed.
Former NFL player Lyle Azado is the big hulking Destroyer, a literal mountain of a man clearly jacked up to the gills on steroids. The idea to have the character speak as much as he does doesn’t work and Azado spends the majority of his screen time mugging for the camera as if he thought this was a comedy. He’s got the physical presence but there’s always the sense that this killer isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Anthony Perkins replaced Roddy McDowall at short notice as the director of the film-within-a-film, Death House Dolls, but either man would have been wasted in a totally inconsequential role which has no purpose on the film at all. Perkins is professional as always and lends the film some credibility but even he must have known that this was a pointless character. Deborah Foreman, something of an 80s Scream Queen with appearances in April Fool’s Day and Waxwork, is a terrible actress and has this kind of perma-grin on her face all of the time.
Destroyer isn’t the messiest slasher you’ll ever see but it’s no slouch in the gore stakes. There’s a nice electrocution, a pneumatic drill to the stomach and a blowtorch burning inside a toilet cubicle to name a few. However, there are too many off-screen kills and in one of the most perplexing moments in the film, literally the entire cast and crew of Death House Dolls disappear, presumably killed off by Moser judging by the sound of a recording made on one of the tapes. It’s a really cheap way to whittle down most of the characters and would have been easier just reducing the number of characters to begin with or come up with some sort of The Burning-style raft massacre scene Destroyer does gain some brownie points for actually show plenty of skin, some full-frontal, during one of the film-within-a-film shower sequences.
Destroyer is a forgettable, end-of-the-decade slasher which struggles to piece together even the most basic of formulas into some coherent, entertaining romp. There was a lot of potential for some silly fun, but it is squandered almost straight away, resulting in this bargain basement offering which somehow managed to get a limited theatrical run. It’s got a cool poster though!
Director(s): Robert Kirk
Writer(s): Peter Garrity, Rex Hauck, Mark W. Rosenbaum
Actor(s): Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Lyle Alzado, Anthony Perkins, Tobias Anderson
Duration: 94 mins