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  Retribution One good, one evil, one body
Year: 1987
Director: Guy Magar
Stars: Dennis Lipscomb, Leslie Wing, Suzanne Snyder, Jeff Pomerantz, George Murdock, Pamela Dunlap, Susan Peretz, Clare Peck, Chris Caputo, Hoyt Axton, Ralph Manza, Mario Roccuzzo, Harry Caesar, Jeffrey Josephson, Danny D. Daniels
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: On Halloween night an ambulance rushes to the scene where suicidal artist George Miller (Dennis Lipscomb) jumps off the roof of his apartment building. To the horror of concerned neighbours and crowds of fright-masked trick-or-treaters, George plunges head-first through the windscreen of a waiting car. As paramedics surround his unconscious body, he has a vision of a green light projecting a shrieking hideously deformed face towards him. Miraculously, George survives but is plagued by nightmares at the psychiatric ward where he befriends kindly doctor Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing).

Eventually discharged, George rejoins the colourful residents at his seedy block in downtown Los Angeles. Every night however, whenever George falls asleep something takes hold over his body and drives him to do evil things. His glowing green eyes drive drunken bar owner Sally Benson (Pamela Dunlap) to stab herself amidst her exploding kitchen. He feeds slaughterhouse maven Johnny Blake (Mario Roccuzzo) into his own meat grinder. Then makes auto-mechanic Bill Martinez (Jeffrey Josephson) take a blow-torch to his hands before grinding his face into a mesh. These murders are real, but George remembers them only as dreams when he awakens back in his home. Horrified at reliving this nightmare, time and again, George discovers he may be enacting the vengeance of someone who died at the same time as his suicide attempt.

Dreams and delusions of the subconscious mind were a crucial facet of the horror movie right at its inception with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), but towards the post-war era slowly crystallized into more tangible terrors save for the fringes of low-budget European art-porn. After decades of earthier, more visceral fare, the dream horror subgenre made a comeback in the brash age of MTV styled imagery. Retribution got lost in the shuffle of so-called “rubber reality horror”, e.g. Videodrome (1982), Brain Dead (1988), From Beyond (1986), and especially A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) with which it shares several themes and motifs, but has latterly been embraced by horror fans as a forgotten gem. Admittedly some of that has to do with the fact that ever since the baby boomers lost their stranglehold on pop culture, the rubber and latex heavy Eighties have been re-evaluated as the glory days of gory horror.

Retribution is not a film for anyone who isn’t nostalgic about Eighties horror. For one thing the neon punk production design looks like Miami Vice threw up on this movie, while it signposts its garish, in-your-face style with an MTV-like credit sequence intercutting the POV of the speeding ambulance with ghoulish Halloween masks before its fiery green logo zooms towards the viewer. Guy Magar, a TV stalwart both before and after though he also helmed The Stepfather III (1992) and Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001), certainly brings an arresting visual flair to the set-pieces. If not always coherent, they do pack a punch.

Although the film wavers from compelling character-driven horror to quirky black comedy and effects-laden rollercoaster ride, it boasts a solid premise vaguely reminiscent of the obscure and underrated The Possession of Joel Delaney (1971) wherein a wealthy socialite is possessed by the spirit of a vengeful, underpriviledged Latino criminal. While not as pointed a social satire as that film, Retribution develops its mystery well and, most endearingly, displays genuine empathy and affection for the colourful characters that inhabit its lowlife milieu. Going against the grain, the supporting cast of bikers, hookers, midgets and shrill ethnic stereotypes that inhabit the sleazy-seeming L.A. neighbourhood, genuinely care about poor, tormented George. The film details a surprisingly sweet relationship between the mild-mannered artist and pink-wigged hooker Angel (Eighties horror stalwart Suzanne Snyder), whom he takes on a date to a snooty art gallery. Later on, Angel and her biker friend Dylan (Chris Caputo) try to help ease George’s troubled soul by taking him to a flamboyant witch doctor named Dr. Rasta (Danny D. Daniels). Though it all goes haywire and dogged detective Lieutenant Ashley (country singer Hoyt Axton, best remembered as the dad in Gremlins (1984)) is soon on George’s trail, the film avoids the casual cruelty prevalent in much horror fare. The demonic killer vents its rage only against its former persecutors and George ensures innocents stay safe from harm. Only at the end, when a wholly innocent party is threatened, does he intervene. Though the film does not quite hang together and proves somewhat inconclusive, it still counts as a brave stab at something a little more humane in the era of Freddy Krueger.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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