The Film: 2.5/5
Scream Factory’s latest double feature release bundles two of the late Anthony Perkins’ final theatrical features together on a single Blu-ray disc.
First up is 1988’s Destroyer, the most pitiable of the decade’s surge (pardon the pun) in horror movies about executed murderers who come back from the dead to kill again. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film, but it is a pretty mediocre one. The psycho this time is Ivan Moser, mass murderer and rapist whose victims included men, women, and children, and he’s played by Lyle Alzado, the ferocious one-man wrecking crew of the NFL who helped lead the Los Angeles Raiders to a Super Bowl victory and passed away at the age of 43 in 1992 after a battle with brain cancer. Moser is sentenced to die in the electric chair for his crimes, but apparently he didn’t die on the night of his execution and even sparked (again, pardon the pun) a riot that tore the prison apart and allowed him to escape. Years later the abandoned penitentiary is serving as the location for Death House Dolls, a cheesy women-in-prison exploitation flick directed by the urbane Robert Edwards (Anthony Perkins) and written by inquisitive David Harris (Clayton Rohner). Harris’ girlfriend Susan Malone (Deborah Foreman) has also found work on the production as a stuntwoman.
The shoot has also gained an uncredited – and unwanted – participant as Moser has returned to the incarceration station to make it his new hunting ground. While Harris digs deeper into the prison’s past to uncover the truth about the hulking killer’s botched execution, a truth that possibly implicates the warden (Pat Mahoney), Moser gets down to some bloody business, taking out members of the cast and crew one at a gory time. He also has some deviant designs on Susan, and it will soon fall to her and Harris to end the madman’s reign of bug-eyed terror once and for all.
As the first half of the 1980’s drew to a close, marked appropriately by the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term as president and the beginning of his second, the slasher horror movies that drew in sizable audiences for both the major studios and independent outfits had to undergo a reinvention or risk cultural extinction. The original Nightmare on Elm Street arrived to give the genre a much-needed shot of creative adrenaline and suddenly movies about psychopaths stalking vulnerable, stupid teenagers were once against the rage, only now the killers had to be superhuman and virtually unstoppable in order to up their game. Freddy Krueger pursued his prey in their dreams. Jason Voorhees was finally taken down by a machete-wielding Corey Feldman only to be resurrected two sequels later via an unfortunately-timed lightning bolt.
Slashers with supernatural twists even went behind bars a few times towards the end of the decade. Renny Harlin’s Prison got there first and is by far the best of the lot, but Wes Craven’s indescribably goofy Shocker has plenty of entertainment value of its own. Then there is Destroyer, the most lackluster effort in this short-lived horror trend, and it’s the sole feature film directed by the veteran television documentarian Robert Kirk for good reason. Early on it shows promise, but once it’s opening sequence concludes there’s a long drag throughout the second act where the carnage is light and the characters and atmosphere aren’t developed and exploited enough to compensate for the lack of gory thrills. The script is credited to three writers and that would definitely explain the lack of narrative cohesion; the writing process could not have been a team effort.
The budgetary restraints can’t help but show in the limited amount of prison sets created and the production’s overreliance on the same locations. The kills are minimal and rarely impress outside of Moser’s gruesome dispatch of a victim using a jackhammer, but that’s about as bloody as Destroyer gets. The late Alzado is a pretty imposing presence as the not-quite-dead central menace though he doesn’t have many tools in his acting arsenal to appear monstrous than bulging eyes and an evil cackle that only serves to make the character more comedic than scary. Anthony Perkins is here for the paycheck and gives a professional show, doing what he can to make his two-dimensional part count for something. Rohner and Foreman, who previously co-starred in April Fool’s Day, make for an appealing romantic couple with functional chemistry. The decision to keep Rohner’s character away from the prison for the bulk of the third act allows for Foreman to step into the fray as the heroine of the movie, and the energetic finale delivers some good effects and stunts.
Unfortunately for the movie, it’s too little, too late by that point. Destroyer never aspires to be anything but a distracting mediocrity. If you’ve seen Prison, Shocker, or any other slasher flick in existence, then you’ve already seen this one. There is nothing original about its story and the filmmakers do little to make their effort stand out. Yet you really want to give it a ribbon for making an effort, much like I used to get at every Field Day as a child.
Next up we have Edge of Sanity, a sleazy and lurid production from the late schlock merchant Harry Alan Towers that puts Perkins front and center in an intriguing variation on the oft-adapted Robert Louis Stevenson horror classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Obviously Perkins is playing the lead role of a humble man of science whose experiments with cocaine go awry when – damn cat - a pile of the wicked Peruvian marching dust gets accidentally mixed with some ether (as another renowned doctor once put it, “There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge”) and Jekyll gets his huff on. The result, no surprise, is that Jekyll transforms into the murderous Mr. Hyde, but his “friends” can call him Jack. Jack immediately heads off into the Victorian Era London night to satisfy his carnal desires and ends up slaughtering a prostitute.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Edge of Sanity makes a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of history and literature by mashing up the Jekyll & Hyde tale with the case of the Whitechapel murders carried out by Jack the Ripper. In this case, Jekyll’s drug-birthed alter ego is the Ripper. The concept reminded me of DC Comics’ “Elseworlds” graphic novels and the classic What If? series from Marvel Comics, but the execution is nowhere nearly as ambitious and challenging as Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s independent press epic From Hell.
Director Gerard Kikoine, a Frenchman with a background in saucy comedies and steamy Eurosexploitation, grants Perkins, whose British accent tends to come and go as it pleases, plenty of room to dominate the proceedings and out-act any and all who dares cross his path. He’s playing another tormented psychotic – Who is to say that the character of Norman Bates wasn’t influenced by the Jekyll and Hyde tale in some way? – and it is something he has always done with a unique ability to effectively portray a sympathetic man constantly at war with his own demons. Kikoine’s visual style is a time-warped fresco of brothels with blood red walls and streets obscured by neon blue fog where the London of the late 19th century seems to merge with the more modernistic visions of Ken Russell and Derek Jarman that refuse to bend to the will of historical accuracy.
Perkins earns his top billing with a solid performance as the man of science slowly being consumed by drug-induced madness, sympathetic and earnest when he’s Jekyll and a pale, gaunt figure of ghoulish evil when he dons the Hyde persona. He’s really the only actor in Edge worth watching because everyone else merely goes through the motions as the screenplay by J.P. Felix and Ron Raley no doubt dictated, but the lovely Glynis Barber (EastEnders) provides the film with the closest thing it has to an emotional core as Jekyll’s concerned wife. Best known for her work as an actress in several Jess Franco features, Maria Rohm served as an associate producer on Edge of Sanity.
Destroyer makes its return to home video for the first time in decades, when the old Virgin Vision VHS was last in print. According to an introductory card, Scream Factory’s transfer was sourced from a new high-definition scan of the only surviving film element (which bears the original title Shadow of Death) located in the vaults. The elements were obviously in solid condition as the results are quite laudable in giving the film its finest presentation outside of the original theatrical screenings. The transfer is framed in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is mostly pleasing to the eye, with consistent color timing and sharpened visual details. Grain content is heavily present during exterior daylight scenes, but is more balanced during scenes filmed at night and inside the prison. I can’t see Destroyer looking any better than it does here. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track can occasionally be problematic with deterioration in the form of crackling making its presence known from time to time and the music often overwhelming the dialogue, but overall it’s a solid recreation of its original Ultra Stereo mix.
Presented on this Blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Edge of Sanity looks even better than it did on its 2002 Region 1 DVD. The 1080p high-definition transfer was likely sourced from a remastered print in the possession of MGM since it opens with the company logo and features a stable and striking color scheme of vibrant reds, cool blues, and balanced black levels in the cinematography by Tony Spratling (a camera operator on The Dirty Dozen and action sequence unit director of photography on Alien 3). Details have been improved by the image upgrade and print damage appears to be very minimal. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is a fine reproduction of the original Dolby theatrical sound mix and is strong with dual channel activity and solid volume levels for every component of the soundtrack, from the hysterical dialogue to the histrionic orchestral score composed by Frederic Talgorn (Robot Jox). There are no traces of audio deterioration. English subtitles have been provided for both movies.
The only extra features are original trailers for both films which are each about a minute in length. Destroyer’s is presented full-frame and looks to have been sourced from a VHS tape.
Destroyer and Edge of Sanity hardly represent the iconic actor Anthony Perkins at his absolute best, but for fans of the silver screen legend who brought the monstrous Norman Bates to life and gave memorable performances in Pretty Poison, Catch-22, and Winter Kills among many others, this double feature Blu-ray with fine new high-definition transfers might provide an evening’s worth of shameless entertainment value.