EVIL is Only in Your Nightmares. Or is it? “Retribution” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

Severely depressed artist George Miller attempts suicide by jumping off from his apartment building.  During the exact same time, a low-end gangster is brutally killed by cruel loan sharks.  Being both born on Aril 1st and dying at the same time, the tortured spirit of the gangster possesses the meek artist’s body right before being resuscitated by EMTs.  After a long recovery filled with horrific nightmares, the affable artist returns to his apartment building where he’s welcomed by fellow tenants and an overly warm landlord.  Still plagued by nightmares that have seeped into his awake conscious state, George medicates himself to sleep but the nightmares continue as he sees himself using psychokinetic powers to kill random individuals with extreme malice.  The nightmares are so real he wakes up in a sweaty panic to find out that that exact person was killed the night before the very way it played in his dreams.  When George realizes the gangster has inhabited his body for revenge, he and his friends take measures to put an end to the vindictive carnage. 

Santa Maria.  Mother of God.  Help me!!!  That phrase, attached to the very last seconds before a gruesome death and announced blankly from fiery, dagger eyes, has forever been seared into the recessed corners of my eardrums as the death cry that echoes throughout Guy Magar’s 1987 gory and visceral possession identity crisis, “Retribution.”  Magar’s ultra-violent and super-chromatic film is the filmmaker’s grand inaugural entrance as a full-length director following up behind a string of director chaired television episodes, including episodes from “The A-Team,” “Blue Thunder,” and “The Powers of Matthew Star” that regularly contained quickly charged, action packed sequences.  The Egyptian-born director translates those intense moments of frenzied disturbance into his mean-spirited and unforgiving vindicator of a script cowritten with then first time screenwriter, Lee Wasserman.  Shot in Los Angeles, “Retribution” is a virtual tour of the city, using the streets of L.A. and real locations, such as the Don Hotel for George’s residence and the nearby House of Neon Art, as a lively, eclectic, and wallet-saving convenient giftwrap for the film’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complexion that feels totally normal compared to L.A.’s divergent glamour.  Magar and Wasserman produce the film with Renegade and Unicorn Motion Pictures serving as the production companies and presented by Taurus Entertainment, formerly connected with United Artists. 

There are probably many actors that could been imagined for the role of George Miller, the suicidal artist plagued with visions of him committing murder, but it’s hard to imagine that venomous stare of complete satisfaction in madness spread across the face of anyone else other than Dennis Lipscomb.  No disrespect to the “Eyes of Fire” and “Wargames” actor but Lipscomb isn’t a chiseled-jawed and muscular leading man; in fact, Lipscomb is quite the opposite, but his range into mild-manner, all around nice guy George Miller into the lust for hatred and murderous revenge George Miller hangs on with complete chasmic permanence.  However, George’s love interest with the street working prostitute and fellow Don Hotel resident, Angel (Suzanne Snyder, “Return of the Living Dead II,” “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”), hardly ever seems natural in not only in the characters’ surreal age-yawning dalliance but also the chemistry looks and feels flat between Lipscomb and Snyder.  Magar and Wesserman neglect diving more into that bond between them but their enamored gleamy eyes for one another is apparent and strong without the context to back it up.  “The Dungeonmaster’s” Leslie Wing also is placed as a George Miller sympathetic advocate in her role as hospital psychologist Dr. Jennifer Curtis, but Dr. Curtis has more background to contend with in comparison to the suddenly conjured fondness from Angel as Curtis is a mental health professional caring for a suicidal patient from at his rock bottom worst to a complete positive turnaround in his mental transformation.  Curtis has more skin in the game with George’s supposed delusions of actually killing people in his nightmares as she defends not only George’s unique supernatural circumstances, but, in a way, herself as a licensed medical profession following HIPAA laws.  “Retribution” holds many dear and unforgettable characters that essentially captures the entire 1980’s spectrum of personalities and, even for a brief scene, the cast gives each role their all, including performances from Susan Peretz (“Dog Day Afternoon”), Clare Peck (“Teen Wolf”), Chris Caputo (“Ghost Warrior”), Danny Daniels (“Voodoo Blood Bath”), Ralph Manza (“Godzilla”), George Murdock (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”), Mike Muscat (“Hunter’s Blood”), and Hoyt Axton who doesn’t stray too far from his good intentions, but naïve, father role in “Gremlins” to being a detective tracking down suspect George Miller. 

I’m in total awe of Guy Magar’s “Retribution.” That opening scene of the suicide attempt with Alan Howarth’s building tension score drops not a single piece of dialogue yet opens with a gripping life and death situation, musically synced to progress toward a harrowing climax, and every frame is dripping with vintage 80’s appeal. Magar definitely knew what strings to pull to get the blood pumping, to get you excited, and to drop an excellent mystery right in the lap, or the middle of the street in this case with George Miller’s body after it flops off the car it just smashed onto. From that point on, “Retribution” peddles forward following the recovery, recouping, and ruination of George Miller’s life at the unseen hands of an exploiting, malevolent spirit that seeks to track down the top-tiered gangsters that shot and burned him alive and exact his own brand of harsh psychokinetic justice. Does it matter how George and this gangster, both born on the same day and both nearly died at the same time, came to fuse transcendently together? Don’t worry. Magar didn’t think it was important either and he’s right! “Retribution” snags all the attention for the sole purpose of the ride and that ride being a beautiful, color-coded daymare. The one aspect that ultimately retracts the buzzing high, stemmed from most 80’s films, is the sluggish love interest subplot between George and Angel stutter stepping into an awkward phase of interactions that hard stops much of core plot and though the plot is neurotically nonsensical to begin with, George and Angel’s desires for each other are about as cringeworthy as they come. Stick with the gore by honing in on Miller’s subconscious alter ego of a gangster serving his killers their just desserts via Kevin Yagher (“Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and his highly effective special effects on a low end budget that, along with a brilliant showing of cinematography by Gary Thieltges, tips into the categorical likes of “The Evil Dead” or “The Exorcist.”

“Retribution” delivers a fervency unlike ever seen in one of the utmost, must-see, shamefully overlooked horrors films of the 80’s.  Now, with a deserved boost and in style, “Retribution” gets the royal restoration treatment with a jammed-packed and sleek 3-disc Blu-ray set from Severin Films and distributed by MVD Visual.  Disc one’s theatrical cut, clocking in at 107 minutes, comes from the recently discovered 35mm pre-print elements, shot on an Arriflex 35 BL3 per IMDB, and has been digitally scanned in 2K, presenting the region free film in 1080p Full High Definition inside the original widescreen 1:85:1 aspect ratio.  “Retribution’s” image pleasingly pops with fine delineating attention to the details that reach out to the point where they’re nearly tactile textures.  Every single setup of Robb Wilson King’s production designs are rich to begin with but are even figuratively injected with a smoother compression growth enhancing hormone, adding more layers of surface level details that personify and personalize the space.  Magar’s chromatically fluorescent vision is a literal tilt-a-whirl palette blast of phantasmagoria.  Disc tow is the extended Dutch video version that adds back in the extended seconds on the longer, gorier kill scenes.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is the sole mix on the release and, honestly, sates the need with the dual channels.  You obviously don’t get the surround sound, which considering this release would have been ideal, but the stereo mix, as well as the dialogue track, is still full-bodied, identifiable, and spotless of blemishes.  John Carpenter understudy Alan Howarth scores his solo synth-laden story on tenterhooks with a tinge of a Miami Vice theme as well as setting tonal moods that add depth to character layers.  If you want the entire OST, you’re in luck!  The third disc is a compact disc of the entire soundtrack.  Special features includes over two hours of content with Severin exclusive looking back at the experiences with the late director Guy Magar and the ins-and-outs of making “Retribution” interviews with co-writer Les Wasserman Writing Wrongs, actress Leslie Wing Shock Therapy, actress Suzanne Snyder Angel’s Heart, actor Mike Muscat Santa Maria, Mother of God, Help Me!, soundtrack composer Alan Howarth Settling the Score, special effects artist John Eggett Visions of Vengeance, artist Barry Fahr The Art of Getting Even, production designer Robb Wilson King Living in Oblivion.  Other special features include Guy Magar’s student film “Bingo,” stills and poster galley, and the theatrical trailer all packaged under a cardboard slipcover and a reversible snap case cover. Severin Film’s “Retribution” release is a triumph, a proper regenerarcy of revenge cinema, with all the gory details being the star of the show.

Own this Amazing 3-Disc set of “Retribution” from Severin Films!

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