Friday, September 7, 2012


By special guest reviewer Gerard Cosloy of Can't Stop The Bleeding

A cultured, worldly type like Max has no patience for something as pathetic as football. I, however, am not nearly as sophisticated.  Though I am  fully aware the game is brutally exploitative at the amateur level and far more rigged than professional wrestling , I've been a near religious viewer since a very young age.  Whether it's my taste for intense competition or a latent desire to see burly dudes playing grabass is for others to decide.  Either way, few teams offered nearly as much entertainment value as the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders of the 1970's and '80's. 

Led by the anti-establishment icon Al Davis, the Raiders' rosters featured a dizzying array of reprobates, social misfits and borderline criminals.  Jack "The Asssasin" Tatum crippled one of my childhood heroes, WR Darryl Stingley, in a meaningless exhibition game.  Though remembered by film fans for his tiny roles in "The Goonies" and "Caveman", John Matuszak, aka  "The Tooz", consumed quantities of booze and pharmaceuticals at a rate so rapid, Oliver Reed and Keith Moon come off like Ian MacKaye. But no Raider embodied the club's renegade commitment to ass-kicking nearly as much as Lyle Alzado.

Hailing from Brooklyn and holding a collegiate resume from lightly regarded Yankton College (South Dakota), Alzado terrorized opposing quarterbacks as much as any defensive end of his generation. By the time of his first retirement in 1985, he'd become an unlikely mainstream celebrity. A 1988 Canadian TV sitcom featured Alzado as a prep school vice principal by day, professional wrestler by night ; despite a litany of cameos from the likes of Ric Flair, Jimmy Garvin and The Road Warriors, "LearningThe Ropes" was mercifully cancelled after 26 episodes. 

Alzado died of brain cancer in 1992, but not before publicly attributing his illness to years of steroid use.  "Learning The Ropes" would've been the high-water mark of Alzado's acting career were it not for his titular role in the 1988 feature, "Destroyer".  Alzado plays the hulking, mega-ripped serial killer Ivan Mozer, whose botched execution by electrocution is somehow covered up by a prison riot that happens right after the stoney lonesome suffers a power failure.  Credited with "the rape, torture and murder of 23 people" before the big zap ("24", corrects Mozer, who insists on watching a poorly disguised version of "Wheel Of Fortune" with his final moments on this mortal coil), Mozer is thought to have perished in the riot, but that would make for a rather short film

Fast forward a few years later and the abandoned penitentiary is being used as the set for "Death House Dollies", a rather undistinguished women-in-prison saga with a phoning-it-in Anthony Perkins calling the directorial shots.  As you've probably already guessed, it's a perfect opportunity for Mozer to resume his killing spree, this time with his dear old dad (a security guard on the premises) acting as an accomplice. It's not exactly mind-blowing stuff, except the humongous Alzado chomps into the task with malevolent glee. Sweating, cackling, stomping, Alzado acquits himself nicely as a psychotic killing machine, albeit one who isn't on screen nearly long enough.  Too much of the film concerns the relationship between David Harris (Clayton Rohner) and Susan Malone (Deborah Foreman).  The former has dived headfirst into Mozer's case-file; the latter (only referred to as "Malone", either lovingly by her boyfriend or far less romantically by a gasping or bellowing Alzado) is one of the "Death House Dollies" stunt persons (and as such, soon becomes a candidate for rape-torture-murder at the hands of Mozer).

There's a somewhat murky look to much of Mozer's murderous rampage, and only one moment in the film where Alzado is allowed to employ the awesome jackhammer he's shown brandishing on "Destroyer"'s  VHS box.  It's not exactly a case of false advertising, but you'd be excused from thinking the jackhammer got a little more play in the film.  Perhaps it was a rental (much like some of the lighting gear) and it had to be returned before the film was completed.  You're probably not gonna see a Criterion Collection edition with much background into, so my guess is as good as any. 

All complaints aside, the filmmakers might not have gotten the most out of Alzado, but he had a real physical presence/knack for playing the uber-monster. No interest/appreciation for his athletic exploits --- however chemically-enhanced  they may have been --- is required to enjoy his not-so-nuanced take on mass murder (followed by more mass murder).


Editor’s note: The film also features a JimTurner in a small role as burnout special effects guru Rewire. Not much of a stretch for Turner, who is best known as one of MTV’s original mascots, Randee of the Redwoods.

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