Monday, October 11, 2010

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: RETRIBUTION (1987)

Pop quiz hotshot – who was the most prolific slasher of the 1980s?  Jason Voorhees?  Nope.  Freddy Kruger?  Nah.  The killer with the biggest body count was the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), a non-profit regulatory body founded in the 1920s that killed indie filmmakers’ hopes every day.  The MPAA founded a ‘voluntary’ ratings system in the 1960s under Jack Valenti and they went on a rampage against any and all horror film in 1980s.  This was bad news for independent producers (the MPAA counted all major studios as “members”) because if you wanted your film advertised in papers and booked in lots of theaters, you needed an MPAA rating.

Horror fans heard lots of stories about the MPAA slicing films left and right. Usually in the pages of Fangoria you’d hear FX artists from the latest FRIDAY THE 13TH or ELM STREET flick bemoan the loss of their work.  But for every well-known example of truncation, there were probably ten more that fans never heard about.  One such case is the film RETRIBUTION, a low budget supernatural revenge flick.  Taurus Entertainment actually got this one into a few theaters in 1987 (back when horror flicks like this could hover in the bottom half of the Top 50 at the box office).  A theatrical run meant a rating and the filmmakers got one but at the cost of some relatively innocuous gore.

The film centers on George (Dennis Lipscomb), a starving artist who decides to end his life by jumping off his apartment building on Halloween night. As he lies dying in the street, George’s body receives the spirit of a man who shares his birthday and is killed at the exact same time (confused?).  He makes a full recovery and begins tackling his issues with psychiatrist Dr. Curtis (Leslie Wing).  He also begins seeing Angel (Suzanne Snyder), the hooker with a heart of gold who lives in the same building.  But George starts having bad dreams at night as he sees himself meeting and killing people he doesn’t know.  Yes, George is possessed by the spirit of the dead criminal and goes about murdering everyone who was involved in burning him alive (Freddy who?).  Of course, his psychiatrist Dr. Curtis (Leslie Wing) thinks he's crazy and Lt. Ashley (Hoyt Axton) thinks he is the killer.

This is a pretty solid horror flick that I liked even more watching it now than back in the 80s. Sure, it isn’t very original and you can practically hear the filmmakers whisper, "It is like ELM STREET, kids" (the burned villain even looks like Freddy), but writer-director Guy Magar does enough to make it stand apart.  There is some great camera work and interesting use of lighting. Magar cut his teeth on TV work and this was his first feature. He went on to do THE STEPFATHER III and one of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN sequels.  Poor Guy!  Lipscomb, looking like a nerdy Christopher Walken, is an interesting choice for a leading man and I like that casting.  The only misfire is a visit to one Doctor Rasta, a Rastafarian voodoo doctor. Oh, and lots of 80s neon. Was it really that prevalent?

Of course, we’re here to talk about the excised gore.  There are three major murder sequences and all of them are cut down for the US release.  The first one is the death of the floozy that George picks up in a bar.  After making her kitchen explode with his glowing green eyes, George forces the woman to plunge the knife she is brandishing into her stomach.  The uncut version features three extra shots in the quick montage.  One shows her finishing the cut across her belly while the other two a quick shots of her intestines spilling out.  Total extra time is marginal, but the sequence is much more effective.




The murder of the grease monkey in his garage is next and suffered the most egregious editing.  Possessed George forces the man to light a welding torch and cut his own right hand off with it.  In the R-rated cut, you see the beginning of the hand cutting and the film abruptly cuts to the man’s dog barking and George then psychically slamming the man against the wall on the garage’s far side.  How the hell did that guy get over there?  Well, in the uncut version you find out.  The man proceeds to cut off his own hand and there is a shot of him pulling the bloody stump off the worktable as the severed appendage lays there.


The man falls to his knees and crawls away from George, all the while holding his bloody stump.  He then makes it to the wall and climbs up it and George slams him.





In total, the sequence lasts roughly 42 seconds and pales in comparison to anything shown in the first 20 minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).  Of course, we can’t have the kids watch a guy with no hand crawl on the ground.

After the guy gets to the wall, George gets into lift and pushes the cage against the man’s face.  In the cut version, you see it press against his face (first pic), his head start to collapse and then the ever reliable cut away to the dog barking. The uncut version continues the squashing as you see his head explode as it is crushed.  It is shown from two separate angles (forward and side), but oddly the effect is not too good as the guy’s head seems to explode with some white stuff rather than red gore.  Still, the MPAA just felt it was too much for the kids.  Did they forget they passed the famous head explosion in SCANNERS?




The final revenge murder is the guy killed in the meat packing plant.  George traps the guy inside a meat carcass and sends him down the conveyor belt to a giant saw.  In the censored version, the film abruptly cuts as the saw starts slicing into the meat.  The uncut version continues to follow the blade down the meat in close up as lots of blood sprays out.  The scene is roughly 7 seconds longer and, believe it or not, that is a lot of time for some spraying blood.


So there you have the extra gore footage from RETRIBUTION.  It is laughable to think the MPAA found this so extreme. Then again, it was the 1980s and the group definitely had a moral agenda.  No kidding, you can turn on cable nowadays and see stuff ten times worse that got an R-rating (I’m looking at you RAMBO).  Unfortunately the bad news is that this uncut version of RETRIBUTION has only surfaced in German with no English options.

Moments of Clarity:

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  1. Excellent article! RETRIBUTION played Jacksonville, FL in early 1989 so I was curious about the 1987 release date. Found this article where Lipscomb states the film was dumped in theaters in TX, OK and NY June of '87. Taurus picked it up after the fact and re-released it. All Taurus product from 1988-1990 in Jax played at all local UA theaters, which now makes sense since the article mentions Taurus was a subsidiary of United Artists. Lipscomb also mentions a three hour cut he saw of the film 1986. Go figure.

    https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=799&dat=19881101&id=qXlPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jlEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5667,2731261&hl=en

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