Fans of Code Red's Roger Corman Post-Nuke Collection titles will want to pick up their Blu-ray of THE DEVASTATOR, a "Pre-Nuke" Concorde collaboration with the Philippines' very own B-Movie King Cirio H. Santiago.
Shell-shocked Vietnam soldier Deacon Porter (Rick Hill, DEATHSTALKER) returns to duty when he gets a call from his former commanding officer's wife Elaine (Debbie Brooks) informing him that her husband Marty (Scott O'Connor) was killed in a mysterious car accident. Arriving in the Northern California town of King's Ransom, Deacon finds himself unwelcome by all but gas station owner Audrey (Katt Shea, DANCE OF THE DAMNED) since the locals are afraid of the militia-like band of marijuana growers controlled by Carey (Crofton Hardester, EMMANUELLE 5). Even the sheriff (Kaz Garas, BEN) is in Carey's pocket, although he is starting to have regrets with the amount of campers and local kids who venture into the woods and disappear as soon as they stumble across pot plants. Deacon quickly makes enemies with Carey and right-hand man Reese (Steve Rogers, BLOODFIST II) and is nearly beaten to death by his men. When Deacon threatens to go over the sheriff's head to investigate Marty's death, Carey has his men torch Elaine's bar. Elaine is killed and Deacon is believed dead when he crashes his car chasing after the arsonists; but Deacon has actually returned to Los Angeles to tend to his wounds and arm himself for combat. Although he is reluctant to involve any of his marine buddies in his personal war, electronics expert Spencer (Terrence O'Hara, NAKED VENGEANCE) rounds up streetfighter Ox (Jack S. Daniels, WHEELS OF FIRE) and gunrunner Bartlett (Bill McLaughlin, SILK) to join them in dismantling Carey's operation through "selective sabotage." Carey, however, is just as prepared and willing to turn the quiet town into a war zone and put innocents like Audrey in harm's way.
Producer Roger Corman's long relationship with Filipino action auteur Cirio H. Santiago (FIRECRACKER) which began at American International Pictures and continued on through New World Pictures and Concorde/New Horizon provided a steady stream of low-budget-stretching fare for the drive-in and then home video markets. Although THE DEVASTATOR is a slicker affair than Santiago's earlier films (which could pretty much be said of any of his 1980s films) but it still bears the marks of the director's singular style. Acting is still all over the board, the post-dubbing is always poor, the action choreography haphazard, and – after nearly two decades of Filipino-lensed action films, the otherwise scenic backdrop fails to convince as anywhere else… least of all Northern California. The film's clumsy structure is as much the fault of Santiago – the flashback to Marty's death has nothing at the start or end that actually denotes it as a flashback – as it is of Corman's liking for seventy-to-eighty minute running times (first for easy double-billing, and then to fit a slew of trailers onto a T-90 videocassette with each feature). While the sexy Shea has little to do, Hill and the other heroes are game and Hardester (who looks kind of like a young Fred Ward) is a suitably loathsome villain. The Fillipino location shooting does allow for some striking backgrounds and a helicopter versus motorcycle climax that culminates in a damn explosion that sends water cascading towards the camera. Screenwriter Joseph Zucchero (BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN) is credited as "Joseph Sugarman".
One of the Concorde titles released on VHS by MGM, THE DEVASTATOR comes to Blu-ray in a colorful 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that restores a certain luster to the jungle greens, some punch to the blood reds, and some heat to the pyrotechnics while also calling attention to the limitations of the production from grain in the underexposed shadows, a few in-camera vertical scratches, some stock shots, and an opening nightmare sequence that may come from another Santiago war movie. I am not sure if the film lost any gore to the MPAA as most of the violence is in squib hits and a few bloodless knife and jungle booby trap impalements, but a fleeting decapitation shot in the opening nightmare may cut away quickly because of how terrible the effect itself looks or as a shock cut. Dialogue is cleanly rendered on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track which gives forceful presence to the synthesizer score of Mark Governor (PET SEMATARY II) and Matthew Ender (STREETWALKIN') and the explosion sound effects.
The film can be watched on its own or with introduction and post-script by Katerina Leigh Waters, highlighting the credits of the director and cast members before blowing away Bill Olsen's Banana Man. Actor O'Hara appears in a new interview (19:24) in which he discusses his early career as an actor and jumping at the opportunity to travel and work on a Corman film. He paints one of the more vivid portraits of Santiago's idiosyncratic personality, the care he took of his cast and crew, how he made due with equipment like an unblimped camera that had been struck by a car in one of the film's stunt shots (requiring some scenes with the American actors to require post-dubbing), as well as some of the stunts he agreed to do himself and would regret. He also describes some of the techniques he learned about action filmmaking from Santiago that he would apply as he moved from acting to directing, starting with DARKROOM for Nico Mastorakis and on series like SILK STALKINGS, RENEGADE and NCIS. The film' theatrical trailer (2:09) is also included. (Eric Cotenas)
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