Retribution (1987)

It’s Halloween and people are dressed up as Frankenstein monsters, vampires, werewolves, and gloriously deformed creatures, including a monster with another monster in its neck. It’s the best night of the year at the best party of the year and everyone’s having a good night—everyone, that is, except George. He stands teetering at the edge of a building. He’s drenched in sweat. He shakes. He looks down. People have gathered to gawk. Police are scrambling.

Will he jump?
He does.

Does he die?
He does not.

Does he live?
Yes, because he does not die.

George takes the long road to recovery, and while he’s getting better physically, he’s got a bit of mental health issues, all in the form of night terrors. He has gripping visions of violent gangsters with guns and a manically laughing man dripping in shiny blue paint. When the lights flash on and off, bad things happen. Something is wrong. 

He goes to a bar and picks up a lady. They head back to her place to make the sex. Soon the oven flies open, toasters explode, windows shatter, cupboards spit out its contents, and wind comes out of nowhere. It’s the best part of Poltergeist, only it’s in this movie. The lady grabs a knife to attack George, but instead guts herself. His eyes glow green. Something is wrong. 

Soon George’s Easter Island statue bleeds, his paintings get stained with gore, coffee gets gently spilled, and, in the scariest scene of all, someone gets a bedpan dumped on them. In a meatpacking warehouse, sides of meet swing to and fro and a man gets sucked into a pig. It is one of my favorite slaughterhouse kills to date. I can’t tell you how many meatpacking slayings I’ve seen in my life, and none of them measure up to the one in Retribution. It will make you go vegan. There’s a band saw involved. 

George is possessed, “but not in a Satanic way.” Now he and his therapist are putting the pieces together and trying to end the slayings. But between the possessions and the gore, there’s still time to fall in love with a hooker with a heart of gold (Suzanne Snyder from Weird Science).

Retribution is a solid hit from start to finish. It’s like a jukebox with only your favorite songs. In the age of streaming, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when a machine could be loaded with 45s with only good shit that you’d never skip. Retribution reminds us that a movie really can have it all: gore, death, sides of raw meat, Day-Glo paintings, spandex miniskirts, melodramatic love stories, and a guy with a Julius Caesar haircut. It’s a popcorn classic. And while some parts of the film don’t age so well—namely the Voodoo exorcism—we can still appreciate the film for its contributions. The practical effects are skilled and ambitious, the editing is sharp, the art direction is a visual feast, and the female characters are mostly well-rounded and strong, especially George’s therapist, played by Leslie Wing. Retribution is canon material. And not just horror canon. Film canon. Writer/director Guy Magar gifted us relentless, squishy joy. Fuck Cassavetes, what did he ever do? Retribution makes me angry that I’ve lived this long without having seen it. My life could’ve been vastly better for years. I have no one to blame but all of you for not telling me about it.

When you watch this movie, please give my regards to Holly, the dog that’s wearing sunglasses and a blond wig. She’s wearing a beret because she’s sophisticated and classy.

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