Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.

Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD. 

Title: The Devastator (aka The Destroyers)
Genre: Gonzo Action
Year: 1986
Tagline:  They sent him on a suicide mission… now he’s back.
Released by: MGM/UA Home Video
Director: Cirio H. Santiago

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Plot:  When Vietnam veteran Deacon Porter learns of the suspicious death of his beloved ex-commanding officer, he travels to the small Northern California town of King’s Ransom to investigate. He soon discovers that the entire terrified population is under the control of John Carrey: a powerful marijuana farmer who defends his fields of illegal crop with an enormous army of henchmen.

When Deacon learns that Carrey is responsible for his pal’s death and his new local girlfriend Audrey has been kidnapped by the psychotic drug kingpin, he enlists the aid of three of his former army buddies to get back his gal and give the pot farmers a war unlike anything they’ve ever imagined!

Thoughts: If you were an avid exploitation movie watcher during the seventies, eighties and nineties like I was, then at one point you must have come across a film by the legendary B-movie auteur, Cirio H. Santiago. The late, great Philippines born producer/director was responsible for scores of mind-melting genre flicks that ran the gamut of everything from Blaxploitation (Savage!, TNT Jackson), martial arts (Firecracker, Bloodfist, Bloodfist II), women-in-prison (Women in Cages, The Big Bird Cage), revenge (Naked Vengeance) post-apocalypse action (Stryker, Wheels of Fire) and sharksploitation (Up from the Depths). But, he was especially known for his numerous low budget Vietnam War movies (Final Mission, Eye of the Eagle, Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy, Kill Zone, Firehawk) that gave him the reputation as the “master of the Vietnam war genre”. The Devastator is also one of his Vietnam War films, but the twist is that it takes place in Northern California and the Cong are replaced with an army of heavily armed marijuana farmers.

Rick Hill (Deathstalker, Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans, Dune Warriors, Cyborg 2, Class of 1999: The Substitute) is Vietnam vet Deacon Porter, who after learning of the death of his ex-commanding officer, takes a trip to the rural town of King’s Ransom to help his widow run the tavern they owned together. He soon discovers that the residents are all living in a state of terror due to the psychotic marijuana kingpin, John Carrey (Crofton Hardester) who protects his vast fields of weed with an enormous army of three-wheel driving, armed-to-the-teeth henchmen. When nearby campers and college kids wander onto his land to snag some free pot, they are viciously gunned down by the growers with no mercy. The local Sherriff turns a blind eye to the murders because he’s on the take… but he’s not happy about it.

Rick starts asking questions about his friend’s death and attracts even more attention when he starts a romance with the local hottie, Audrey (played by the gorgeous Katt Shea from My Tutor, Barbarian Queen, Psycho III, The Rage: Carrie 2). Before long, Carrey orders his goons to brutally beat Rick up and set the tavern ablaze, killing his ex-C.O.’s widow.

Rick returns to L.A. to nurse his wounds and enlist the aid of his old ‘Nam buddies: Spense, the electronics genius; Bartlett, the ammunitions expert; and Ox, the group’s gung-ho strongman. The four soldiers return to King’s Ransom to wage their own war on the pot farmers. This is where the film becomes like a POW movie, because the marijuana compound is heavily protected like a fortress and to complicate issues, the bad guys kidnap Audrey and are holding her there.

The last part of the film is chock full of action as the four ‘Nam buddies take on an army of hundreds and kill every single damned one of them with guns, elaborate booby traps, fists and a few well placed explosives. In the end, the weed fields are set ablaze, Audrey is freed, Carrey is blown up while fleeing in his getaway chopper and peace is restored to King’s Ransom. Even the corrupt Sherriff joins in on the fun and helps the boys kick some pot farmer ass! Unfortunately, a few of Rick’s buddies bite the big one during the battle, but they die gloriously while helping their friend, so it’s cool.

This movie is like a cross between an old time western, a ‘Nam POW flick and a vigilante opus. There are tons of similarities to the Gene Hackman 1983 film, Uncommon Valor, which is one of my favorite Vietnam POW movies ever. Also, the fact that the evil bad guy is a pot grower is pretty hilarious considering how the laws have changed here in California regarding the herb, which has pretty much been decriminalized. He looks and acts more like a swarthy cocaine lord, but I love that it’s weed. It’s so beautifully ridiculous.

If you’re a Cirio H. Santiago fan like me, then this is a MUST SEE! It has everything you’d ever want in a gonzo 80’s action movie and who knows, maybe you’ll get a contact high from it.

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