Movies From the Black Lagoon: Slaygroun

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Slayground - 1983, Rated R
By Tom Doty

A thief makes his last stand at an amusement during the off-season in this gritty crime thriller that should have been so much better but settles for adequate.
The story begins on an arresting note with a getaway driver taking time out of his schedule to court a young lady he meets on the road. She turns out to be a psycho who freaks out and shoots him when he won't reveal his full name. Besides being bad news for the driver it is also a problem for a guy named Stone. He has put a lot of time into planning a heist that is now in jeopardy. He ignores his better judgment and enlists a new driver. The guy is green and a bit young but Stone appears to be a gambling man.
The job goes off well, at first. It's also a well-executed sequence that finds our crew breaking into an armored car by blowing it off the road. A steep incline does the rest ripping the vehicle open as it plunges down a steep hill. The crew has to race after it but the money is easy enough to get. The new driver decides to execute some fancy maneuvers on the getaway trail but it is apparent that he's no Steve McQueen as he loses control and runs an innocent vehicle off the road.
Stone goes ballistic when he observes the crumpled form of a young lady in the wreckage. He proceeds to throttle the driver but his troubles are just beginning. The girl's dad is a powerful businessman and he hires a ruthless killer to get his revenge. The killer is straight out of an 80's horror movie and prefers to stay in shadow while killing all of his victims in inventive ways. Stone manages to survive getting shot in the back and decides it is time to get out of dodge.
Stone winds up in England where his friend Terry has taken over an amusement park while hiding out from some gangsters. Their reunion is short lived, however, when gangsters and the killer who is after Stone manage to track the pair to the park, which transforms into the titular location. The finale is well staged and makes great use of the junk you typically find at an amusement park but it is over too quickly.
The main problem here is that the producers got their hands on a marvelous novel and then deviated as far away form the txt as possible. The film comes from Richard Stark's book of the same name. It was one of his "Parker" novels (written during the 60's) each one of these books was a lean gut punch of a story. The hero was a hard as nails type who embodied the philosophy that one should have no attachments and always be on the lookout for a double cross. Here Parker becomes Stone but, ironically, they soften the character. The result is terrible. It makes for an okay film but it would have been a magnificent one had they read the book.
Despite how cinematic these novels are they have been botched plenty of times. Mel Gibson also softened the character for "Payback" though the director's cut (available on DVD) corrects the problem. Robert Duvall did a decent version of "The Outfit" in the 70's. That film is available from the 'Warner Brothers " Archive Collection. Hopefully someone will start filming this series as it was written but don't hold your breath. In the mean time check out the books and you'll feel like you've just read the best movies never made.
Best Line: "One wrong move and we'll collect your face in a bucket."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: