Movies From the Black Lagoon

SLAYGROUND - 1983, Rated R

By Tom Doty

A thief makes his last stand at an amusement park in this gritty crime thriller that should have been excellent (had they followed the novel it was based on) 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 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 another 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 who is used to getting his way. He hires a ruthless killer to get his revenge. The assassin is straight out of an 80’s horror movie and prefers to stay in shadow while killing his victims in inventive ways. Stone manages to survive getting shot in the back and decides it is time to lam it.

He 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 said gangsters and the killer who is after Stone, manages to track the pair to the park which then 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 from the text 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 lived and thieved by a code. One should have no attachments and always be on the lookout for the 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 and remains a better movie than the one that played theaters. Robert Duvall did a decent version of “The Outfit” in the 70’s, and it 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 some of the best movies never made.

Best Line: “One wrong move and we’ll collect your face in a bucket.”

SLAYGROUND – 1983, Rated R

By Tom Doty

Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.

Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.


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