On Halloween night while a busy block party is going on, depressed artist George Miller (Dennis Lipscomb) leaps from the top of a tall building and bounces off a car in front of a large crowd. He somehow manages to miraculously survive a fall that should have killed him and is rushed off to a hospital for a three-month-long journey back to recovery. There, he strikes up a friendship with resident psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing) but is also haunted by a recurring, green-tinted nightmares featuring a disfigured face crying out in agony and someone being shot in both arms and both legs and then being covered with gasoline and set on fire. Despite those troubling and perplexing visions, George is given some sleeping pills, is released from the hospital and is back trying to live a normal life. He returns to the sleazy hotel he rents a room from, which is populated with various drunks, hookers and weirdos, and tries to get back to painting but soon starts having visions of blood and suffers from long black-out periods. By the time his little episodes are over, someone ends up dead.
George goes to a bar and meets drunken owner Sally (Pamela Dunlap), who thinks she recognizes him but can't quite place him. Once they get back to Sally's apartment, George's eyes glow green, his voice changes and he uses telepathic powers to destroy the woman's kitchen and make her gut herself with a knife. George's later recollections about the incident are vague, but he knows he was there and believes he killed the woman so he goes back to Dr. Curtis to confess. Believing he's suffering from a guilt complex and paranoid delusions, she simply sends him back home (!?) George causes noses to bleed, a bus to crash and then uses his powers to suck a meat processing plant employee (Mario Roccuzzo) into an animal carcass and then slice him up with a big table saw. The victims all have one thing in common: they were all behind the torture and death of gangster Vito Minelli (Mike Muscat). As it turns out, George and Vito share the same birthday and at the exact moment of George's attempted suicide, Vito was killed and was then somehow able to possess George's body and is now using him as an instrument for revenge. How this was made possible is never really explained.
Things go along pretty much as one would expect them to. George keeps having terrifying visions (including a mock Easter Island head [!] in a "neon art gallery" [!] spurting out gallons of blood), goes into his trances and kills off the others responsible for Vito's death. Dr. Curtis risks her career trying to help poor George and is ratted out by her useless lover (Jeff Pomerantz), who she's been confiding in, to the police. George strikes up an admittedly kinda sweet romance with Angel (Suzanne Snyder), the friendly, kooky New Wave-y hooker who lives in his building. Angel and her biker friend Dylan (executive producer Chris Caputo) take George to a reggae club to see Doctor Rasta (!!) (Danny D. Daniels), but only succeed in tearing up the place. Country music singer turned actor Hoyt Axton pops up in a small role (and is actually quite terrible) as an investigating police lieutenant.
Retribution is a roller coaster of an unfocused film with highs and lows and lots of stuff in between. The movie suffers a lot from a poorly-developed and often meandering script and wildly uneven acting. There are long, tedious stretches where nothing much happens and numerous scenes thrown in that have little bearing on the actual plot and should have wound up on the cutting room floor (one scene involving a cab driver seems to be here simply so the director could give himself an extended cameo). Thankfully, this does manage to come to life during some nicely-directed, shot and staged supernatural sequences. There are some superb visuals sprinkled throughout and cinematographer Gary Thieltges deserves a special shout out for making this look as nice as it does. Even better, his good work has been restored to its former vivid glory by a 2012 Code Red DVD release; a notable upgrade from murky previous bootlegs. There's some impressive camerawork (particularly during the opening sequence), good special effects (Kevin Yagher did the makeups) and it's extremely colorful in that enjoyably gaudy, neon-drenched 80s kind of way. Supporting characters, including Susan Peretz as a hotel owner who likes to dress up her dog in a wig and sunglasses, add a mildly eccentric touch a la Paul Bartel's PRIVATE PARTS (1972) or Frank Henenlotter's BASKET CASE (1982). The score is from frequent John Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth and the cast also includes George Murdock and Harry Caesar.
Three of the death scenes had to be slightly trimmed in order for this to get an R-rating, which included shots of guts spilling from a stomach, a hand being cut off with a blowtorch and a head getting squashed (which are included as extras on Code Red's release). This was the feature debut for Egyptian-born TV director Magar, who'd also go on to make Stepfather III: Father's Day (1992) and Children of the Corn: Revelations (2001). He apparently hasn't done any film or TV work in a decade and now teaches some kind of filmmaking seminar and hawks an instructional DVD.