Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Slayer (1982)

Director: J.S. Cardone
Notable Cast: Sarah Kendall, Frederick J. Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes, Carl Kraines

It’s hard to have expectations when heading into a film when the film has been notoriously missing from general conscious for years. This is the case of The Slayer. While there was certainly some hype for the film, enough so that it was easily one of the most requested titles I saw in comments and threads for Arrow Video to release, it’s hard to know if the hype is simply there for it to get a release let alone if it deserves a pristine release. Yet, as the credits rolled on The Slayer, it was easy to see why it had accumulated such an aura as a ‘missing classic’ from the 80s horror brand. Not only is it a slasher at its core, but it’s an odd one that down plays the tropes in an effort to create a much more suffocating atmosphere that’s more akin to a giallo or Lovecraftian exercise of existential dread than it is about kills and thrills. It’s an approach that, even with its flaws, is highly respectable and deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

It's beach front property!
The foundational structure and concept of The Slayer is rooted as a slasher. Instead of teens or twentysomethings though, the film opts for two sets of adult couples to send into the isolation of a single home island vacation where they will, naturally, meet their doom. The choice of adult protagonists already sets the film on a slightly different path than many of its peers from the period and their relationships are a key to driving the emotional elements of the film. Not only are they adults, but they are successful adults so their grounded sense of decision making gives the film a realistic tone to start on which then gives way nicely to the more ‘supernatural’ elements that the film vaguely uses. The performances are decently believable from the cast, although it’s the sort of wide eyed stare of Sarah Kendall that really conveys the kind of spiraling madness of her character as a crux for the film, and the film does its best to truly develop them within the group setting to get the most out of the eventual deaths that arise in the slasher. Already The Slayer is making strong choices.

It’s the structure of the film that truly does establish it as a slasher. The Slayer uses the tried and true formula of establishing the isolation, building the tension between its key characters when things start to go awry, and then pushing the momentum towards a lofty third act by killing off principal cast in creative ways.  This can be problematic as the film ultimately feels a tad predictable. The sequence of deaths isn’t always in the blueprint, but by the end of the first act it’s pretty easy to see where The Slayer is going with its plot. The choice by director Cardone to make the film much more atmosphere driven and dramatic though indicates the intent of creating something more than just a drive-in dollar machine with the film and it’s where the giallo influence seeps into the mix. The film is less concerned with thrills and kills as it is building the mystery around the structure of ‘who is the killer’ or if there is even a killer at all (thanks to a generally untrustworthy lead protagonist losing her grip on reality.) It’s a bit slow moving at times in developing the characters and tone that doesn’t necessarily help the predictable nature of the plot itself, but it still comes off as a thoughtful way of attacking a slasher and deserves some credit for that.

Um, you've got some blood on the side of your mouth there.
The kill sequences themselves, a staple portion of how good a slasher is by fan standards, are pretty impressive in the end, through strong special effects and a punchy visual style by the director, and it’s in this manner that The Slayer succeeds as a slasher film in the end. There is not a massive body count, to the film’s benefit it only hand feeds one silly random character into the kill count, but it makes each one work when it shows up and the manner of their execution seems mostly fitting to the character that is being slayed. To add to the atmosphere and mystery, each kill also leaves a few questions to be asked about who is doing the killing and it’s these moments that get an audience through some of the dragging elements of the second act.

Yet, despite its successes as a slasher film with its kills and concept, it’s the rather artistic third act that seals the film on a high note. At this point, the shock of how Cardone and his team tackle the lofty ideas in a somewhat Lovecraftian manner is why it works so well. So pardon me if I don’t spend a lot of time on this selling point because being vague is the best approach. Just know that the manner that The Slayer leaves its audience wanting to know more and put more of the pieces together is rather brilliant and comes wholly unexpected after the rather obvious structures to the rest of the film. It’s at this point that I realized why The Slayer has built up such a devout cult following over the years.

As for this release, it’s already going to be one that horror fans want simply due to the rare nature of The Slayer. The fact that it’s a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative along with a plethora of snazzy bonus features like commentaries and a very in-depth documentary on the making of the film just makes it even more special. As always, Arrow Video delivers on treating the rare cult material like its award-winning material and The Slayer is no different. Still, it’s the multiple articles that are present in the booklet of the film that shine for me (perhaps because I’m a writer, so I suppose it might be bias) and here they really dig into a lot of the deeper themes and style of The Slayer that adds to it. After reading these, I definitely need to go back and rewatch the film through a set of new lenses. Just how Arrow intends.

Nailed it?
In the end, while The Slayer remains a bit flawed from its hack n’ slash predictable plotting and occasionally sluggish second act, it’s a film that is able to overcome its issues due to a phenomenal third act of reality blurring intent and some strong execution of the previously mentioned slasher elements. The atmosphere and tone works to develop a more effective foundation for the film and the manner that it builds momentum makes the third act pay off so much more impressive than it might have been in less talented hands. Most slasher and/or horror fans are probably already digging into their copies of The Slayer, but if you consider yourself one of the above and haven’t done so yet…I highly suggest taking an island vacation with the film. This release is a dream come true.

  • Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Uncompressed Mono Audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new interviews with cast and crew
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new liner notes by writer Lee Gambin

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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