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Two young couples set off to a secluded island for what promises to be a restful retreat. But, the peace is short-lived: as a storm batters the island, troubled artist Kay begins to sense that a malevolent presence is here with them, stalking them at every turn. Is she losing her mind, or are her childhood nightmares of a demonic assailant coming to terrifying life? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

 Slayer, The
J. S. Cardone’s The Slayer is often grouped under the broader category of ‘nightmare movies,’ to the point that most retroactive critiques tend to involve specifically comparing it to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). But the analogy is flawed, because Cardone’s film is not really about the unpredictable terror of dream logic, as Craven’s film and the subsequent sequels certainly are. Instead, it exploits the same fear of losing personal control that traces back to werewolf and other metamorphosis stories. More specifically, it ties into other tales of unbridled feminine neurosis, where the existential difficulties facing women in the post-women’s lib era manifest as (imagined or supernatural) physical threats to the people around them. This puts it more in league with the likes of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), John D. Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), and Lars von Trior’s Antichrist (2009), than Craven’s film*. Here, the rather obvious metaphor is connected to a woman who struggles with violent dreams that may or may not represent her broadening clinical depression. Her friends take her on a group vacation in the hopes that she can forget her ‘troubles,’ but quickly turn on her when she expresses discomfortable with the desolate island location they have chosen. The two men in her life are particularly dumbfounded by her mood. Her boyfriend berates her for acting sullen and her brother refuses to even acknowledge the underlying mental illness that he has witnessed since childhood. She confides only in her female companion, because, as she claims, “the men won’t understand.” Later, her unbelieving brother secretly drugs her and physically holds her down, forcing her to fall asleep. Thus, he removes her right to choose how to deal with her own depression/paranoia and ultimately dooms himself, because, as it turns out, the murderous sleep demon is real.

...or is it?

 Slayer, The
Of course, such haughty comparisons and social relevance shouldn’t imply that The Slayer is a particularly thoughtful or artful film. It is most certainly a grimey slasher made quickly for the money and has more immediately similarities to the likes of Don Dohler’s Nightbeast (1982) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) than Repulsion. It’s B-movie roots bleed through any of its supposedly unique insights into the feminine psyche. The emphasis is placed on wild-eyed melodrama and gory murder sequences and, in this regard, The Slayer fits into what I like to call the “soap opera splatter” movement of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Such films take on the appearance and mannerisms of a well-funded made-for-TV production, then pack the edges and corners with TV-unfriendly violence and (occasionally) nudity. This isn’t a problem, though The Slayer does suffer the typical slasher movie issues of story and character development acting as arduous filler between the kill scenes. No matter how hard Cardone tries to make the exposition-heavy sequence look interesting, the actual narrative content is still frequently boring. There are long, contemplative stretches where moderately talented actors scold and whine their way through stiff dialogue and poorly manufactured plot devices, as the audience waits impatiently for the next bloodbath. The heightened performances and dynamic camera angles help in the regard, but rarely enough to completely ignore the dips into monotony.

Too few and far between gore set-piece include a man having his head cleaved by a wooden oar, another man being nearly decapitated when his neck is wedged between cellar doors, leaving him to bleed to death (his severed head is found in bed later...or is it?), yet another man having his face and throat ripped open by a fishing hook, an unidentified man taking a flare round in the gut and slowly burning to a crisp, and a woman being impaled on a four-pronged pitch fork (her body is found later, partially devoured by crabs). The nightmare demon itself makes a last minute appearance as well in the guise of a charmingly toothy and drippy puppet. For the record, there was a censored, 80 minute cut released in the UK, but, from what I understand, every North American home video release has been the complete, unrated, 86 minute version (it was cut for some US theatrical screenings, but for time, rather than content, per the making-of documentary on this very Blu-ray).

 Slayer, The

Video


The Slayer was relatively hard to find on home video in the pre-digital era. The first two North American tapes were a Beta version from Planet Video and a Canadian-made VHS from Marquis. Apparently, Continental Video also stuck it on a double-feature Big Box release with Fred Olen Ray’s unbelievably dumb Indian burial ground-themed slasher, Scalps (1983). The film was then released on DVD in the UK by Vipco (re-released via Cornerstone Media) and Austria/Germany by NSM, though both were open matte 1.33:1 and looked no better than the VHS transfers. This lack of US availability, lack of accurately framed DVD availability, and complete lack of high definition availability makes this Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack a pretty big deal (at least for the film fans).

Clearly, there was no good digital source available, so Arrow went back to original camera negative, scanned it in 4K, remastered/cleaned-up the footage, and present it here in 1080p and its preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image quality isn’t perfect, but, based on the film’s age, cinematographer Karen Grossman’s use of Brian De Palma-esque soft focus, and really awful quality of previous versions, the results are actually much better than expected. The persistent issue is inconsistent grain, which leads to some snowy gradations and occasionally fuzzy edges. The sheer darkness of Grossman’s photography leads to some crush, as well. Otherwise, the improvements are impressive. Those once impossibly black sequences, usually ones where poor saps are bloodily dispatched, are finally discernible. Even with the occasional crush and snow effects, details are sharp and textures tightly rendered. Colour quality leans warm, utilizing a lot of reds and oranges, but is also generally cooler than other versions of the film (leading to some slightly purple skin tones), especially during the nighttime sequences. Whether or not that’s entirely ‘accurate’ is up for debate, but daylight greens don’t seem to be desaturated by the grading. The print damage artefacts are minimal and usually occur during fades and lap dissolves.

 Slayer, The

Audio


The original mono soundtrack, which was also scanned directly from the original source, is presented in 1.0 LPCM audio. The sound quality isn’t the most consistent thing I’ve ever heard, but these problems seem tied to the way the audio was recorded. Specifically, seaside sequences – or really any scene involving wind – feature slightly blown out and/or muffled dialogue. There isn’t any notable distortion or material damage, just erratic volume and clarity levels. Music tends to fare better, since it was mixed into the tracks after the fact. The Slayer’s score was one of the first cinematic compositions from Robert Folk, a composer who has become the reigning champion of mediocre/dated mainstream comedy scores, including the entire Police Academy series (1984-1994), Booty Call (1997), and Boat Trip (2002). His music here has a big, theatrical quality that fits the melodrama and often contradicts the horror in intriguing, though not necessarily intended ways.

 Slayer, The

Extras


  • Commentary with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress (and future feature producer)  Carol Kottenbrook, and production manager (and future Evilspeak writer/director) Eric Weston – This Arrow exclusive group commentary is moderated by disc producer Ewan Cant. Cant keeps the discussion moving with emphasis on production difficulties, locations, the ways the production stretched its tiny budget, performances, and story development. No one really discusses the gender politics, leading me believe that they were completely accidental.
  • Commentary with The Hysteria Continues – Members of the slasher/ giallo-themed podcast – Justin Kerswell (webmaster of hysterialives.co.uk and author of The Slasher Movie Book, 2012, among others), Eric, Nathan, and Joseph (no last names given and I can’t seem to find them) – return for another fun, if not a bit chaotic, retrospective track.
  • Audio Interview with composer Robert Folk, including isolated music samples – Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher interviews the composer about his career and work on The Slayer for a solid 50 minutes, followed by another 16 minutes of non-screen-specific music.
  • Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer (52:24, HD) – This new Arrow exclusive documentary is very entertaining and surprisingly extensive, given the film’s relative obscurity. It includes behind-the-scenes photographs and thoughtful, sometimes stiff interviews with Cardone, Kottenbrook, Eric Weston, producer William Ewing, cinematographer Karen Grossman, camera operator/2nd Unit DOP Arledge Armenaki, special creature/make-up effects creator Robert Short, and Slayer creature performer Carl Kraines.
  • Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer  (13:18, HD) – A look at the Tybee Island, Georgia shooting locations as they appear today.
  • The Tybee Post Theater Experience – This viewing option allows the viewer to play the film with an event introduction (2:38, HD), an additional introduction by the director (1:04, HD), a feature-length audience reaction track (LPCM 2.0), and post screening Q&A with Armenaki and Cant (17:50, HD).
  • Still gallery
  • Trailer


 Slayer, The

Overall


The Slayer is emblematic of its era and a good example of the strangely prevalent feminine neurosis horror subgenre. It’s better made than the average B-movie slasher, but also quite silly, to the point that its appeal lies more in its heightened central performance, gory violence, and odd sense of timing, than possibly unintended sexual politics. Arrow’s 4K restoration is head & heels above any earlier release in terms of image and sound quality, to the point that there’s really know point in comparing them. When coupled with extensive supplements – including multiple commentary/interview tracks, a substantial retrospective documentary, and an audience reaction/festival Q&A option – this is about as close to a definitive home video release as you’re going to get.

*It’s only after writing this that I realize how many horror movies about nightmares feature female leads – Nightmare on Elm Street (the entire series, minus the second film), Andrew Fleming’s Bad Dreams (1988), and Neil Jordan’s In Dreams (1999), among others.

 Slayer, The

** Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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