Starring Sarah Kendall, Alan McRae, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Directed by J.S. Cardone
Distributed by Arrow Video
In some previous review, I acknowledged that certain films had attained a near-mythic status in mind my after seeing their graphic, eye-catching cover art on VHS boxes so many years ago – and never having rented them. With little to go on other than eye-popping artwork, the ensuing years have caused my mind to build up these films as something far grander than they likely are – does anything ever live up to the hype the mind creates? One big box that has stuck with me for over twenty years (where does the time go…) is a double-feature of The Slayer (1982) with Fred Olen Ray’s Native American thriller Scalps (1983). I can still vividly picture the bright yellow Continental Video VHS artwork, with a marquee touting both features, beneath which was a picture of the eponymous “slayer” looking all skeletal and toothy. And truth be told, it freaked out 12-year-old me.
Having finally seen the film I can say it’s probably for the better, too, because the themes here would have gone right over my head and I probably would have complained the Big Bad featured on the sales art – this Arrow Video disc included – has less screen time than the Bride of Frankenstein. Oddly coincidental since although on a much lesser pop culture scale The Slayer has gained his (her? can’t just go assuming gender anymore…) own cult following despite a dearth of screen time. There are no parallels between the two films aside from the impact each of the titular creatures has had on their respective film; an odd footnote. Although sold as a slasher, The Slayer has more in common with female-led psychological horrors such as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), and The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976), which Arrow Video released in their “American Horror Project Vol. 1” box set a couple years back.
Abstract artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) has always drawn on her mind for inspiration, but lately her thoughts have been overrun by visions of barren landscapes and horrific deaths, usually of her loved ones at the hands of an unseen, inhuman killer. She has dealt with these dreams since childhood, though their frequency has increased as of late. Kay’s husband, David (Alan McRae), worries that the stress will impact her work and quell a recent spate of fame. He and another couple – Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife, Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) – book a getaway on a small island off the coast of Georgia for the weekend, hoping the serene environment will ease Kay’s mind. The foursome charter a plane to the tiny island, where they are surprised to learn it is uninhabited, populated only by sparse beaches and dilapidated structures.
Kay immediately has a bad feeling about the place, claiming this is the same island of her nightmares and everyone is doomed if they stay. But nobody has a choice in the matter as a major storm is bearing down on them imminently. The group decides to ride it out and make the best of the situation… but the next morning Dave is missing. Eric thinks Marsh (Michael Holmes), the creepy pilot, may have remained on the island with the intent to kill. Kay, however, believes her dreams are the culprit and she fears sleep because the result may mean someone’s death. Her reality continues to blend with her nightmares, and in the end it may not be obvious which is which.
If you want to call The Slayer a slasher film, sure, but the themes and story showcase something much deeper and cerebral. As one of the uninitiated, I went into the film expecting to see Skeletor’s brother chomping down on victims with a vicious set of sabretooth chompers and slicing up bodies with some sort of ritual magic dagger. This is not the case. For one thing, expect a small body count; the film introduces only five characters, as well as one poor old lonely fisherman who was clearly added in just to give audiences an additional death. The kills are carried out with atypical weaponry, though, and the FX work is impactful in its realism, two attributes that aid in elevating this picture above standard slasher fare. The gore gags may appear tame by today’s standards but seeing a pitchfork impale someone in real time was novel back in 1982.
The producers may have delivered on what bloodthirsty audiences want, but the ambiguous line between fact and fiction is what writer/director J.S. Cardone was after. Kay finds herself in a lonely place, both because her dreams appear to have a tangible impact on reality but also because, despite her foreknowledge of places and unfortunate events, nobody believes her. Brooke is mildly sympathetic but both David and Eric admonish Kay’s mentality to the point she doesn’t know where to turn. Do her dreams portend things to come? Or is she actually influencing events in her resting state? Is Kay, in her somnambulist state, the killer? Or is it something supernatural? These are questions presented and not entirely answered; the enigma only enriches the psychology of The Slayer, with audiences challenged to discover their own conclusions.
Don’t let all of this highfalutin psychobabble scare you off, slasher fans. There is still plenty to satisfy lovers of that much-loved early ‘80s subgenre – a stark atmosphere; looming danger; chilling POV photography; lo-fi aesthetics; and the always-popular “dead body discovery time” near the climax. The Slayer is a rare slasher that manages to satisfy both its target audience and those horror fans who yearn for something a bit deeper than surface level terrors.
Never released on DVD in the U.S., and making its worldwide HD debut, Arrow Video has remastered the film with an uncut 4K scan of the original negative and, knowing the checkered history of past home video releases, this is certainly going to be a revelation for fans old and new. The 1.85:1 1080p image features an exceptionally clean print, exhibiting only minor instances of dirt and damage. Film grain is moderate and often smooth, though there are spikes on occasion. The color palette is decidedly neutral but hues appear natural. Detail is ever present throughout, especially during daylight scenes, and there is an appreciable level of depth to the picture. Black levels are dark and rich.
An English LPCM 1.0 mono track capably handles delivery of the dialogue, which is clear and clean, as well as composer Robert Folk’s score, an ominous collection of cues suggesting horrors lurking around every corner. The use of stringed instrumentation provides a classic feel that sounds full and lush. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are a handful of audio extras available, including two audio commentary tracks – the first, with writer/director J.S. Cardone, producer Eric Weston, and actress Carol Kottenbrook; the second, with podcast hosts The Hysteria Continues. There are also isolated score selections included, featuring an audio interview with composer Robert Folk. Additionally, viewers can select “The Tybee Post Theater Audience Track” to experience the feature “alongside” an audience during a recent screening there.
“Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer” is a nearly hour-long retrospective documentary, featuring interviews with numerous cast & crew members who have plenty to say about this underrated cult classic.
“Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer” is a look at some of the locations in Georgia utilized for the film, hosted by director of photography Arledge Armenaki.
“The Tybee Post Theater Experience” allows viewers to watch the film “with” the audience at a recent screening, featuring a pair of introductions as well as a post-film Q&A with Arledge Armenaki, all of which are viewable separately or together as part of the “experience”.
A still gallery and trailer finish off the disc extras. As usual, Arrow Video has also included a thoughtful booklet in the package, filled with writings, photos, and technical information on the disc.
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
- 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
Suspiria U.K. Blu-ray Review – Argento’s Masterpiece In Stunning 4K Clarity
Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier
Directed by Dario Argento
Distributed by CultFilms
Although the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo masterpiece Suspiria passed only last year, plans for that milestone had been underway for years. Unbeknownst to all but the most diehard fans, restorative work was ongoing for a long while, most notably under the masterful eye of Synapse’s Don May, Jr., leading up to a grand unveiling of the all-new 4K picture that had been perfected and tweaked endlessly. That version of the film toured across the country at select events, giving fans an opportunity to watch Argento’s colorful classic with a picture more vibrant and full of pop than ever before. Even the original English 4.0 audio track from 1977 was restored to its former glory. Between all of the loving care Suspiria received, as well as the wealth of Argento reissues on Blu-ray, this is a good time to be a fan of his early works.
There are, however, actually two 4K restorations that were done for Suspiria; one, by Don May Jr., while the other was performed by TLEFilms FRPS in Germany. This is the same master used for home video release in Europe and Australia. Fans have viewed and picked apart both transfers, though you would have to be one of the ultra-purists to enter that debate and engage anyone willing to discredit either image. The job done by Synapse is extraordinary and the same can also be said for the work done by TLEFilms. This release by CultFilms features the TLEFilms restoration, making it either an attractive alternative to Synapse’s (currently OOP) steelbook release or a nice supplement for fans who wish to own both 4K versions.
Suspiria has been viewed and reviewed and discussed an endless amount of times and there are no undiscussed criticisms or introspective viewpoints I am likely to offer that haven’t been made before. Argento has long been an example of style over substance and Suspiria is his most emblematic work in that regard. American Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany at a prestigious all-girls dance academy late one rainy night. Girls have mysteriously vanished from the compound in recent days, with more to follow. Suzy is coldly greeted and frequently uncomfortable during her stay. Eventually she uncovers a plot involving witchcraft and murder. The story is less thrilling than the ride, which is a kaleidoscope of horror. Argento uses every trick in his bag, from inventive camera movement to ingenious framing, and the use of colored filters to evoke a mood so many have attempted to replicate.
The real interest many will have with this review is in regard to the picture quality. As I said before, the 2.35:1 1080p image provided by TFEFilms’ exhaustive restoration work is nothing short of astounding. This looks like a film that might have been made last year, never mind over four decades ago. The image is razor sharp, exceedingly clear and completely free of blemishes, dirt, debris, scratches, fluctuations, and jitter. The picture could not appear more stable, with the contrast rock solid and coloration a thing of beauty. Primaries leap off the screen with vibrancy even longtime fans will admit is a shocking surprise. Watching this picture in action is a true treat. Detailing is exquisite, revealing every little nuance in Argento’s framing. Simply put, this is a flawless image that ranks among the upper echelon of reference-quality Blu-ray transfers.
Similarly, the audio is no slouch with options available in both English and Italian, each receiving both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track and an LPCM 2.0 option. The multi-channel track is the clear winner here, proving a deep, immersive audible experience that completely envelops the viewer in both Argento’s world and Goblin’s phenomenal score. Seriously, the soundtrack for Suspiria has never been as unsettling and overpowering as it is here, filling every corner of your home theater room with a palpable sense of dread. Subtitles are, of course, available in English.
Please note: this release is locked to Region B, meaning you must have a compatible player to watch the disc.
This release also features different bonus material from the Synapse release, with an emphasis here placed on the restoration process. Completists may want to add this disc to their collection because it not only offers up a different-but-equal a/v presentation but also a new collection of bonus features.
An audio commentary is included, provided by film critics/authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman.
“The Restoration Process” is a nearly one-hour piece that examines every step along the way in bringing Suspiria back to such stunning life. Technical talk abounds here; definitely for fans who want a glimpse into the nerdier side of making movies look pretty again.
“Argento Presents His Suspiria” is a new interview with the director, who surprisingly doesn’t seem sick to death of talking about this film yet.
“Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria” offers up critical appraisal of the film’s visual style, featuring interviews with critics, theorists, and others involved in making the film.
“Suspiria Perspectives” offers up more in-depth discussion of the film, covering both this feature and similar Italian pictures made during that era.
A DVD copy of the feature is also included. The two-disc set sits within a slick, shiny embossed slipcover with the film’s logo in metallic silver. It’s kinda sexy.
- The Restoration Process
- Argento Presents His Suspiria
- Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria
- Suspiria Perspectives
- Audio Commentary
Looking better than ever before, Cult Films’ release of this giallo classic is welcomed as both a more affordable (current) alternative to the U.S. release and as a complement to it, since this edition has a slight variation in picture quality and a selection of different and insightful bonus features.
Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.
Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.
Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.
Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.
In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.
Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.
Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.
Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.
Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.
While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.
Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.
The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.
But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.
So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.
Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.
Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
- Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
- Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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