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Slayer, The (Blu-ray/DVD)

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The Slayer

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.

Special Features:

  • 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

BUY IT NOW!

  • The Slayer
  • Special Features
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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross

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Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

Directed by Xavier Gens


Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

  • Film
2

Summary

The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

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User Rating 3.32 (19 votes)
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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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User Rating 3.5 (20 votes)
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