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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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User Rating 3.18 (11 votes)

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