ARROW VIDEO is really hitting them out of the park lately. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a release than their new 2-disc (one Blu, one DVD) offering of THE SLAYER, which until now has only been available on hard to find VHS. I have an extended history with this movie. It was one of my very first horror rentals (from a kiosk in the mall) and it both stuck in my head and seemed to disappear entirely. For decades, no other video store I visited (and there have been many) ever seemed to carry it. I finally did find it on a double feature, big box with SCALPS but I still yearned to unearth the original version with the cover that enthralled me featuring a demon silhouette in a doorway framed by fire. Over the years I’ve spotlighted on these pages the multiple times this movie has appeared on YouTube only to watch it disappear in a puff of smoke shortly thereafter. Well, all those days of THE SLAYER being a slippery fish are now over. I’m happy for myself and I’m happy for all the fortunate folks who can now add this unique film to their collections.
I attempted to share why I’ve been intrigued for so many years by THE SLAYER in this full review back HERE (short version: I admit it has its flaws but the atmosphere of constant dread is memorably powerful). Today I’m going to focus on this new slobber-worthy Blu-ray. Let me tell you, it’s quite the revelation seeing THE SLAYER suddenly not look like it was filmed through a screen door. This is the visual equivalent to slurping down an oyster; your peepers can practically taste the salty ocean air while you take it in. In my previous review, I mentioned that in my head I like to think of THE SLAYER as a seaside sibling to favorites TOWER OF EVIL, THE FOG and DEAD AND BURIED and never has that coastal connection been stronger; I may have even been left with sand in my shorts. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not militant when it comes to upgrading physical media but in this case, it’s an absolute no-brainer. The difference between THE SLAYER on VHS and on Blu-ray is substantial. I’ll spare you the technical specs and just say I can now finally determine that hapless victim Brooke spends her last hours on Earth reading a paperback of TOM ROBBIN’s EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES; a crucial detail sadly indecipherable on VHS. She’ll never know how it ends!
I’ve heard tale that some folks find THE SLAYER’s pace a bit too leisurely but I disagree, especially now that I’ve seen it in its full glory. The devil is in the details and the more you re-watch this well-crafted flick, the more you realize that it’s consistently dropping clues, foreshadowing future events and messing with your head with subtle shadows and meaningful cutaways. It’s like a puzzle that falls apart every time you’re just about to snap in the last piece. Furthermore, I think the film’s slinking patience only adds to its throttling final moments. It’s gear shifting personality makes it stand like a bridge linking grounded n’ gritty late seventies horror to surreal n’ unreal eighties fare.
Nearly as essential as the film itself is a brand new documentary entitled NIGHTMARE ISLAND: THE MAKING OF THE SLAYER. This documentary provides a treasure trove of trivia (as does the new commentary by director J. S. CARDONE, actress CAROL KOTTENBROOK and executive in charge of production ERIC WESTON). There’s been scant information available on THE SLAYER for decades and ARROW’s determination to fix that is downright heroic. Poor SLAYER was really handed a random and undeserved raw deal that so many less interesting horror films were able to avoid. It never got a proper distribution on screen or on home video and it does my heart good to witness that corrected. If you are familiar with the film you know that some of its most memorable scenes take place in a dilapidated theater. Happily that same theater has since been renovated and better still, was able to proudly host a screening of the film. How cool is that? Imagine watching a movie in the theater it was filmed in! ARROW not only gave this fine flick a leg up, it also saved a piece of this town’s history. What a noble deed especially considering the film’s modest (for now) fan base. Other supplements include a fun commentary with THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES, additional documentary shorts, trailers, stills, liner notes by the always insightful LEE GAMBIN and a reversible sleeve with classic and newly commissioned (and very cool) artwork. Geez, BLOOD RAGE, THE MUTILATOR and now THE SLAYER; I genuinely want to give the folks at ARROW a round of applause for going far beyond the standard catalog title puppy mill and kindly rescuing and nurturing such lovable and deserving strays. Bravo!
Recently I found out fellow SLAYER fan AMANDA REYES was able to get to see our beloved pet flick on the big screen! In order to do something constructive with my abject jealousy –I asked her if she’d be so kind as to report back on the experience and she sweetly obliged! Take it away, AMANDA…
The Slayer on the Big Screen (Amanda Reyes)
I first discovered The Slayer sometime back in the early 1990s when I rented the infamous Continental Video double feature VHS, which featured this oddball flick alongside that other quirky slasher, Scalps. While I enjoyed both, there was something so nightmarish about The Slayer, and it quickly became one of my favorite horror films.
It may be important to serve up those original memories with a bit of context. Continental’s version of The Slayer didn’t have proper credits, nor did the film itself actually feature any recognizable actors. Because there was nothing particularly identifiable about anyone involved, it morphed into something akin to a supernatural snuff film in my fairly impressionable brain. I’ll admit it is almost a disappointment when I watch the film now and see that it was indeed made by real filmmakers! Almost. But that’s merely a quibble, as The Slayer has yet to lose its luster with me, and has aged quite well.
Since that first viewing, I’ve seen The Slayer in all kinds of incarnations, with credits, and without as I mentioned, but I never thought I’d have a chance to see it on the big screen. This past year, Arrow got together with Texas Frightmare for a once in a lifetime screening of the film. It was the first thing I marked off on my program for the weekend. I was excited to see what kind of remaster trickery Arrow did with this mythical terror tale, and I was thrilled that horror fans were given a chance to check it out in a far larger scope than we’d probably ever had the chance to experience before.
But that experience proved to be bittersweet. The Pros: The work Arrow did was amazing. No complaints. The film looks more gorgeous than ever, and while I love the graininess of my old VHS (which certainly added to the fear factor for me), I was finally able to see the real artistry that went into putting The Slayer together. Directed with a sure hand by J.S. Cardone (who would go on to make both good and not so good horror films throughout his career), the film has a real lushness to it that was lost in its original home video release. It’s colorful and drab, if you can imagine that, with exquisite sets, and a few absolutely unsettling set-pieces.
It is also competently acted by a small but interesting cast of unknowns. It’s one of the few slashers from the heyday of the genre that features mature characters with grown up careers and adult problems. There’s an actress, a commercial director, a doctor, and an artist. They look to be somewhere in their early thirties, and I appreciate being able to see a slasher film now where I can see myself (which only ups the terror in some ways). The protagonist, Kay (Sarah Kendall) suffers from an instability that comes from life long woes, and not just teen angst, playing heavily into what I find so timeless about her horrifying ordeal.
But let’s get to the bittersweet part. The Cons: Living in a post-MS3K universe has its disadvantages. All movies are up for so-bad-it’s-good-grabs, but that doesn’t mean that every film, even those released in such a maligned genre, are ripe for picking on. The Slayer is certainly humorless, and looks like it was made sometime in the late 70s – early 80s, complete with the requisite fashion and moustaches, but does that make something funny? If you have to think about that answer, then you may need to check your misplaced sarcasm at the door if you are going to truly get something out of this wonderfully creepy film.
The audience at the screening was, frankly, abhorrent. They laughed at unfunny moments, and acted like they were smarter than the film (the guy in front of me kept cartoonishly shrugging his shoulders and pointing to the screen in case we didn’t get that point). Other people were eating loudly and talking through its entirety, laughing whenever the audience keyed them in on some joke that wasn’t actually there. Afterwards, I got on the elevator and a woman said to her friend, “That’s a movie I don’t mind talking through because no one liked it.”
This is all to say, yes, not every film is going to work the same way for everybody. Personally, that’s something I love about horror… it’s so subjective. My Slayer is your Frankenstein, and that’s cool. But, there should be some modicum of respect for those around you because you know, that person next to you might actually be enjoying the film. In the end though, the screening only served to make me love the film more. Both Arrow and Vinegar Syndrome, who aided in the remastering had tables at the convention, and were truly ecstatic that I enjoyed the hard work they put into making this the best release The Slayer has ever seen.
We live in a time where the word on the street proclaims that physical media is dying, yet, we’ve got great little companies putting heart and soul into their DVD and Blu-Ray releases. And I’m tickled that we can see these movies outside of the pan and scan treachery that had previously kept them from joining the classic status they so richly deserve. The Slayer is certainly a so-good-its-great movie, and should be embraced by any self-respecting slasher fanatic! Yeah, says me!
Thanks Amanda, you’re the best! Speaking of lovingly celebrating worthy titles deserving of a bigger audience, SCREAM FACTORY just released a Blu-ray of the fantastic TV movie THE SPELL (1977) starring LEE GRANT! Even cooler, they got Amanda to lend her unrivaled TV movie expertise for an exclusive commentary! You can get yourself a copy of THE SPELL HERE and don’t forget to make an appointment with THE SLAYER HERE!