If I’ve learned anything doing time on planet kindertrauma, it’s that there’s no way to predict what’s going to disturb you. More than anything, fear is an emotional response and your rational mind can blow the whistle all it likes, fear is going to keep doing its crazy jig if it wants to anyway. Now, I can’t say that 1982’s THE SLAYER actually scares me but I will admit that it never fails to creep me out.
I caught THE SLAYER back in the day on VHS and I remember my first thought as the film began was, “Oh crap, it’s one of those cheapie backyard homebrews and poor me is in for a world of boredom.” Little did I know that by the movie’s end I’d be left with a strange feeling, a feeling of being genuinely unnerved. That the movie was able to leave a stain on the shag carpet in my brain is even more startling when you take its not very good acting, chalk board scratch dialogue, and MS. WIGGINS pacing into account.
I wish I could say J.S. CARDONE‘s THE SLAYER was some expertly built mind fuck machine or something but it’s just not. There are some nicely done suspense scenes, a few better kills than you should reasonably expect and an interesting pre-ELM STREET death by dream mechanism but none of that is really enough to explain why it creeps me out. Maybe I’m just hanging on to the effect it had on me in my youth but a recent watch did nothing to change my opinion that THE SLAYER has the goods, even if I can’t explain it on a technical level. It’s like an abstract painting more or less, the feeling you’re left with is more than the sum of its parts.
Maybe it’s a victory of ambiance and milieu. THE SLAYER takes you to a crusty remote island, shoves you into an authentically dilapidated theater and milks a raging thunderstorm for all it’s worth. There are scavenger crabs dancing on a dead woman’s face, folks getting trapped in nets, and death by oar and fishhook. It all feels very natural and lived in so much so that no wooden acting can deter the coastal climate from leaving its mark. Feel free to throw this one into a spooky sea shanty marathon with TOWER OF EVIL, DEAD AND BURIED and THE FOG. I may even be able to use THE SLAYER as an other example alongside SESSION 9 and the original CHAINSAW that nothing beats real on location shooting. No art director in the world can counterfeit the power of an environment with genuine history.
I also have to give plaudits to the main character here, Kay (SARAH KENDALL) she’s somewhat unconvincing, certainly annoyingly repetitive, and unapologetically, narcissistically neurotic. She’d never fly in the modern post RIPLEY age but her ghoulish face and cornered, feeble disposition adds an extra depressive coat onto the rack. I miss this type of almost Victorian female horror protagonist whose main contribution is to be the seer or the voice of dread. That may mean heavy fretting and zero kick-ass but in a supernatural, psychological tale it quite simply works. Feminists may cringe, but I think it adds to the bleakness of the situation if the main character is dwarfed and quivering in awe of the phantasmagorical. In other words Kay’s not a hero, she’s not even likable and that’s what the story (yes there’s more than one kind of story!) needs.
So will everybody love THE SLAYER? I really doubt it. Like I said, the acting is stiff, the dialogue makes you want to light yourself on fire and the music is simultaneously the greatest and most intrusive thing you’ve ever heard. Still, good kills and mood up the wazoo, you can’t beat that! I watched it super late the other night, in probably the best of circumstances (in air conditioning, from my bed) and it still got to me after all these years. Whether it’s the winged clipped desperation of creepy Kay or just the singular barnacle busted atmosphere, I’m thinking this captures something unearthly and unique. As far as I’m concerned, pimples and all, it’s a dream (or nightmare) come true, a gory slasher movie with a surprisingly convincing air of the uncanny and an eerie “wrongness’’ I still can’t quite put my finger on.