The Slayer Review
The slasher sub-genre of horror movies has a pretty straightforward history. Many point to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho as being the first iconic slasher film, one that inspired countless imitators. As the years went on slashers became more intertwined with other aspects of horror, the supernatural became a big part of massive franchise slashers like Halloween, Friday 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. However, I have never seen one of these films that can be described as being an arthouse slasher, that is, until recently. That film is J.S. Cardone's 1982 film The Slayer that the Arrow Video label has finally brought to Blu-ray.
Kay is going on holiday to a small and isolated island off the coast of America with her husband, brother, and sister-in-law. She is going because everyone thinks she needs some time to relax following the nightmares in which a supernatural entity kills those she loves. The four seem to be having a great time in the small house they rented, that is until Kay's dreams start to become real.
The Slayer is an interesting beast as it could have been a painfully average killer-of-the-week kind of movie. However, the cinematography by Karen Grossman lends a great deal of atmosphere to the proceedings. It is drenched in dry ice, rain effects and that weirdly drawn lightning that you can only find in the horror movies of the 70s and 80s. This is all helped greatly by the HD remastering of the film. Arrow Video have done a tremendous job remastering the film to 1080p using a 4K scan from the original camera negative, though this is to be expected as Arrow Films are usually very capable of delivering great looking high definition movies. This is coupled with a teeth chattering score from Robert Folk, the composer behind Tremors and The Police Academy series. Trust me guys its really scary, Arrow have done such a good a job not least with the whole soundtrack which is in an uncompressed PCM mono audio track.
This film is all atmosphere, and it is wonderful. It has a particularly grim and dark tone. I know most slasher films also have a dark tone, they are about murder after all, but there is something special about this film that separates it from other knifey-knifey-stabby-stabby flicks. There is an ambiguity to The Slayer that leaves one with a profound sense of unease and disquiet due to the story’s inconclusiveness. This is where the movie truly becomes the arthouse slasher. I won't go into the story because that would be akin to spoilers, but just know that it has an end that will make you think and make you want to re-watch it to pick up on all the clues.
The film does have its share of problems outside of the atmosphere. I could mention the slightly silly looking monster make-up, but it’s 1981, and it’s a low budget film so what are you going to do. What does get in the way of the film’s marvellous tone is the acting, it is passable, and sometimes it is actually quite good, but there is never the subtlety or the memorability that is required to properly tackle this sort of plot. Sarah Kendall as our lead character Kay is a pretty good screamer, but we are not given enough time to connect with her (or the other characters) and truly bond to Kay as the POV protagonist. It is a shame that the main cast is forgettable as their likeability would have done a lot for the film. I will have to make a shout out to Michael Holms as Marsh, the creepy pilot who transports the couples to the island, he is camp and memorable and perhaps belongs in a different movie.
The Slayer is an interesting horror. It has perhaps one of the first ambiguous endings and feels somewhat similar to the Ealing Studio’s anthology film, Dead of Night. The filmmakers clearly knew what they wanted to do with their film and tried their damnedest to achieve them. However, a slightly sloppy monster and lacklustre acting hold it back from being a high end arthouse slasher flick.
So with the film out of the way, what else is there to talk about but the Arrow Video disc. Well, let's start with the commentary tracks. There is not one, not two, not three but four different extra audio tracks to choose from. There is a track from director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook, who plays Brooke. There is one produced by Slasher Podcasters extraordinaire, The Hysteria Continues and a track focussing on the score by Robert Folk. Finally, the last was recorded at The Tybee Post Theatre, where there was a screening with a live audience. I really enjoyed this type of thing in the box set for Phantasm, but here I was a little disappointed by the less than stellar sound quality when it came to the actual film. Included on the disc are also making of documentaries, locations videos and Q&As. As expected, there are tons of extras to keep you gripped in the Slayer's grasp.
Arrow Video is a solid company that distribute unique and entertaining cult movies and they have put their weight behind one of the most unique horror films I have seen. The Slayer is a grim and ambivalent film that looks wonderful in HD and is complimented perfectly by all the extras and commentaries Arrow has crammed the disc with. I would highly recommend this disc to anyone with an interest in horror to add to your collection.