Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE SLAYER (1982) (Arrow Blu-ray Review)

THE SLAYER (1982) 
Label: Arrow Video 
Release Date: August 29th 2017 
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: J.S. Cardone
Cast: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes, Sandy Simpson

A surrealist painter named Kay (Sarah Kendal), her husband David (Alan McRae, 3 Ninjas), her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn, Shadowzone) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook, Survival Quest) are on vacation on a small remote island off the coast of Georgia. Kay is hesitant to go, she's been plagued by horrific nightmares since childhood and lately they've been growing in frequency and intensity, they also seem to be aggravating her formerly successful career as a painter of some renown .

The island was once a thriving resort but has since fallen into disrepair, a barren place with just a few dilapidated buildings including a crumbling movie theater and a small vacation home. They fly onto the island on a small prop engine plane piloted by Marsh (Michael Holmes, Deadly Prey), whom before leaving them behind warns them that a hurricane is set to blow through the area, and that they should leave with him, but they choose to stay behind. 

Kay's nightmares persist, she becomes a bit of drag for the others, including her husband, who grows tired of her increasingly frayed sanity, and tormented by a weird sense of deja vu, which Kendall plays wonderfully, she's a wild eyed and ethereal actress, she plays the part of a person who believes her nightmares are manifesting themselves into reality quite believably, her performance brought to mind Zohra Lampert as the titular character in Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1972), a film that shares some tonal qualities to this one.

As the storm blows in the couples hunker down in the vacation home, and one by one they are killed off in some truly gruesome ways. While not a slasher film per se the movie certainly does have some slasher tendencies, such as a killer POV and murder set-pieces, but in reality this is more of a Lovecraftian slow-burn with some slasher type kills peppered throughout, a few of which are rather fantastic. The kills begin with a random fisherman taking a boat oar to the face, then someone having their head caught in between the doors of a basement bulkhead entrance, the setup is great and the payoff is nicely bloody, nearly taking his head off. Another favorite is a pitchfork kill, the tines of the garden tool popping through a woman's breast, and another is a strange fishing line and hook kill, the victim dragged off into the ocean by an unseen malevolent fisherman! some good low-budget make-up effects from Robert Short (Chopping Mall). 

Like I say the film is a bit of a slow-burn, for the first thirty minutes or so we are just establishing characters and remote location, getting a feel for their thoughts for Kay. I would dare say the movie has a bit of a lo-fi arthouse feel to it, once we get to the first kill things pick-up quite a bit and the atmosphere and tone kept me enthralled. The movie does a good job of keeping you guessing as to what exactly is happening, is there an killer on the island, could Kay be the killer, or is there really a demonic entity from her nightmares manifesting itself and killing everyone off? I won't spoil it, anymore than the artwork does, but we do get a glimpse of a fetid, melting-faced creature that really worked for me, it's glimpsed only briefly but it works. A few other tidbits worth mentioning are a nightmare scene with a severed head in a bed, not realizing that it's disembodied Kay kisses it, it's surreal and gross, an effective trickle of blood tearing up from it's eye is super eerie. Also eerie, in aforementioned the pitchfork kill the killer slowly emerges from the darkness, you only see the pitchfork coming toward her, not the killer holding it, it's a truly dread filled moment with excellent follow-through.  

Some of the acting might be a little iffy at times but that didn't detract from the creepy fun for me, I think that Kendall is quite good in the role of Kay, she has a certain wild-eyed etherealness about her that captures the essence of the film and the character. The whole nightmare-killer aspect of the story predated Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) by a few years, Kay even fights to stay awake believing it will stop the killings, this is idea that has since been exploited many times over, so kudos to writer/director Cardone and writer/producer William Ewing for the seminal idea.

The movie  has a great location, a remote island with no one else around, some great island views, plus a lot of it takes place over the course of a dark and stormy night full of thunder and lightning, giving it a Gothic quality, enhanced by some decent lensing from Karen Grossman (Microwave Massacre) and an effective chiller score from composer Robert Folk (Savage Harvest).

Audio/Video: The Slayer (1982) has been a video nasty obscurity for quite a long while, it's been hard to find in any meaningful sort of release, either full screen or cut-up and of poor quality, and never a legit U.S. release. Thanks to Arrow we have a brand new 4K restoration of this sought after slice of Lovecraftian horror straight from the original camera negative. The image is very pleasing, a fine layer of grain is intact, colors are nicely saturated, but it does show it's early 80s film stock limitations, some scenes are softer than others, contrast can be a bit sketchy at times, and some scenes are abundantly grainy and black levels are not as deep as one would hope, but when compared to the grey market versions I've seen this is a phenomenal restoration! Audio comes by way of a lossless LPCM 1.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. 

Arrow don't skimp on the extras, we have three commentaries, one with Director J.S. Cardone, Eric Weston and Carol Kottenbrook moderated by Ewan Cant of Arrow Video, a second with The Hysteria Continues Podcast crew, and a third with composer Robert Folk, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. There's also a nearly hour-long making of doc featuring interviews with writer/director J.S. Cardone, writer/producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, actress Carol Kottenbrook, executive in charge of production Eric Weston, special effects makeup creator Robert short and camera operator/second unit photography/still photography Arledge Armenaki.

There's a fun location comparison revisiting Tybee Island locations with, we get to see the main house, some of the beach locations and the Tybee Post Theater, which was once a working theater in the 30's for servicemen, but which has by the time of the movie had fallen into disrepair, but has been recently restored, and it looks quite nice nowadays. There's also the option to watch it with the Tybee Post Theater Experience with audio from the audience at the theater during the viewing, this also includes introductions by executive director of the Tybee Post Theater Melissa Turner (3 min) and a video intro from director J.S. Cardone (1 min). You have the option to play the whole experience of just the 18 minute Q/A with camera operator / second unit director/still photographer Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant of Arrow Video. 

Finishing up the extras there's a still gallery and the original trailer. we were only send a "check disc" for review, but retail copies include a sleeve of reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn, plus the first pressing will include a collector’s booklet featuring new liner notes by writer Lee Gambin

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director J.S. Cardone, executive in charge of production Eric Weston and actress Carol Kottenbrook moderated by ewan Cant from Arrow Video  
- Audio Commentary by the Hysteria Continues Podcast 
- Isolated Score Selections and Composer Robert Folk Audio Interview moderated by Michael Felsher of red Short Pictures 
- Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer - Brand new making of documentary featuring interviews with writer/director J.S. Cardone, writer/producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, actress Carol Kottenbrook, executive in charge of production Eric Weston, special effects makeup creator Robert short and camera operator/second unit photography/still photography Arledge Armenaki (52 min) HD 
- Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer - Brand new featurette revisiting the original shooting locations on Tybee Island, Georgia with camera operator/second unit photography/still photography Arledge Armenaki, plus an interview with Melissa Turner, the executive director of the Tybee Post Theater(13 min) HD 
- The Tybee Post Theater Experience - Join the audience of the Tybee Post Theater (one of the film;s key locations) for this very special screening of The slayer! Includes live Q/A with camera operator / second unit director/still photographer Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant (18 min) HD 
- Still Galley (10 min) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 
- 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

The Slayer (1982) has been long overdue for a proper release on home video, this bonafide video nasty has languished for decades in obscurity, but now Arrow video have brought this hidden gem into the limelight with a wonderful 4K restoration and a wealth of excellent extras, this is one of my favorite releases of the year so far, and it was worth the wait and is a horror film that has actually lived up to the hype!