Well, hell. The Slayer actually surprised me with how good it was and once again, Arrow Video drops the microphone with a stellar print of this eagerly awaited slasher with some nice bonus features. While the film has its share of flaws, it’s got a small and interesting cast that’s not made up of the usual sex-starved teens getting killed off by the slasher of the week. Okay, it’s more mature adults getting killed off, but hey, it’s a step up in any event.
The film also predates A Nightmare on Elm Street in having its fiend just so happen to do its dirty work as its wide-eyed female lead sleeps. While probably not at all an influence on Wes Craven’s masterpiece, it’s impossible to watch the film without making a connection somewhere along the line.
When two married couples decide to take a vacation together, moody painter Kay (Sarah Kendall) isn’t exactly keen on the idea. She’s been having the same recurring dream since she was a child and a sense of dread about things that’s trying the patience of her doctor husband David (Alan McRae), who wants Kay to rest and relax while they’re away. Accompanied by Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), the quartet fly to a deserted island off Georgia that’s also got no phones or other means of modern communication. Yeah, people used to do that sort of thing in the pre-mobile phone days. Well, there’s a flare gun in the house in case of emergency… but a few of you might easily figure out how well that works in a horror film, right?
Their somewhat creepy pilot, Marsh (Michael Holmes) drops then off, but lets them know a massive storm is coming and they’ll be stranded there until he returns. Fortunately, the house they’ve rented if fully stocked with food and booze (a good thing). So, the guys and gals settle in for the night… and of course, bad things start happening. There’s a lone fisherman who’s the first victim (oar to the skull, 10 points!), but poor David is next up (a weird decapitation scene) and his death sets off Kay’s paranoia even though Eric and Brooke think he’s just off photographing stuff or maybe taking a time out away from Kay. Nope.
The film *seems* to present a few possibilities for the murders, but Marsh ends up being a figurative dead end when he’s dispatched near the climax. Poor Eric (fishhooks to the face/dragged into the sea) and Brooke (pitchfork through the back and a pretty damn good effect, btw) buy the farm before that, so that leaves Kay as a kind of suspect suspect. But you get the titular creature popping up like a jack in the box at the end followed by an “aha!” moment shocker that brings it all home in a nicely crazy manner. Kendall’s puffy red hair and always wide eyes makes her compelling to look at as her mental state declines thanks to a lack of sleep and the after-effects of the killings.
Ably directed by J. S. Cardone from a script written by Cardone and William R. Ewing, The Slayer is a compact 86 minutes, not much of which is wasted time. The small kill count lets the special effects shots work well, although Eric’s demise is literally dragged out a few beats too long. Conversely, the appearance of the Slayer is basically a jump-scare shot and a cut to a second look at the thing before the ending hits you in the head. There’s a great documentary on the making of the film that’s worth a look, as well as a few other bonuses:
Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
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
Overall, this is another winner from Arrow worth tracking down. While it’s pretty tame stuff overall, there’s a nice bite and maturity on display that’s more intriguing at the end of the day.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher