I’ve heard of The Slayer, but have never seen it until a few nights ago. Never wanted to since I’d heard it was a slasher flick and despite a few choice films in this sub-genre I like I’m not an ardent fan by any means. However, had I known it was more of a supernatural slasher I would have probably sought it out. Although I don’t have any memory of coming across it on cable back in the day at all. Having checked out Fangoria’s index it appears they didn’t cover it at all, but I do remember reading brief mentions of it in various issues over the course of the magazine’s run. It wasn’t until Arrow revealed they were bluing it that I made the discovery (via YouTube trailer) of its supernatural undertones.
It reminded of several films like A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), The Incubus (1982) and Bad Dreams (1988). I only throw in The Incubus because the killings are being done by a “dream demon,” when one of the main characters falls asleep, which is what happens in The Incubus. In that film the demon only comes out and goes a killin’ and a rapin’ when this kid it lives in the dreams of goes to sleep. The Slayer doesn’t do any rapin’ just a killin’. This flick also predates the first Elm Street movie by two years and it feels almost like a rough template, but with a lot less back story about the “dream demon.” Makes me wonder if this may have somehow unconsciously influenced Wes Craven’s movie? If you’re familiar with Bad Dreams you’ll know exactly where this movie is going in its final moments, which is basically twist #2, but I’ll discuss that when I get to it.
In one of the commentaries Director J.S. Cardone doesn’t see his flick as a slasher, he was influenced more by Val Lewton when he came up with this concept than anything else, but I can see why everyone puts it in the slasher sub-genre. If you didn’t know what this movie was and came into it during one of the kills, especially the one in the boathouse, you’d easily wonder which Friday The 13th flick it was. It’s got all the elements: death by occasional implement (i.e. boat oar, pitchfork); POV from the “slasher”; slight, gratuitous nudity, and “characters sheltered in a cabin in the country picked off one by one.”
Kay (Sarah Kendall) is at the center of this “hack and slash,” she’s an artist who paints what she sees in her dreams, and she has a doozy of one right before the movie starts that ends with a pair of demonic looking mitts wrapping themselves around her throat and face. You see she’s been having “problems” with dreams all her life even blaming some terrible things from childhood (i.e. a pet cat being put in a freezer and freezing to death) on “something” from them.
At any rate she, her husband, David (Alan McRae), her brother, Eric (Frederick Flynn), and his wife, Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), are all scheduled to take weekend trip to this remote island off the coast of Georgia. Only thing on the island is the house they’re staying at and a dilapidated theater that she just so happened to paint right before they left.
When the killings start the movie wants you to think several things, like, perhaps, Kay herself might be doing it, she is a pretty bizarre character who may or may not be mentally ill, or it could be the creepy pilot, Marsh (Michael Holmes), who flew them in and in the last act Eric feels may not have left the island. He’s right, he never left the island. But towards the end about the point where Eric is murdered, a little before actually, the movie starts implying the real “slayer” might be something supernatural, something from Kay’s dreams. This does tie in because the first killing (in the middle of the day) happens to this random fisherman who gets his head bashed in by an oar. We only see the silhouette of the killer, but the moment this guy is murdered Kay wakes up suddenly from a nap she was taking on the beach.
Some of the killings later are on are prefaced by a creepy growl that has no specific location. Not loud, but when it happens you do notice it, and it is creepy. Plus by the time Brooke is impaled by a pitchfork in the boathouse it looks like that implement is moving on its own giving you even more evidence the killer is “otherworldly.”
David is actually the first one to die, having his neck crushed between two trapdoors. That’s the bloodiest murder, Kay even dreams about finding his severed head in her bed. She’ll find his headless body later on hanging upside down in that theater. Eric is the one in complete denial about missing David and his death happens out at the boathouse too, but by a fishing hook that drags him into the ocean.
It’s not surprising Kay is last chick standing and like Nancy in Elm Street tries to keep herself from falling asleep by burning herself with a cigarette. It’s not long before something, or someone, comes a knockin’ on the final night after she barricades all the doors and windows. It’s Marsh! Told you he hadn’t left. But his appearance strains the logic of the movie somewhat for me. My initial assumption was he was just showing up to find out what happened to everyone, but that might not be the case, since he says nothing as he tries to push his way into the kitchen. Kay has to stab him in the hand, and still he says nothing, implying, perhaps he might have something to do with all the killings. Before we can get any kind of explanation from him Kay kills him with a flare and sets the rest of the house on fire by accident. Her attempt to escape brings about the first twist in the movie as she opens the front door and is confronted by a monster—the Slayer! Okay, so, this thing was the actual culprit, and Cardone even says as much in the commentary, but then what’s the deal with Marsh? The way he presents himself in the final moments was clearly not as a “concerned citizen.” I don’t believe in coincidences, and it seems awfully coincidental a possible psycho shows up right before the slayer itself is revealed. To me there’s a sinister connection between the two, even though Cardone only used him as a red herring to distract momentarily from that first twist. The appearance of the second twist, however, kind of renders my previous conjectures moot, and adds a kind of perfect logic to the movie now. In the commentary Cardone reveals his initial script did not have this second twist and he only came up with it during filming. The movie was supposed to end after the Slayer is revealed, but the final film now ends in a way similar to the ending of Bad Dreams (1988). In that flick the main character wakes up and it’s revealed the whole goddamn movie was just that—a bad fuckin’ dream! Back when I was younger those kind of endings annoyed me to no end, and I even remember seeing Bad Dreams in the theater back in ’88 and being letdown by the ending. Loved everything that came before, but that ending destroyed it. Nowadays, I’m a bit more forgiving now about those twists, and The Slayer’s final one isn’t quite a “bad dream,” which because of that I can give it a pass.
During that long shot of the house after Kay comes face-to-face with the Slayer, you hear conversation of a casual nature of someone trying to rouse someone else from sleep. The film now cuts to a scene of two parents waking a child! It’s Kay, and it’s Christmas time! Her brother is there, and he’s a kid too, and there’s her father revealing the cat he got her as a present. You could easily interpret the entire movie as a dream, but it’s actually more along the lines of a premonition of what’s going to happen to her one day when she grows up! We can also assume Kay has some amount of psychic ability. This ending is also interesting, to me mostly, because I remember when I was a kid when I would take naps I would doze off thinking what if I wake up and realize my whole life up to know was all a dream and I’m really still, like, six years old? Did Kay dream her entire adult life, or just that trip to the island?
I didn’t totally love the movie, but I didn’t hate it either. It drags in places, but all those “drags” you’ll find out in the commentary were premeditated. And I’m not opposed to premeditated drags either. A lot of old flicks I love fall into this category, but for some reason the “drags” in this particular film felt very obvious and because of that tedious. Now, having said that I can see myself wanting to watch this again at some point, may even come to like a lot more down the road, and because of that I shall be adding it to my collection. I even have a space for it right next to Scalps (1983), a spot I staked out before listening to the commentary and reading the included booklet that reveals the movie was paired as a double feature with Scalps. And what a perfect, and eerie conclusion to this review.
As I understand it this movie never had any kind of DVD release here in the U.S. and the previous VHS was edited. Well, come August 29th Arrow Video will be releasing this sought after “slasher” classic UNCUT in a DVD/Blu-ray combo here in the U.S. and in the U.K. You can buy the U.S. version here on Amazon and the U.K. one on Amazon UK.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—1.0 English LPCM Mono—English SDH subtitles only.
According to the booklet, the commentary, and the fanbase I’ve spoken to over the years on social media and forums, the VHS was a godawful transfer for it was dark to the point of not being able to see what the hell was going on. I can tell you this blu-ray fixes all that and is stunning to look at it. Colors are exceptionally great as well.
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Director J.S. Cardone, Executive Producer Eric Weston, Actress Carol Kottenbrook
- Audio Commentary With The Hysteria Continues
- Isolated Score Selections And Audio Interview With Composer Robert Folk (accessed as an audio commentary)
- The Tybee Post Audience Track (accessed as an “audio commentary”)
- The Tybee Post Theater Experience (Introduction 2:38; Q&A 17:50)
- Nightmare Island: The Making Of The Slayer (52:24)
- Return To Tybee: The Locations Of The Slayer (13:18)
- Still Gallery (9:55)
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible cover art (theatrical poster)
Red Shirt Pictures owner, Michael Felsher, has assembled the usual informative and comprehensive interviews, documentary, period promotional material and other sundry extras that will surely please hardcore fans, and this on-the-fence one (I’m talking about me, of course). No matter how I end up feeling about any movie I’ve never seen, or seen for that matter, I always enjoy the behind-the-scenes extras. Always. Especially if they’re about a movie from my favorite decade, the 80s.
The guy who played the Slayer, Carl Kraines, is interviewed in the doc; Kraines also played the ‘Workman’ in The Gate (1987) and according to IMDB “Terry transformed” in the sequel, Gate II (1990)! I knew that guy looked familiar when I was watching this doc. If memory serves he’s also in the doc on The Gate blu too.
I wouldn’t have minded a Slayer franchise, I did find the brief appearance of the creature a gruesome and fun design, and fleshing out it’s abilities and history in further movies would have been fun, but as fate would have it Wes Craven’s “dream demon” became pop culture’s icon instead. I’m okay with that though. Can’t miss what you never had, but you know there’s probably a parallel universe where it’s the other way around.