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The Nostalgic Attic: The Slayer (1982)

16 August 2013

The Slayer (1982)

"Is it a nightmare? Or is it..."

The 'Video Nasties' list that was put together by the DPP in 1983 is a very mixed bag of horror and exploitation films. As the initial idea was to have the distributors prosecuted and have the films banned, you kind of wonder if they did any actual research into what they took a disliking to, or if they just went on word of mouth and outrageous video covers. Some on the list, such as Cannibal Holocaust, The Beast in Heat and Fight For Your Life, were (and still are) fairly offensive films that push the boundaries of taste to the extreme, while others such as Tenebrae, Visiting Hours and Dead & Buried were films that happened to have a few seconds worth of latex gore that set the DPP foaming at the mouth. Only half of the list were successfully prosecuted, while the rest were re-submitted under the Video Recordings Act 1984 and were passed, though most suffered minor edits to explicit violence at some point.

The idiotic nature of the whole scandal aside, many of the films on the original list have fallen into obscurity at this point, some with good reason, others, maybe not so. There only remains a handful of titles that have not been resubmitted for classification at this point, and are still, in effect, 'banned'. This is probably more to do with lack of distributor confidence in the film than anything to do with fear of rejection by the BBFC.With the relaxation in censorship laws at the end of the 90's, we horror fans could finally get our hands on legit copies of Driller Killer and Blood Feast, and a whole glut of budget releases followed.

The Slayer is probably one of the lesser known titles at this stage, and hasn't really been given a huge amount of attention by horror fans. Things start off promising with Kay (Sarah Kendall; The Karate Kid Part II), an abstract artist, waking from a terrifying dream of a monsterous creature attacking her. She has been having similar re-occuring dreams for years, it seems, and her husband, David (Alan McRae; Once Bitten, 3 Ninjas) wants her to see professional help as she is becoming more and more detached from reality. Her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn; Thunder Alley, Shadowzone) decides that they should go to a friends remote island for the weekend, despite the constant complaints from his wife, Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook; Thunder Alley, Survival Quest). She is smart enough to know that Eric will spend the whole time fishing. After getting dropped by plane, they find much of the island is in ruin, including a run-down theatre that Kay is convinced she has seen in her dream. 

Despite being away from home and her paintings, the nightmares continue. A man is sitting on the beach and being stalked by a person unseen, and is brutally murdered with some blunt-force trauma to the skull. Kay wakes up on the beach; was it all a dream? That night her husband goes for a wander during the storm, and finds himself in the basement. As he attempts to stop rain pouring in from a trap door, he is attacked and decapitated. Kay dreams that his severed head is lying in the bed with her. After searching everywhere, her brother finds the remains of David in the old theatre. They soon realise that Kay may be right about her dreams, and that any one of them could be next as the deranged killer continues to stalk them.

The Slayer does many things right, and one of its best features is its atmosphere. The island makes a perfect setting; it is weather beaten, cold, gloomy... an air of decay and despair hangs over the whole film, and suits the mood perfectly. Despite the film belonging squarely in the slasher genre, it is refreshing to see mature adults instead of oafish teens being picked off one by one. It adds to the serious tone of it all, and the humour is kept to a minimum throughout. The acting is reasonable, though not excellent. Sarah Kendall as Kay does an OK job at being lost in her own thoughts and on the edge of madness, and looks like a petrified, gaunt Sigourney Weaver in many instances. Carol Kottenbrook is good as the cranky sister-in-law, but the guys are a bit on the bland side. 

The murder scenes are very effective, and director J.S. Cardone (Thunder Alley, Shadowzone, Wicked Little Things) does a great job with building tension in the stalk-and-slash moments. Even with only 4 or 5 potential victims, the kills feel well placed. Though not overly gory, we do get some wet goods here. The highlight is definitely the most well known scene, where a victim gets a pitchfork through the back and the points come out their chest. I also really liked the stunt where the man is shot in the chest with a flare gun. The violence is generally brutal enough, and the climax is tense and gripping, until...

...the last two minutes. I won't spoil it, but it does something that feels a tad like 'jumping the shark', but can be interpreted in a few different ways. Horror fans usually balk at such endings anyway, and it does feel a tad groan-worthy. It certainly isn't enough to kill the film, but it will piss a few of you off. I understand they were trying to do something different with the nature of dreams and premonitions, but it just doesn't quite work here.

Despite this minor hiccup, the film works surprisingly well as a whole. Special note should be made of the score by Robert Folk (Police Academy, Bachelor Party, Can't Buy Me Love) who went on to have a successful career as a composer after this. The score is fully orchestrated, and suits the gloomy mood throughout. Also, some mention should be made to the surface similarities between The Slayer and a certain other major slasher franchise; the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The Killer only strikes while Kay is asleep, and it seems that he uses this to cross over into reality. We also get plenty of moments where Kay battles to stay awake to keep the killer at bay in the climax, including much drinking of coffee. They are only basic similarities for sure, but they're worth noting.

Overall, if you are a slasher fan, you owe it to yourself to watch The Slayer. It has atmosphere, good kills and even some minor nudity to keep the boob fans happy. If bleak and oppressive sounds like a good time to you, then you will enjoy this one. Hopefully some day in the not-too-distant future it will get the DVD treatment it deserves.

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At 16 August 2013 at 07:09 , Blogger Drew Grimm Van Ess said...

I actually was disappointed in this film. I thought it was "okay" and I heard a lot of hype for it. Maybe the hype exceeded it for me. I enjoyed it, but I found it to be very boring at parts. Great write-up though. We need more reviews like this one.

At 17 August 2013 at 01:16 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Weird that this one came 'pre-hyped' for you. I rarely see it get mentioned anywhere, not even on lists of slasher films. I can see how some could find it slow in parts. I think the serious tone just added to the atmosphere, and I was satisfied with the pay-offs in the kill scenes. Maybe some day you will come back to it, maybe not.

Thanks for reading dude!

At 27 August 2013 at 03:11 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this film.
So much in fact that I've done a DIY video project to attempt a remaster from the original Godawful transfer that VIPCO made into something more watchable.
Managed to remove all the film dirt and blemishes and increased the colour and contrast to make it look half-way decent.
Until some enterprising company bothers to locate an actual print of this and bring it out professionally, I'm happy with the version I now have of the film.
See YouTube for my first attempt at remastering this.
Chris Walker.

At 28 August 2013 at 05:13 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Chris, thanks for dropping by with that info. The Vipco is a shoddy VHS rip, and by all accounts, a bootleg too. I will definitely be checking out what you have done, I would be VERY interested to see what could be achieved with time and patience. Do you have a spot ofr downloading your re-master?

At 28 August 2013 at 08:16 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The file as it currently stands is 5.0Gb which is too big to upload anywhere. I will finish fine tuning it till I'm 100% happy and then put it onto DVD. I'll keep you posted on that project. The YouTube file is a reasonable 1st attempt. The DVD will be better.

At 29 August 2013 at 00:11 , Blogger Doug Roos said...

I've seen pictures of that monster but never knew what it was from, and the fact it's from the '80s means I got to see this. The creature at least looks fantastic. Awesome blog by the way!

At 29 August 2013 at 01:26 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Chris, keep me posted.

At 29 August 2013 at 01:28 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Doug, I feel I gotta warn you; you get literally seconds of the monster. It doesn't detract from an atmospheric slasher film, though, so if it sounds like your bag, go for it!

At 29 August 2013 at 06:07 , Blogger Doug Roos said...

That's ok. Thanks for the warning. I figured the monster wasn't in it much (that's usually the case unfortunately although sometimes that can be a good thing when the creature design is terrible), but I'll probably still check it out. I watch every '80s film I can find.

At 30 August 2013 at 01:58 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

That's the attitude I like to see! Look forward to reading some pieces on your blog.

At 5 September 2013 at 07:45 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi JP.

My makeover of The Slayer is now complete.

I managed to get the German Laser Paradise Blood Edition dvd for this as it is marginally better than the VIPCO UK version, although it is the same VHS master. I think they re-encoded it for DVD better than VIPCO did, and it doesn't have that damaged section around the 38 minute mark that the VIPCO had either.

My makeover has been ripped at 720 x 576 to .mpg file.
Then I de-interlaced the video to remove poor scanning faults.
Then I adjusted the picture for brightness, contrast and colour. It now looks much darker to hide the over-exposed area seen on the right hand side of the frame.
Then I re-framed the picture slightly to make it fit a 16:9 monitor without a stretched look.
Then I used a spot removal tool in VirtualDub software to remove most of the film specks and dirt from the print.
Then I went through the finished file frame by frame to manually paint out any remaining problems.

The finished .mpg is 4.6 Gb, which is too big for uploading to You Tube.
I've put it onto DVD and it looks very nice on a HD tv and also my HD home cinema 2 metre screen. It is virtually free of any artifacts you often see on converted and filtered digital video files, so until this is officially remastered, I think my makeover version is the best people will see.

Anyone wants a DVD copy , let me know.

Chris Walker

At 5 September 2013 at 09:03 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks, Chris, great to hear it. I would be interested in a copy.

At 2 October 2013 at 06:08 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can e-mail me on christopherwalker8@sky.com if you want one.

At 29 November 2013 at 07:13 , Blogger Wes said...

Excellent stuff JP... I've seen this film maybe twice but it was a long time ago, courtesy of the VIPCO re-issue tape from 1992/93, which was shorn of 14 seconds by the BBFC - the pitchfork murder I guess. I have to say I found this a little slow moving and ponderous, but I would have been 15, 16 at the time and would have been far more concerned with illicit splatter than the slow burn atmosphere you describe in your review. So, I'd like to see this one again with more appreciative eyes. And I do like the whole seaside thing, The Fog is a favourite around here, and I've got good time for the likes of Dead & Buried and Tower of Evil... The Nightmare on Elm Street connection is interesting, even enough to see the film again for it, and when you mentioned the film's peculiar ending, I immediately thought of another Wes Craven film - Deadly Blessing which has an ending that no film maker has the right to ask his audience to accept - if you've seen the film, you'll know what I mean. As you mentioned in your introduction, the selection criteria for the Nasties culling was crazy and I think The Slayer and say, The Cannibal Man and Werewolf and the Yeti (which is a very fine Paul Naschy film, not that you would guess it), were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time... or perhaps not. In the case of The Slayer would we even be discussing J.S. Cardone's film in 2013 if the DPP hadn't immortalized it ?

At 2 December 2013 at 06:27 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

I think it's definitely worth a re-visit, as I think you will get much more out of the atmosphere than you would have in your teens. It has a similar vibe to the gloomy Dead and Buried in parts, but on a much lower scale.

Funnily enough, I have actually never seen Deadly Blessing, though I do have an original VHS rental tape here, so it will get a look at soon..ish. I might bump it up the list, as I just love the cover (the one with Michael Berrymans head on it, classic).

I wonder that too, regarding the nasties, though I think for films like this, it may have actually killed off its distribution, as no doubt the distributors lost a shotload on films like this. Probably why it has yet to get decent treat from anyone. I still feel sorry for The Funhouse, which never should have been anywhere near a prosecution case, and I feel that it has suffered harshly due to horror fans expecting a gorefest when it's so much more than that.

At 29 May 2014 at 11:45 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

Saw this one smooshed onto a VHS with Fred Olen Ray's Scalps a thousand years ago. I liked it about as much as did - it's not a world beating classic but it has...something. I also like that it was shot on Tybee Island near Savannah Georgia. Did you get Chris's DVD?

At 29 May 2014 at 12:27 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Yeah, I've seen those 'double bill' tapes online a few times, though I've never seen 'Scalps' so I don't know if it makes for a good line up. I think this film has a lot going for it, and would be spoken about a bit more if we could just get a decent version of it. I haven't had any further contact with Chris.


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