Saturday, May 4, 2019

Slayer, The (1982)

... aka: El asesino de la isla (The Killer of the Island)
... aka: El maleficio satánico (The Satanic Curse)
... aka: Nattens bøddel (Hangman of the Night)
... aka: Nightmare Island
... aka: Pelon orjat (Slaves of Fear)

Directed by:
J.S. Cardone

Mentally unstable surrealist painter Kay Church (Sarah Kendall) has a recurring nightmare where some "thing" keeps trying to kill her. The dreams are so frightening she's forced to see a psychiatrist who puts her on medication and recommends she go away somewhere for a relaxing vacation. Kay's doctor husband David (Alan McRae) has found the perfect place: a secluded, unpopulated island that he sells to his wife as "the next best thing to paradise." Also coming along on the trip are Kay's commercial director brother Eric (Frederick Flynn), who hopes to get some fishing in, and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), who's resentful that she and her husband never get to spend any alone time together and isn't looking forward to spending an entire week with Eric's troubled sister. They charter a small plane from pilot Mr. Marsh (Michael Holmes), who keeps warning them about various things on the island, which then drops them off there. No noise, no distractions, no pollution, no phone and, being off season, no tourists and no other people...

Immediately upon arriving, Kay has a strange feeling she's been there before. She not only recognizes the island itself, but also an old, abandoned theater and other things. In fact, she's painted each of them based on visions she's had in her nightmares. After a mile walk from the beach, the four finally find their fancy vacation home, which is stocked with food, drink and even has an elevator. Kay's depressive behavior, and recent slide into creating darker art (which has her on the outs with critics who once praised her), has everyone worried. David mysteriously vanishes late one night and the others get picked off one by one in various gruesome ways. Just who - or what - is responsible?

Despite receiving mild recent praise by some genre critics, The Slayer remains a very standard 80s horror / slasher flick in most regards, only with a smaller body count and slower pace than usual and more emphasis put on atmosphere, place and psychology than on stalking, body count and gratuitous POV shots. The isolated island setting (it was filmed on Tybee Island, Georgia) is very nice and there are lots of lovely shots of the beach and sky throughout. Night photography is also well done. It actually looks like it's night here yet you can still tell what's going on thanks to good use of simple light sources (lanterns, flashlights, flares) and frequent lightning flashes (much of the action takes place during a storm). But perhaps the biggest selling point are some sparse but above average gore fx from Robert Short (who went on to win an Oscar in 1988 for his work on Beetlejuice), which include a decapitation, a head bashed in with an oar and a great pitchfork murder. He also contributes a good "Slayer" creature to the film, though it's underutilized and only briefly seen at the very end.

The plot structure opens up several different possibilities as to what's really going on. First, Kay may just be crazy (she was blamed for putting a kitten in the freezer as a child and was then institutionalized until age 16) and either be envisioning / hallucinating / dreaming the events or actually doing the killings herself. Second, the events may be a premonition that Kay is having as she's supposedly been having the same dream about the same creature at the same place since early childhood. Finally, though not likely what was intended by the filmmakers due to the evidence on hand, the "Slayer" may be some kind of real nightmare creature that's somehow activated by Kay's dreams. While this dream-killer element does deserve credit for predating A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) it does little to punch up either the entertainment value or the interest level in this competently-made but routine effort.

Director / co-writer Cardone went on to make Shadowzone (1990), A Climate for Killing (1991), the vampire film The Forsaken (2001), The Scare Hole (2004) and 8MM 2 (2005), all of which featured Flynn in the cast and were produced by Kottenbrook (Cardone's wife). Eric Weston (who directed EVILSPEAK) was the executive in charge of production and Peter Manoogian (who went on to make many films for Charles Band's Empire Picture and Full Moon Productions) was first assistant director and unit production manager.

Produced on a 750,000 budget, which is actually quite high for an independent, regional genre film of this type from this era, The Slayer had a limited U.S. theatrical run in 1982 and then turned up on home video in 1985 courtesy of Continental Video, who shortened its running time so they could cram it on the same tape with Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS (1983). In 2017, Arrow Video out of the UK finally offered it uncut and in good condition as a Blu-ray / DVD combo. The film had been on the original list of banned video nasties in the UK even thought it's far less gory and trashy than most of the other films on the list.

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