One of my favourite things about the horror genre is how it seems to be a never-ending pit of despair and mystery. Now, that doesn’t sound very positive, but the truth is the genre throws out so many movies a year that you’ll never see all of them. Over the years countless horrors will fall by the wayside, becoming underground cult classics only known to a few. But with DVD and now Blu-ray, distributors have been able to re-release not only mainstream horror but niche offerings from many years ago; granting them new transfers, bonus material, and delivering them to a whole new audience in high-definition. Arrow Video’s new release of 1982’s The Slayer fits the bill perfectly.
I’d never heard of The Slayer until recently, speaking as someone who’s seen more horror films than I can remember. Another movie that was part of the infamous ‘Video Nasties’ movement of the early-’80s, director J. S. Cardone’s island-based nightmare has had fans talking over the years about its similarities to a much bigger release a few years later: Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s not hard to see why, with The Slayer also revolving around nightmares and confusions with reality, but where Craven made a venerable hit franchise out of his effort… this wasn’t true for Cardone and company.
In a straight comparison, there’s no doubt Elm Street is more ambitious, scary, and successful than The Slayer, but Cardone’s film offers its own smart and intriguing approach that deserves to be seen on its own merits.
One could argue The Slayer tries to be too smart for its own good. Where Elm Street is fairly linear in its approach, despite its general craziness, The Slayer is far more ambiguous, and jumps around between different timelines and perspectives. But if you can keep up with it, then its that approach that makes the movie more unique than the era’s lazier slasher releases.
We follow Kay (Sarah Kendall), an artist suffering from horrifying dreams, ranging from spooky locations to the deaths of loved ones. Everything becomes too much for her, so her family decides what she needs is a holiday. Luckily for us Kay’s trip away isn’t just a case of lazing around on a sunbed for 90-minutes and then going home. One convenient hurricane later and Kay finds herself stranded on an island with her husband David (Alan McRae), her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn), and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook).
Tybee Island makes for a fantastic location for Kay’s struggles. Whether it’s the crashing waves of the ocean, or the dark and mysterious interiors, Cardone does a wonderful job of building tension and bringing nightmares to life. While there are numerous inventive death sequences involving fishing wire and a pitch fork, to name just two, The Slayer never feels like it’s following a conventional formula.
If you watch the extras, Cardone makes it clear there was no real intention to make a slasher movie, but more a psychological thriller, and you can certainly see they tried to focus more on Kay’s mental state and making audiences question what they’re seeing. This achieved through how she loses one person after the next, with the unsure presentation of how and why they died, and The Slayer himself is grotesque and terrifying in a strange ’80s schlocky way.
What makes The Slayer enjoyable is its combination of imagination and invention. The death sequences are a highlight, so I won’t spoil them too much, but they’re a cut above many horrors around at the time. This, along with a spirited effort to provide a half-decent story from a new angle, means The Slayer definitely deserves more attention than it’s received over the decades. You almost start to feel a little sorry for the cast and crew, considering how much of a phenomenon the Elm Street franchise became just a few years later.
Arrow Films have found another hidden gem to add to their offerings, and the brand new 4K restoration gives it the love it deserves along with some great insights within the special features.
Director-Approved Special Edition Contents:
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations.
- Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray).
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Audio Commentary with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and executive in charge of production Eric Weston, moderated by Ewan Cant.
- Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues.
- Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Robert Folk.
- Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer – documentary featuring interviews with J.S. Cardone, Carol Kottenbrook, Eric Weston, producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, camera operator/2nd Unit DOP/still photographer Arledge Armenaki, special creature and make-up effects creator Robert Short, and “Slayer” performer Carl Kraines. This feature runs over 50-minutes and is a start-to-finish documentary on the making of the movie, its position in horror history, and its legacy. Unlike many horror casts that revisit their work years later, everyone on The Slayer seems genuinely enthusiastic about the parts they played and seemed to enjoy their work a lot. There’s the occasional eye-rolling comment about how they came before similar more successful movies, but on the whole it’s a very positive look on something they seem proud of and excited about getting exposed to a wider 21st-century audience. The documentary is especially good for fans of special effects , as it goes into great detail on how they set up the more gruesome deaths. This documentary is the highlight of Arrow Video’s package and really enhances a viewer’s appreciation for the movie.
- Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer – featurette revisiting the shooting locations on Tybee Island, Georgia. A slightly shorter featurette at 15-minutes, this is specifically a look at the island and how they chose various locations to enhance the nightmares and Kay’s experience. Tybee makes for a great place to set The Slayer and it’s interesting to see their thought process and how they looked to use every part of the island possible.
- The Tybee Post Theater Experience – join the audience of the Tybee Post Theater (one of the film’s key locations) for this very special home-town screening of The Slayer! Includes event introduction, feature-length audience reaction track and post screening Q&A with Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant. If you want to see the movie again in a more unique fashion this is an interesting way to do it. Arrow took the first screening to the island and allowed locals to see it before anyone else. No doubt many had never even heard of it until this screening. Watching this gives you a cinema audience experience right at home followed by a decent enough Q&A after although if you’ve watched the main documentary there’s not much new here.
- Still Gallery.
- Original Theatrical Trailer.
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new liner notes by writer Lee Gambin.
Cast & Crew
director: J.S Cardone.
writers: J.S Cardone & William R. Ewing.
starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook & Alan McRae.