The Slayer Blu-ray Review: Definitely Not Buffy

Obscure '80s horror has more in common with European films than your typical slasher flick, but never quite manages to terrify.
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Two overworked and over-stressed couples take off for a weekend retreat on a secluded island for a little rest, relaxation, and maybe a little fishing too.  There’s Kay (Sarah Kendall), a surrealist artist who has been having nightmares about a sadistic killer, and her husband David, a doctor who tries to be supportive but is growing increasingly tired of her hysterical paranoia.  Her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) was the one who thought a vacation might do Kay some good.  He brought along Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook), who can’t seem to do anything but complain.  

At first, nobody takes Kay’s delirium’s seriously, even when she notes that several of the buildings on the island have shown up in her paintings, though she’s never set foot there before.  But when the bodies start piling up, they begin to realize that maybe the monster in her dreams is real after all.

Filmed a good three years before A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slayer uses the "killer in our dreams" concept to good effect.  It's billed as a slasher film but it has more in common with suspense thrillers than your typical hack-and-slash '80s horror flicks.  When the first character disappears, the search via lushly photographed island jungles and craggy beaches evokes films like L’Avventura and Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Though unlike those films, we already know what happened.  And I’m pretty sure Michelangelo Antonioni never filmed a character get decapitated in an elevator shaft, but I could be mistaken.

Certainly, there is plenty of slasher, even giallo DNA in The Slayer.  There is a lone psycho killer, with plenty of shots from his point of view, and the deaths, while limited in number, are certainly creative and blood drenched.  It's just that this film takes its time getting to its brutal killings.  It wants to set a mood, to scare you with its setting and eeriness before it makes you jump out of your seat with a musical stinger and a pitchfork through the chest.

It's more-or-less effective in that.  It does a nice job of setting up the horror and it's effectively gloomy.  The script could using some punching up.  And the acting is, well let's just say that between the four leads only one of them has more than a dozen or so credits and Sarah Kendall’s only other role was as Stewardess #2 in The Karate Kid Part II.

The video comes from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.  It looks great for a low-budget horror movies from the '80s that hasn’t seen a home-video release in at least a decade.  I didn’t see any scratches or other signs of deterioration with the print.  It does get grainy at times, especially in the low-light scenes but it was never really distracting.  Sound quality is good, really rather well done for such a low-budget horror-film score.

Extras include two audio commentaries (the first from writer/director J.S. Cordon, Carol Kottenbrook, and producer Eric Weston; the second with The Hysteria Continues podcast crew).  Both are quite informative though a big austere for such a film as this.  There is also a nice little documentary about the film featuring most of the major players, plus a short feature where the director returns to Tybee Island and revisits the main shooting locations.  There's also an isolated score and interview with composer Robert Folk, and the normal collection of trailers and stills galleries.  The oddest of the extras is the Tybee Post Theater Experience where the film is shown in the real theater that is featured in the film and we are treated to an audience reaction track, plus an introduction and a Q&A afterwards.

The Slayer was previously only available on VHS in truncated or full-screen versions. Arrow Video has once again taken a sought-after, difficult-to-find horror film and pulled it out of obscurity and into our collective high-definition consciousness. 

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