Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #721
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 1984
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: L. Scott Castillo Jr.
Producer: L. Scott Castillo Jr.
Screenplay: Thomas Cue
Story: L. Scott Castillo Jr.
Cinematography: Terry Kempf
Score: Martin Jaquish
Editing: Martin Jaquish
Studio: M.C. Productions
Distributor: Starmaker Video, Arrow Video (Blu-ray)
Stars: Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Thomas Cue, Elisa R. Malinovitz, Janeen Lowe, Ramona Andrada, Diane Taylor, Marti Neal, Susan Bennett, Ski Mark Ford, Fred Armond, Meg Greene, Mary Seamen
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Bros “When Will I Be Famous”
 Black Sabbath “Snowblind”
I like to consider myself well versed when it comes to the eighties. Precious little flew under my radar as I made it my business to stay on top of developments , particularly in the VHS rental trade. Like a sponge, I soaked up every movie I could lay my hands on and without prejudice or preconception. With the exception of a few video nasties that escaped my grasp after the 1984 Video Recordings Act was enforced, pretty much everything was accessible to a resourceful young cinephile such as I. However, there were a handful of lesser known titles that eluded me for one reason or another and I’m pleased as punch that they did. It’s not that I would have shunned these rarities had availability not been an issue; more that I glean tremendous pleasure from unearthing them over thirty years down the line.
Nostalgia is all well and good, healthy in fact, but it’s all ultimately about revisiting the time and place when primary introduction played out and genuine surprises are light on the ground. I’d give my left nut and ball tail for the opportunity to have my memory erased; just to feel oblivious once more and soak in the likes of John Carpenter’s The Thing and James Cameron’s Aliens minus the ability to set each revelation to my wristwatch. You see, thanks to the obscene amount of acid I dropped in the nineties, I fully appreciate that you can never quite replicate that first time. Movies are much the same and subsequent views are about celebration as opposed to inauguration. I find myself ruing the amount of time I had on my hands back then and secretly wishing I’d taken up a brass instrument to stall my relentless drive for filmic enlightenment. Regrettably that ship has long since sailed.
That’s why, when the good folk over at Arrow Video take it upon themselves to offer a cinematic myth such as L. Scott Castillo Jr.’s Satan’s Blade the Blu-Ray treatment, I regress back to a ten-year-old boy and make fart noises with my armpit sweat. This specialist label has become perhaps the most significant in the industry over the past few years due to lovingly restoring all manner of forgotten relics, many of which never even landed on UK shores.
To further entice us, they design retro-style reversible sleeves and shoehorn as many insightful extras onto each disc as they feasibly can. We’re talking audio commentaries, interviews and documentaries, not to mention trailer reels to other unearthed gems in their extensive back catalogue. I’m telling you, these guys haven’t the time to master the tuba and I’d gargle their tepid piss like antiseptic mouthwash for a lifetime subscription to their product.
Satan’s Blade is the latest in a long line of rough diamonds to drop in my mine cart and its four decade pilgrimage to our screens has entailed anything but smooth sailing. Most of the footage was shot as far back as 1980, yet the final product took years to emerge on home video (in a frightfully limited capacity I might add). During the interim, the slasher Trojan had gathered considerable pace and, with it, any hope of attaching its carriage to the wagon. Shot on a shoestring, Castillo Jr.’s effort stood little chance of standing out, regardless of how intriguing its cover art was; as word of mouth was all it had and a handful of whispers don’t translate to a scream. The irony is that, aside from Mats Helge Olsson’s Blood Tracks and Jeff Kwitny’s Iced, no other slasher movie took place in wintery terrain and this pre-dated both by some time. Indeed, slasher wasn’t even a recognized genre until a full year after this started filming. Now that’s what I call foresight.
The thing is, for all his forward thinking, Castillo Jr. could only work from the tools he had at his disposal. Granted, opting for a remote ski lodge as his location was a shrewd cost cutting move, but other limitations left him severely hampered and that needs to be taken into account when watching Satan’s Blade in retrospect. The acting is serviceable at best and dialogue cringeworthy at worst, placing far greater pressure on body count to pad out the 82 minute running time. He comes up trumps in that department and, while quantity overrides quality where the all-important gags are concerned, Castillo Jr. does find a certain degree of safety in numbers. He even manages to open with a bank heist, albeit more eighth-grade play standards than Bonnie & Clyde.
To be fair, the opening sequence does have some bearing on the plot, as the tidy $50k bundle that trigger-happy terrors Ruth (Meg Greene) and Trish (Mary Seamen) procure at gunpoint winds up stashed in a vent at the very cabin that we are headed to, while they’re busy being slaughtered by an unseen assailant.
Skip forward to the very next day as young couples ♥ Tony + Lisa ♥ (Tom Bongiorno & Elisa R. Malinovitz) and ♥ Al + Lil ♥ (Thomas Cue & Janeen Lowe) book in at the resort’s reception, alongside a five-strong litter of enthusiastic snow bunnies – Marlene (Marti Neal), Sue (Ramona Andrada), Stephanie (Stephanie Leigh Steel), Mary (Susan Bennet), and Rita (Diane Taylor). While Tony and Al are all secret high fives and knowing winks, Lisa and Lil are somewhat less enamored by the prospect of bunking right next door to this quintuple fidelity threat. However, it’s the uninvited tenth guest they really need to be worrying about.
This is where a sainthood in patience comes in handy. You see, while Castillo Jr. would no doubt swear blind that the meandering second act was entirely intentional and for the purpose of building up the characters, they’re a pretty lifeless bunch of nondescripts with little to get up to outside of a spot of winter fishing, some prohibited flirting that leads nowhere and one drunken conversation between Tony and Al that is funny for all the wrong reasons.
However, should you weather the quiet storm through a mostly uneventful first hour, then it does eventually pick up the pace and, while the mystery element is fairly inconsequential, the very last scene ties things together commendably. There’s also a marvellously moody dream sequence which is arguably the film’s crowning moment; although it bears precious little relevance to the overall plot and is over in a matter of seconds.
When all is said and done, Satan’s Blade is strictly for completionists only and will severely test the tolerance of those unable to overlook its numerous failings. With a little more cash at his disposal, I’m sure that Castillo Jr. could have ironed out many of the problems that plague it, as he does well with the limited tools at his disposal and there are far worse slasher flicks out there that had greater resources to draw from.
It may not excel in any one area but neither does it do a great deal wrong aside from the usual understandable rookie errors. It’s an unusual choice by Arrow Video to restore a film that left virtually no footprint whatsoever but I’m glad they took the time as this kind of D.I.Y. endeavor deserves to find its audience, however minuscule that may be. As a self-confessed junkie for all things eighties, I’ll take whatever I can get my hands on.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: It’s decidedly slim pickings here I’m afraid and a few splashes of blood is all she wrote when it comes to grue. That said, while the kills may be somewhat less than inventive, one thing Satan’s Blade can’t be criticized for its double-figure body count, albeit largely bereft of suspense.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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