Review: The Slayer (1982)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #792

Also known as Nightmare Island
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 1, 1982
Sub-Genre: Suspense/Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director: J.S. Cardone
Producers: William R. Ewing, Eric Weston, Anne Kimmel
Screenplay: J. S. Cardone, William R. Ewing
Special Effects: Robert Short, Robert Babb
Cinematography: Karen Grossman
Score: Robert Folk
Editing: M. Edward Salier
Studio: The International Picture Show Company
Distributors: 21st Century Film Corporation, International Picture Show, Continental Video Inc., Marquis Video, Planet Video Inc., Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes, Paul Gandolfo, Newell Alexander, Ivy Jones, Richard Van Brakel, Jennifer Gaffin, Carl Kraines

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Deep Purple “Nasty Piece of Work”

[2] Robert Folk “The Slayer”

Few things boggle my mind as much as the DPP’s video nasty list from 1983. Thanks to heavy criticism from the mainstream press and numerous outraged religious organizations, the British Board of Film Classification decided it was time to tighten the regulations some and 72 films were promptly seized from video store shelves and labeled morally repugnant. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as they sifted through hundreds of potentially obscene movies and worked out which of them weren’t fit for public consumption.

Actually, I’m not even convinced they were that thorough, as attested by Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse being named and shamed as a result of clerical error. It just so happened that Roger Watkins’ sleazy exploitation flick The Last House on Dead End Street shared the same alternative title but managed to escape vilification as Hooper’s harmless chiller took the flak on its behalf. Truly, madly and deeply preposterous.

Of the 72 movies banished, 39 were successfully prosecuted, while the other 33 escaped the DPP’s fiery wrath but were still consigned to perpetual limbo. Astonishingly, these included such undisputed classics as Dario Argento’s Inferno and Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (which had actually been nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes two years prior), not to mention Sam Raimi’s much-loved D.I.Y. masterpiece, The Evil Dead.

Another stellar example of their arbitrary selection process entails one botched raid which resulted in a Dolly Parton musical being confiscated, as they mistakenly judged The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as pornographic. I’ve witnessed plenty of knee jerk reactions in my time, but none so utterly unwarranted as these bigots’ sorry attempts at protecting us all from such “undesirables”. I’ve got half a mind to dig up the bones of trout-faced prude Mary Whitehouse and show her A Serbian Film just to provide the old girl some long overdue perspective.

Should you have rooted through the sin bin then, chances are, you may have happened across J.S. Cardone’s The Slayer as, while unsuccessfully prosecuted, it still managed to earn itself a fair wedge of infamy during the fracas. It should come as no great surprise to learn that it was in no way deserving of being singled out for “special attention”, despite a couple of reasonably brutal kills that no doubt got some tongues wagging.

Thirty years later, Arrow Video have come dashing gallantly to its rescue, dusted it down, restored the living shit out of it, and it finally appears that a second lease of life could be on the cards. I guess it’s right what they say about there being no such thing as bad press. Had Cardone’s film not raised so many eyebrows, then it would’ve continued to slum it with fellow castaways such as John Hough’s The Incubus and James L. Conway’s The Boogens. Instead, I find myself checking in for a weekend stay at Nightmare Island.

The good news is that I won’t be alone as abstract artist Kay (Sarah Kendall), her husband David (Alan McRae), brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) have just arrived at this small secluded isle off the coast of Georgia, and three of them are positively raring to go. The bad news is that Kay appears to be having some fairly grave doubts over whether or not this rugged paradise is quite what the brochure depicted.

You see, Kay has been plagued by vivid nightmares ever since childhood and her current coordinates somehow feel vaguely familiar. Recently these phantasms have become more frequent and intense and her loved ones have attributed this to the stress of her work, hence planning this vacation as a way of nursing her back to full mental health. While their intentions are unquestionably sincere, Kay’s less than enamored by the prospect of facing up to her innermost fears.

It’s bad enough that fierce tropical storms have been forecast and this leaves the two couples isolated for the foreseeable. But what’s really rattling their cages are the premonitions that Kay appears to be having about the ghastly deaths of her travel companions. Naturally, David is instantly dismissive, while Eric has had a lifetime of watching his sibling rob all the attention and offers about as much comfort as a pillowcase stuffed with horseshoes.

However, something is definitely amiss at this holiday hot spot and they may wish to start heeding her warnings. It’s one thing purchasing travel insurance but you still have to be survive long enough to collect those payouts and there’s an unknown assailant lurking in the shadows unbeknownst to all of them other than Kay, dead set on making sure it doesn’t come to that.

The Slayer strives hard to build and maintain an oppressive mood and Cardone does a pretty good job of cranking up the tension through a largely uneventful first hour. He finds the time to establish some reasonably flimsy character dynamics but his greatest asset here is the fact that the entire cast play it completely straight. Sure, there is some unintentional hilarity to be gleaned, but this is more as a result of hammy dialogue and some horribly misguided eighties hairstyles than any tonal inconsistencies. Another huge upshot is that he keeps his vile beast under wraps for the duration, with only the liberal use of POV and angst-ridden reactions of its victims to hint at the vile monstrosity in the ascension.

As a result, The Slayer burns slowly and deliberately. Robert Folk’s suitably somber orchestral score suffuses the impending sense of doom and gloom that permeates every frame of Cardone’s film as it strides purposely towards its make or break climax. Thankfully, while the eventual reveal highlights the meager budget he has at his disposal, the grand unveil is brief and nightmarish enough not to make a mockery of his decision.

Captured mostly in silhouette, we are provided just sufficient face time to grab ourselves one quick snapshot memento for our holiday albums. In the interest of fairness, I shall leave it up to you to determine its authenticity as nightmare maker. You tell me, would you want this miasmic mutant fuck waking you up after a hard night huffing lighter fluid?

Two years after The Slayer sank without trace (with the BBFC’s size fourteen boot pressing down on its head, I hasten to add), Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street entered the dream arena and duly nabbed the adulation of horror aficionados the world over. While not about to suggest that Cardone’s mid-range marauder would make the perfect companion piece to its glossy counterpart, there are certainly thematic parallels to be drawn between the two. Indeed, I would have been interested to learn whether Craven gave this a rainy day view prior to its conception. Ultimately, a rainy day supplies the ideal conditions for donating this your precious time. Morally reprehensible it most certainly isn’t, but it does have a decidedly nasty streak running through it. Besides, shoulder to shoulder with The Funhouse on the BBFC’s naughty list, it’s practically snuff. I can hear Whitehouse’s bones rattling in her sarcophagus as we speak.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Those searching for quantity will find The Slayer a frustratingly dry run as, aside from a dash of token crab fodder, our four-strong cast don’t provide a tremendous deal in the way of menu options. That said, I’d take quality over its virtual namesake any day of the holiday season, and two splendidly spiteful kills in particular are positively gushing it. First up we have a protracted trap door decapitation that will chill the blood of anyone afflicted with sleepwalking. The crème de la crème however is an expertly staged pitchfork impalement, detailing the spikes as they burst through before being snatched back and this fiendish four-pronged flourish still holds up remarkably well to this very day.

Read The Mutilator Appraisal
Read Anthropophagus: The Beast Appraisal
Read A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Appraisal
Read Bad Dreams Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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