Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Slayer

1982
Dir. JS Cardone

Hugely influenced by Italian horror cinema, particularly in its doomful mood and nightmarish illogicality, obscure slasher The Slayer seems to draw from the same well of horror as the work of Fulci and Argento; where any semblance of logic and coherence is overshadowed by atmosphere and mood. Struggling artist Kay, her husband, her brother and his wife all head off on vacation to a rugged, deserted island retreat. Once there, the already strung-out Kay can’t help feeling she’s been there before. Her mounting sense of dread and paranoia peak when her companions are stalked and slain, one by one of course, by a mysterious assailant who seems to have haunted Kay’s dreams from childhood. Director Cardone builds tension and menace from the outset with the slow-burning story unfurling gloomily to establish vague character dynamics, and the miasma-gorged location serving to wring every drop of foreboding dread from proceedings. No humour is evident in the script, aside from some of the unintentional variety, mainly derived from bad Eighties fashion, some awkward dialogue, questionable performances and hair styles; however, nothing that detracts too much from the otherwise deathly serious tone. Indeed, one of The Slayer’s strengths is that it is played completely straight and takes itself very seriously.


Certain aspects of the script would be echoed in Wes Craven’s groundbreaking shocker A Nightmare on Elm Street, particularly with regard to Fay’s dreams and the scenes in which she is alone in the house, trying desperately to stay awake as she begins to realise that the ‘entity' (or whatever it actually is) that has been offing her friends, seems to manifest itself in her dreams. Is she responsible for the brutal murders? Is it a monster from the id? What is the creature? Why does it target Fay? Where does it come from?! The Slayer provides no easy answers, if any answers! Cardone wisely keeps the titular killer hidden and largely unseen for the duration, he relies instead on POV stalking camerawork, terrified glances from the characters as they are pursued by it, an ever-nightmarish atmosphere and shadowy glimpses of ‘something’ just lurking in the periphery of the frame. When we do finally see it – in a moment reminiscent of the scene in The Thing from Another World where that film’s monster is revealed in a doorway – it bears down on Kay; hideous, nightmarish, and pretty effective for such a low budget film.

While it does follow typical slasher conventions, The Slayer still manages to set itself apart from the pack with a few neat twists and memorable effects. The characters for example are much older than your usual slasher fodder. Sure, they may make the same mistakes (splitting up to search for missing friends) but they are slightly more developed – they're all artistic, media types and hint at lives away from the dire situation they’re in. That the cast is so small ensures the story is tighter and when things start to go wrong, the shifting dynamics between the characters creates a lot of tension, too. Kay just seems frightened and uneasy from the outsight – her sickly nervousness only increases once they reach the island, where her feelings of déjà vu immediately add a sense of intrigue and odiousness. The violence featured in The Slayer is also very nasty – it unsettles and sickens and usually comes after carefully structured stalking sequences where suspense is carefully mounted. By turns extreme and nightmarish, the death scenes, including a protracted decapitation and an especially nasty pitch-fork impaling, really pack a punch. The morbid mood is enhanced by the atmospheric orchestral score courtesy of Robert Folk, who really knows when to allow matters to fall into silence, thus further heightening tension.



Some of the locations where grisly events unfold are also immensely creepy and atmospheric. Kay stumbles upon an abandoned, crumbling theatre she seems to recognise from her dreams (and has even painted before arriving on the island) and the storm-lashed, leaky cellar where her husband meets his gruesome end, are but two memorable places where terrible things happen. Even the open spaces such as the beach, are filmed from such weird angles it renders them completely sinister – even during the daytime scenes. There’s just something that feels very ‘off’ about the place, and the sense of isolation is masterfully conveyed. Events play out on desolate, windswept beaches, choppy seas, gloomy woodlands and marshes and a creepy house (with tasteful wood panelling interior) lashed by thunderstorms, and all are meshed together to impregnate the film with an unshakable sense of hopelessness and an atmosphere bloated with blood-gorged dread.

I watched The Slayer without really knowing too much about it, and without having particularly high expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by it. If you crave an old-school vintage slasher with buckets of doomful atmosphere, moments of really nasty violence, immensely eerie locations and a genuinely intriguing premise (arguable ‘cop-out’ ending notwithstanding), then The Slayer is for most certainly for you…

4 comments:

Cody said...

You know, I've been meaning to watch this. Based on your review it is going right to the top of my list.

James said...

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Old-school slasher fun-times, and a wonderfully desolate atmosphere throughout. :)

Varnsen said...

I went looking for info on a DVD release and reviews of this old favourite and that's how I ended up here.
I remember The Slayer well. It may be quite forgotten now, but back in the day it was one of many low budget titles that sat prominently in the horror section of video shops, when they first became popular in the early 80's. It remained a video shop favourite into the nineties and only disappeared when tapes wore out or video shops began phasing out cassettes with the advent of DVD.

I haven't seen The Slayer for about twenty years, but I'll have to get the DVD version so I can watch it again, this time with my 11 year-old neice. She loves to watch "a creepie" when she comes to stay.

James Gracey said...

Hope you're able to get your hands on a DVD of this, Varnsen - and that your niece enjoys it! I haven't seen it since writing this review, but it's perfect viewing for dark, stormy nights. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! ;)