1980, 96 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by C.D.H. Reynolds
Starring William T. Hicks, Brownlee Davis, Jerry Rushing, Harris Bloodworth
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Though released in 1981, this North Carolina-shot indie semi-slasher film has its feet still firmly planted in the '70s. Sort of a mixture of off-kilter Christan scare film and oddball regional chiller in the vein of Charles B. Pierce (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Legend of Boggy Creek), this was one of several genre films turned out at Earl Owensby Studios, a drive-in factory of sorts for local talent. Though none of the Owensby-connected films really turned into a major crossover hit, the folks behind them turned out a string of genre titles that managed to get decent regional play and wide home video releases on VHS. The latter fate was all that was in store for A Day of Judgment, which was completed in 1980 but barely shown anywhere the following year (for reasons obvious to anyone who's seen the film) before it ended up populating mom and pop video stores for at least a decade courtesy of Thorn EMI.
After delivering a vocal, vengeance-courting prayer apology to God in his church, Reverend Cage (played by director Reynolds) succumbs to the disillusion of having only three remaining parishioners and the havoc wrought by World War I. As he leaves town to make way for the new incoming pastor, a dark figure passes him on the way in to deal with a population consisting of selfish simpletons who are prone to lechery, deceit, murder, or just general dickishness, all shown in melodramatic detail for an hour until the reaper comes calling to make them pay for their sins.
Anyone familiar with the Owensby cycle will spot a lot of familiar faces here, with Helene Tryon (Rottweiler) chomping the scenery like crazy as the spiteful, goat-killing local terror Mrs. Fitch. It's an odd coincidence this one hit Blu-ray just on the heels of another Owensby-shot horror film, Death Screams, which was shot just after this one complete with much of the same personnel behind and in front of the camera including character actor William T. Hicks as the bank owner whose icy grip terrorizes the entire town. The morality play dressing is going to be a make or break proposition for a lot of viewers, essentially playing like a slightly more macabre spin on Our Town by way of God's Little Acre. Apart from a handful of shots of the reaper lit like a Bava film, the real horror content doesn't kick in until the very end when that scythe goes to work Jigoku-style on the primary cast. It's a fun sequence though obviously designed to scare the bejeezus out of unrepentant sinners out there, leading into a twist ending that seems hoary at first before it swerves into a darkly funny little punchline.
Given its relative obscurity for decades, this wouldn't seem like a prime candidate for the special edition treatment. However, Severin Films has gone far above and beyond here with its 2021 Blu-ray and DVD editions starting with the transfer featuring a new 2K scan from the interpositive. It looks quite good throughout, retaining the natural grainy texture while featuring far richer colors and more detail than you could have gleaned from the old VHS editions. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also far more crisp and clean than before, at least as far as the limited original mix will allow. In "The Atheist's Sins" (17m47s), Stephen Thrower puts his considerable Nightmare USA expertise into play as he provides a great detail of info about the director Charles/C.D.H. Reynolds (who cut his teeth on films like Axe and went on to work on Carnival Magic before returning to teaching), including his atheism versus Owensby's devout Christianity. Then "Tales of Judgment" (3m57s) features filmmaker Worth Keeter and writer Thom McIntyre briefly chatting about the origin of the script, Keeter's personal dislike for the story, and the creation of "more exciting demises" after the fact to ride the slasher wave of the time.
Reviewed on September 27, 2021