Color, 1982, 89 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by J.S. Cardone
Starring Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/B HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Vipco (DVD) (UK R0 PAL)

Released The Slayerat the height The Slayerof the slasher boom with a dream killer angle later exploited with more success in A Nightmare on Elm Street, this evocative and sometimes very gory little number has been catching dedicated horror fans by surprise since the early days of VHS treasure hunting. Despite the fact that decent-looking (or even complete) copies were notoriously difficult to come by, it's the kind of film whose reputation has continued to build by word of mouth over the years, using slasher and horror conventions in an interesting way while delivering chilly atmosphere by the bucket load.

As long as she can remember, fragile and neurotic artist Kay (Kendall) has been tormented by nightmares about a hulking murderer in a flame-engulfed building, with its sharp talons closing around her throat just as she wakes up. To get away from it all, her husband, David (McRae), decides they should spend a little time at a rented house on an empty, windswept island along with her brother, Eric (Flynn) and his wife, Brooke (Kottenbrook). Upon arrival she's even more unsettled by the fact that she recognizes the house and the surrounding area from her dreams, which in turn inspired her paintings. Even worse, something is coming out of her dreams at night and killing everyone off one by one... The Slayer

The The Slayerkind of film best experienced late at night when you'll be more likely to succumb to its dreamy, slow-burn pace and sudden bloody shocks, The Slayer is a prime example of regional '80s horror at its most potent (Georgia, in this case). The quality of the acting and plotting is really secondary here as the film is all about its forlorn setting and constant sense of mounting unease, with the titular beast limited to fleeting dark flashes until it finally shows its face for a brief but memorable moment in the final act. It's also a bit more inventive than you'd expect with the dream angle leading to a strange, haunting ending that isn't quite what you'd expect.

The video history of this film is an odd one as it was released uncut in the UK but ran afoul of the BBFC as a video nasty and was hacked down considerably (not gore-wise) by 15 minutes in the U.S. by Continental Video to fit on a double feature videocassette with Scalps. Snippets of the film also popped up in the beloved Terror on Tape compilation hosted by Cameron Mitchell, which also blew the ending of the film. A slightly cut version later turned up in the UK, with an uncut but very dreary-looking full frame version from an old tape master reissued on British DVD from Vipco.

In 2017, Arrow Video managed to finally treat this film with some respect courtesy of a new 4K scan of the original negative that even bowed with a screening at Georgia's Tybee Island, which would The Slayerbe the perfect way to see this. The resulting dual-format Blu-ray and DVD The Slayerpackage is a real treat for fans of the film, finally presenting it in pristine quality with healthy colors, correct day-for-night color timing, and, well, just massive improvement in every possible way over what we've had before. The LPCM English mono track (with optional SDH English subtitles) on the Blu-ray also sounds much sharper and clearer than before, doing particular justice to the effective (and sometimes very melodic) score by Robert Folk.

Two (or three, sort of) audio commentaries are included starting off with a very dense one moderated by Ewan Cant with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and executive in charge of production Eric Weston. Cardone cites Val Lewton as an influence off the bat and denies this is a slasher film (really?) before things settle into an informative breakdown of the film's foreshadowing, the production on Tybee Island, the echoes of H.P. Lovecraft and '70s horror films like The Witch Who Came from the Sea, the specificity of the violence in the script, and plenty more. At the other end of the spectrum is the second commentary by the always entertaining gang from the slasher podcast The Hysteria Continues, who argue that this is more or less a slasher film as they place it in context as both an underrated gem in one of the subgenre's greatest years and a key title in the '80s video nasty debacle. VHS hounds should get a particular kick out of their stories of this film's video history and bumping into it along with other beloved films from the era. A third track is devoted to composer Robert interviewed by Michael Felsher, covering his beginnings in music through his gig on this film (his second after Savage Harvest) and its launching pad to several Hollywood projects. The interview occupies the first 49 minutes, followed by highlights from the score itself (in gorgeous LPCM audio) running from that The Slayerpoint to the 67-minute mark (after which the film audio takes over). The Slayer

A batch of video features by Felsher's Red Shirt Pictures kicks off with "Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer" (52m24s), which brings together a huge amount of participants including Cardone, Kottenbrook, Weston, writer-producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, Weston, and camera operator/second unit director of photography/still photographer Arledge Armenaki, special creature and make-up effects creator Robert Short and Slayer performer Carl Kraines. It's a brisk, linear tour through the making of the film going from their paths to this with everything from Dalton Trumbo to Meteor leading to a film that sounded like a fairly smooth and harmonious shoot. "Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer" (13m18s) goes back to the original Georgia locations with Armenaki revisiting the original main house and strolling through some very familiar-looking rooms. There's also a look at the film's recent screening at the local Tybee Post Theater, too, covering the history of the theater's rescue from demolition. You also get an option to watch the film with a "Tybee Post Theater" experience including a 2m38s welcome, a recorded 1m4s intro by Cardone, the entire film with the audience reaction heard throughout (a la Pieces), and a post-screening Q&A (17m50s) with Armenaki and Ewan Cant. A still gallery (9m55s) features a huge amount of great production photos, followed by the (very loud) original trailer hilariously scored with Bernard Herrmann music from Vertigo! The first pressing of this impressive package also comes with an insert booklet featuring a new essay by Lee Gambin.


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Reviewed on August 15, 2017