At a time when it seems like every cult movie has been unearthed and analyzed six ways from Sunday, it’s a comfort to learn that there are still obscure classics-in-waiting out there. A good example of a freshly unearthed buried treasure is a recent Arrow Films blu-ray reissue called The Slayer. The last time it was in circulation was during the big-box VHS era, usually in an edited-for-time version of just as a string of gruesome clips on the legendary Terror On Tape video compilation. A look at the full, unedited film reveals a fascinating oddity that defies easy categorization as it weaves its own off-kilter spell.
The Slayer starts with a weekend trip to a deserted island for reclusive, neurotic artist Kay (Sarah Kendall). Her hubby Eric (Frederick Flynn) masterminded this trip, which also includes her brother David (Alan McRae) and his wife Brooke (Carole Kottenbrook). Kay is resistant to the idea and her apprehension grows once they are there because she starts picking up the dark, clairvoyant vibes that inform her work as a painter. Eric mysteriously disappears during the first night, setting into motion of chain of events that suggest there is either a killer on the island, that Kay’s visions might be predicting the future or perhaps a queasy, reality-blurring combination of both.
Elements of the above synopsis might sound familiar but they don’t play out in a familiar way in The Slayer. This is because director/co-writer J.S. Cardone operates by his own rules. Instead of the teen or college student characters that were popular at the time, he populates the film with adult characters who have believable grown-up neuroses and relationship issues. The plotting seems straightforward at first, with a slasher-style mystery angle, but he toys with the viewers expectations as the film goes along and gradually shifts into more surreal, rule-breaking territory.
More importantly, Cardone’s approach to the genre mixes and matches styles: he favors a slow-burn buildup of dread for most of it yet when the time comes for a shock, he’s not afraid to get bloody in the presentation. This results in a film that is an odd mixture of old-fashioned atmosphere and modern-day shocks. This might explain why The Slayer has been slow to build a bigger cult following: it’s too gruesome for fans who like a subtle touch yet too deliberately paced for those who like a more visceral approach.
That said, The Slayer offers ample rewards for the horror buff who can appreciate its quirky blend of stylings. The mostly unknown cast give strong performances, anchored by an ever-more-spooky turn from Kendall as her reality falters. Karen Grossman’s elegant photography layers on a thick sense of atmosphere, making excellent use of the Tybee Island location, and a full-blooded orchestral score by Robert Folk adds an unexpected touch of elegance.
It all adds up to a film that is capable of weaving its own individualistically eerie spell for those viewers willing to take its unconventional path. The Slayer is perfect for late-night viewing, the kind of movie that will sink deeply into your synapses when your subconscious is willing to let those mental barriers down. If you favor that kind of chilly cerebral adventure, it’s worth a try.
Blu-Ray Notes: The recent Arrow blu-ray reissue is the way to go. It boasts a freshly-minted transfer taken from a 4K restoration and has scads of extras including a nearly hour-long retrospective piece. It’s never looked this good on video before and the lavish set of extras take you deeper into the film’s mysteries.