"The Legend Continues" as Slasher Video makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of a partnership with Olive Films with the 1980s direct-to-video slasher SATAN'S BLADE.
At the start of a three day weekend, a masked duo pull of a daring bank robbery and ruthlessly kill the two innocent tellers left behind at the end of the day. They abscond with the loot to a mountain cabin to wait until things cool down only to be murdered themselves. While the police – represented by Sheriff Ben (Fred Armond) and Deputy Ski (Ski Mark Ford) – believe the murders may have been committed by an unidentified partner, the locals believe the murders to have been committed by the spirit of a mountain man who kills anyone he believes is invading his territory. When two groups of weekenders arrive looking for accommodations, the quintet of ski bunnies – including sensitive Sue (Ramona Andrada) and nails-on-a-chalkboard Stephanie (Stephanie Leigh Steel) – are given the "murder cabin" while high school coach Al (Thomas Cue) and new lawyer Tony (Tom Bongiorno) and their respective wives Lil (Janeen Lowe) and Lisa (Elisa R. Malinovitz) are given the cabin next door. After a number of false scares, aborted couplings, and a prophetic nightmare from Sue – who recently lost her father and used to visit the area when she was a child – a knife-wielding psycho starts picking off the guests while the survivors barricade themselves against the supernatural menace.
Gracing the lower racks of video stores with a rather nondescript cover, SATAN'S BLADE plays better now than it did in the 1980s and 1990s when horror fans were running through every slasher in search of rare surprises. Shot in 1980 but not released until 1984, it missed the boat on cashing in on the more conventional slasher formula, and its supernatural twist was not as fresh as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (or even THE SLAYER or GHOSTKEEPER at this point). It's quaint in its ambition and enthusiasm, and the poor acting and mostly static camerawork – with the exception of a few striking compositions and some seemingly accidentally atmospheric shots – are as refreshingly earnest as the direction. The gore effects are dabs of blood but some of the kills have an air of not so much brutality but cruelty (and a nightmare sequence does enliven things with a touch of delirium and some prosthetic make-up). The final girl is a surprise, as is the reveal of the killer. The downbeat ending is understated even if it does beg a sequel like the slashers that favor last moment shock endings. Like some other direct-to-video and SOV horror films, SATAN'S BLADE is worth experiencing but its replay value is extremely subjective.
Although SATAN'S BLADE was intended for theatrical release, it premiered domestically on VHS via Prism Entertainment in the murky transfer with which fans are most familiar. Slasher Video's Jesus Teran apparently "pestered" director Castillo for a number of years for the materials to release the film and a 35mm to 2K scan was created in 2014. Slasher announced the Blu-ray release last year but news dragged on until the announcement of a partnership with Olive Films. The BD25 MPEG-4 AVC transfer is framed at 1.33:1 with much headroom (zooming into 16:9 actually results in some interesting compositions) and some vignetting revealed around the edges of wide angle shots. The film element has its share of dirt and reel change marks but is generally pleasing presentation and retains the grit of its production circumstances. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is clean enough to reveal that some characters seem to change names depending on who is addressing them (the Asian girl is alternately referred to as "Lisa" – as she is credited or "Doris").
The "Director's Narrative"
(16:05) is an interview with Castillo in which he discusses the business-like
way in which he approached the film. He hired a law firm first, cast quickly
since he had written the characters to be typecast, and had a thirty-three day
production schedule that would seem leisurely to low-budget productions with
a tad more money. He reveals that the film was finished in 1980 and he approached
the big studios for the possibility of release. The film sold overseas before
it did domestically and he had found when the payments stopped that the distributor's
owners and their secretaries had skipped the country (he would end up on the
board of the company when it rebuilt and would stay in distribution for a number
of years before moving on to real estates). He reveals that actor Cue wrote
a lot of the film's filler dialogue and asked if he could take sole credit for
the screenplay because he had an opportunity to sign with the William Morris
Agency. He also explains how the artwork he commissioned for SATAN'S BLADE was
double sold and was used for the film in Canada and the UK, and by Mogul Communications
in the US for the Spanish sex/horror film SATAN'S BLOOD (Mogul would also muddy
the waters further by later retitling it DON'T PANIC and utilizing the artwork
for that Mexican horror film). "Remembering Satan's Blade" (32:47)
is a badly-shot and more ponderous interview that nevertheless does expand upon
points in the previous featurette (like shooting some more kills and topless
scenes in between 1980 and the video release at the behest of Warner Bros.)
while the director unveils the film reels used for the scan, two of the VHS
releases, and a Yugoslavian poster for the film.
Two cues from the score are represented with short still montages (1:05 and 1:15, respectively). Of slight interest are excerpts from the Japanese and Dutch video releases (14:09 and 2:07, respectively) that offer no alternate footage but give an idea of the video quality of these editions. A photo gallery (10:42) and the "SATAN'S BLADE Scrapbook" (2:37) are composed of behind the scenes stills and artwork, but there is no "SATAN'S BLADE 2 Fan Trailer" as mentioned on the back cover. The video trailer (1:00) is the memorable Prism ad that makes the film seem creepier than it really is. (Eric Cotenas)
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