THE SLAYER (1982) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: J.S. Cardone
Arrow Video USA

Long out of circulation and never screened in anything approaching acceptable form, the 1980s dream slasher classic THE SLAYER comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo in a rescue/restoration from Arrow Video USA.

Ever since painter Kay (Sarah Kendall) was a child, she has lived in fear of a monster in her dreams that she believes is responsible for misfortunes in her waking life. Lately, her art has taken on a surrealistic bent shaped by the increasing vividness of her nightmares. When her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn, SHADOWZONE) arranges for an island getaway from them and their respective spouses Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook, THUNDER ALLEY) and David (Alan McRae, THE STUDENT BODY), Kay experiences déjà vu with the forboding island's fortress ruins, derelict theater, and lone house as elements from her paintings. Eric is used to his sister's eccentricities while David and Brooke are concerned about her mental health. With a torrential storm coming in from the gulf, their charter pilot Marsh (Michael Holmes, DEADLY PREY) warns them not to stay on the island but they remain. That night, Kay dreams of David's grisly death and wakes up next to his severed head, which is of course missing when Eric and Brooke go to look. When the rest of his body turns up, Kay is certain that he was murdered by the monster of her dreams and that more people will die if she falls asleep. Eric, on the other hand, believes that the killer is very real and that they might not be alone on the island… or are they?

Anticipating A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STRET with its dream monster who the heroine only believes can come into existence while she dreams, THE SLAYER focuses more on character and moves at a more leisurely pace, setting up the atmosphere with the striking location, Kendall's neurotic expressions, and the brooding orchestral score of Robert Folk (POLICE ACADEMY). Coming in the middle of the slasher genre, the film delivers with the kill scenes and the grue – courtesy of Robert Short (ALLIGATOR, NIGHTFLYERS) – while the plot is interesting enough with the many questions it raises about Kay's mental state and the nature of her possible precognition. While it may not perhaps fully exploit its concept, the film remains a chilly little work that warrants repeat spins and dark, stormy nights. The film's art direction was the work of Randy Moore who had already cut his teeth with such genre credits as HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, JUST BEFORE DAWN, and ONE DARK NIGHT. Second unit photography was the work of Arledge Armanaki whose future genre credits as DP include DEATH SPA and THE HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH while the film's gaffer was Roberto Quezada who had also lit PHANTASM and would go on to photograph THE UNSEEN. Production manager Peter Manoogian would helm a handful of pictures for Empire Pictures and Full Moon. Future reality TV editor Edward Salier's genre credits include ALICE SWEET ALICE, THE SILENT SCREAM, and THE LAST HORROR FILM. Director J.S. Cardone has had a rather spotty directing and screenwriting record with its highlights including Full Moon's SHADOWZONE, the PG-13 vampire film THE FORESAKEN, and his last directorial effort to date WICKED LITTLE THINGS alongside more dire credits like the scripts for THE COVENANT (a bigger budgeted, slightly less homoerotic variation on David DeCoteau's BROTHERHOOD series), the PROM NIGHT remake, and the STEPFATHER remake along with directing the DTV sequel to 8MM.

Released theatrically by 21st Century Distribution Corporation in prints struck from an answer print without color correction, THE SLAYER was more widely seen stateside in an edition trimmed of a few minutes of exposition to fit on a double feature big box tape from Continental Video with fellow compromised 21st Century release SCALPS (reedited by the distributors before being trimmed for the cassette) while UK viewers got a Vipco videocassette trimmed of fourteen seconds from the pitchfork murder (which were later restored to their 2003 DVD derived from the tape master). The negative, long caught up in the production company's bankruptcy, has been utilized here for Arrow's 2K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that is a major revelation in just about every aspect: color correction, detail, widescreen framing. The make-up effects hold up well with the enhanced resolution (apart from the oar murder where the dummy head is apparent at regular speed and looks even funnier with the impact examined frame-by-frame), the island setting seems more cohesive in the continuity of its greenery and sand rather than a collection of gathered locations as it did on the older master, and the use of low-key lighting in the suspense sequences looks more proficient than before. The LPCM 1.0 mono track boasts clear dialogue but finally gives the National Philharmonic Orchestra score a greater presence than in earlier releases. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras start off with an audio commentary with writer/director Cardone, actress Kottenbrook (Cardone's wife), and executive in charge of production Eric Weston (EVILSPEAK) moderated by Arrow's Ewan Cant. Cardone and Weston concede that the rise of the slasher film was influential but emphasize the psychological nature of the story and the emphasis on suspense over shocks. Cardone relates how he had written the abandoned theatre into the script before they location scouted Tybee Island while Weston provides some background on the film's Atlanta-based producers. Kottenbrook discusses her fellow cast members and is just as in the dark about what happened to Kendall as everyone else, although she does not that the actress had worked on the stage before being cast in the film. A second audio commentary features The Hysteria Continues who had previously covered the film as one of their earliest podcasts. They discuss how they first came upon the film on VHS (Continental and Vipco), note the Sigourney Weaver-ishness of the heroine (whose hair, they note, seems to get "bigger" as she becomes more unhinged), and raise several possibilities about the meaning of the film's ending as well as pointing out several bits of foreshadowing (all of which are confirmed as deliberate touches by Cardone on the other track). A fourth track features isolated score selections and an audio interview with composer Folk, while a fifth audio option is an audience track recorded from the film's June screening at the restored Tybee Post Theater (more on that below).

The retrospective "Nightmare Island: The Making of THE SLAYER" (52:24) finds Cardone, Kottenbrook, and Weston covering a lot of the same material along with co-writer/producer William Ewing (DEATHMASTER) recalling how it was originally more of a psychological thriller meant to be shot in Los Angeles before the producers Weston worked for in Atlanta put up more money for the production on his recommendation. Director of photography Karen Grossman (MICROWAVE MASSACRE) recalls a pleasant shooting experience despite the producers sending a more experienced DP to lurk around the set waiting for her to fail so she could be replaced while Armenaki humorously relates how his second unit footage was accidentally loaded into the projector when the producers came to view the dailies. Effects artist Short – who was working for mask maker Don Post and worked on the original Michael Myers mask – discusses each of the effects sequences in detail (including the pitchfork murder with additional input from Kottenbrook) as well as his EC Comics-esque design of the titular "Slayer", the mask and suit, and the additional real bugs, worms, and Spanish moss glued to performer Carl Kraines (THE GATE) while Grossman and Armenaki discuss the challenges of lighting the creature. Cardone also discusses the production company's bankruptcy and the aforementioned use of an uncorrected answer print for 21st's theatrical prints and subsequent video releases.

"Return to Tybee: The Locations of THE SLAYER" (13:18) finds Armenaki revisiting Tybee Island with his DSLR and recreating shots while also taking the viewer through the town as it is today (still seemingly a sparsely-populated idyll), showing us the theatre as it is restored today as well as the exterior and interior of the house while relating anecdotes about the shooting and what else went on behind the scenes in the same rooms. "The Tybee Post Theater Experience" is an option to play the film with event introduction (2:38), introduction by J.S. Cardone (1:04), the film with a feature-length audience reaction track, and post screening Q&A with Armenaki and Ewan Cant (17:50). With an audience made up mostly of locals, it is not your typical slasher audience track. There are plenty of titters and some shouted jokes and comments but much of the laughter is that of an audience watching the film with fresh eyes and seeming to be both pleased and awed at the shock sequences as they build up and culminate while silence that accompanies the more drawn out sequences is punctuated by what sounds more like nervous laughter than reactions to whispered wisecracks. The Armenaki Q&A finds him discussing the atmosphere on set (with crew members behaving like big kids firing off fireworks inside the hotel until they were arrested) and shooting the effects sequences. The disc also includes a lengthy stills gallery (9:55) and the film's American theatrical trailer (1:56). Not included for review is the collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Lee Gambin included with the first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)