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The Slayer (1982) Review

The Slayer, not to be confused with Slayers, was directed by J.S. Cardone (The Forsaken, Sniper 3), written by Cardone and Bill Ewing (End of the Spear, The Hoax), and stars Sarah Kendall (The Karate Kid Part II), Frederick Flynn (Black Day Blue Night, A Climate for Killing), Carol Kottenbrook (Thunder Alley, Cycle Vixens), Alan McRae (3 Ninjas, Shoot), Michael Holmes (Outside Ozona, Deadly Prey), and Carl Kraines (Gate 2: The Trespassers, Too Close for Comfort). It’s about two couples who are stranded on an island and are attacked by a supernatural creature drawn to one of the group.

The Plot: Genre films have an unusual ability in the storytelling medium to get away with threadbare plots; a direction frequently taken by 80s horror films, however, the scribes of The Slayer prided themselves on the plot detours taken. While there’s a mild tinge of progression here, nothing is praiseworthy.

Nightmares have taken over nascent artist Kay’s (Kendall) mind and staggered the quality of her works. Instead of going to an exhibition or pushing her dreams down, she goes on an island vacation with her husband David (McRae), her brother Eric (Flynn), and his wife Brooke (Kottenbrooke) to alleviate her stress, even though everyone up to and including their pilot, Marsh (Holmes) warns against the destination for fear of a wild storm. A kernel of an idea is presented when Kay reveals that this island is the one she’s been dreaming of since childhood, however, The Slayer doesn’t do anything with the setting.

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Shortly after making themselves at home, David is decapitated by a creature (played by Kraines). This is the same point at which Cardone and Ewing begin fighting tooth and nail against the resolution; another claim from Kay is that the island allows her dreams to seep into reality, but the film begins running in circles via flashbacks and dreams that repeat in the current reality every now and then, with little development in between. A few other theories are presented for The Slayer’s goings-on, but there’s no real narrative to speak of – nor even an ending, as the movie just cuts away with nothing to show for the time spent ruminating and hiding.

The Characters: Sometimes movies have issues with character introductions that cause an unstoppable feeling of being left in the dark. It’s equally common for others to have characters that feel too familiar because of clichés and tropes, but The Slayer is an oddity in how it possesses both major failings.

Kay’s character is derived from the tortured artist variety; she has a budding talent for abstract art, but her inspirations don’t come from a positive place, in fact, they come from one of the worst possible places to have to work from. It’s not a mind-blowing idea by any means, but Kay is a character that should’ve worked better than she does. Where the writers stumbled is with the audience’s understanding of her: we don’t see how she acted before these nightmares changed her personality or her art, so all we get to see is Kendall blankly staring into the void as proof that she’s haunted or changed.

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Both of the male characters lack personalities in the same way that Kay does, only they’re extremely dismissive towards Kay even though they’re both related to her in direct ways. Shrugging off her potentially career-ending and mind-shattering thoughts is a behaviour that doesn’t fit their upbeat natures, and scenes where they begin getting angry at any mention of her dreams, even though – again – we don’t know what she was like in the first place, just distance them from likeability.

Even less shading is present for Brooke, who just kind of has to be in The Slayer so as not to make the roster an awkward teaming of relationships. The performances are fine, but, like many other 80s horror movies, there’s no one worth remembering.

The Horror: Even though it ended up on the “Video Nasties” list, The Slayer isn’t as gory or trashy as many other releases on that list were. However, it’s largely bereft of cerebral terror as well, making its placement on that list, and categorization as a horror film, a weird one.

While Cardone’s film is indeed a slasher, it doesn’t do that much slashing. Quality is often times better than quantity though, and makeup designer Robert Short (Beetlejuice, Legion) served that adage well. The first kill is an exception to the rule, though, as the creature clonks a character that existed for all of 30 seconds prior to his death in the back of the head with an oar for no reason. Once David is decapitated though, there are a few more competently done kills and gory moments, some fake and some real, like Kay accidentally kissing a severed head and a death by fishing rod. These little moments aren’t groundbreaking, but they’re satisfactory jolts.

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Ambient terror should be being generated in the time between these moments, though, and that’s where the movie truly falls apart. Plenty of spooky shots and locations and non-stop inclement weather ramp up the initial tension, but the fact that the monster just isn’t in the movie for the overwhelming majority of the runtime (like 84 out of 89 minutes. However it’s more like 86 when excluding credits.) means that the numerous scenes of the characters wandering around in said locations grow repetitive before long.

Cerebral horror nestles itself nicely into The Slayer for a decent portion of its events, which is something most 80s chillers could never achieve. Playing around with the thoughts of Kay being behind the murders, or that her dreams are truly manifesting in reality is an engaging method of scaring, but the constant doubling back with no clues to speak of undoes the work of the first hour. Altogether, the movie just doesn’t scare for most of its run, it merely intrigues.

The Technics: Many newbies to the filmmaking industry completely butcher their end of whatever bargain they’ve signed onto, especially in the genre stables. While Cardone and company didn’t come out unscathed, their feature is a mite more polished than most.

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Visuals are The Slayer’s biggest asset, the most finely tuned and unique part of its construction. Tybee Island, Georgia, hasn’t played host to many features, but this is an exception. Karen Grossman’s camerawork easily captures the isolated beauty of the ecosystem while balancing the unease of the numerous vacant homes and buildings, making for a wholly different setting for a slasher. Budget restraints were presumably the reason why some scenes are underlit even when accounting for mood, and some stock footage may take one right out of the setting, but as a sight, there’s more to compliment than complain about.

Aurally, though, the film is a wreck. An ear-piercing score paired with horrible mixing is a quick way to get the average viewer to toggle the mute button, and Anthony Santa Croce’s (Monk, Eating Raoul) complete imbalance of the dialogue and Robert Folk’s (Elephant White, Police Academy) grating score (which would still be at odds with the movie even if properly mixed) is a fine example of that. The audio editing isn’t much better, as sounds don’t always match visuals, which makes the movie best viewed from an inaudible distance.

Some ideas and a finer visual presentation keep The Slayer from being another in the pile of generic slashers, however, it still belongs in a pile due to its thin writing and awful audio construction. Only for enthusiasts.

Arrow Video has released a restored version of The Slayer on Blu-ray. It’s also available on Digital Platforms. If that didn’t slay you, FilmTagger can offer some titles that might.

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