The Savage Stack - THE SLAYER (1982)

Arrow adds another slasher curio to their ever expanding library of rare cult titles.

There’s always going to be – for lack of a better term – a stack of films we’ve been meaning to get to. Whether it’s a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays haphazardly amassed atop our television stands, or a seemingly endless digital queue on our respective streaming accounts, there’s simply more movies than time to watch them. This column is here to make that problem worse. Ostensibly an extension of Everybody’s Into Weirdness (may that series rest in peace), The Savage Stack is a compilation of the odd and magnificent motion pictures you probably should be watching instead of popping in The Avengers for the 2,000th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with filmic “comfort food” (God knows we all have titles we frequently return to when we crave that warm and fuzzy feeling), but if you love movies, you should never stop searching for the next title that’s going to make your “To Watch” list that much more insurmountable. Some will be favorites, others oddities, with esoteric eccentricities thrown in for good measure. All in all, a mountain of movies to conquer.

The thirty-sixth entry into this unbroken backlog is the art slasher curio, The Slayer

Arrow Films has become the absolute crown jewel of the cult video market, bringing their Criterion-level treatments of truly rare films to Blu-Ray players across the globe. Since they've expanded into America, Arrow's focus on restoring legitimately rare gems for degenerates' viewing pleasure has been nothing short of astounding. Whether it's Nikkatsu and Toei crime oddities or rubbery Frank Henenlotter creature features, every single one of their releases is impressively thorough, complete with essays providing academic commentary regarding pictures previously deemed unworthy of such consideration. For folks who grew up scouring the local video store for every scummy gem they could find, it's a dream come true in a market that's become oversaturated by companies who start strong, but now half-ass catalogue titles the devoted have already purchased three times over.

This commitment to oddity is most certainly felt in Arrow's slasher releases, which ostensibly appear like the label mined mom and pop close outs for musty $0.99 VHS tapes sporting axe-wielding maniacs and busty coeds on their lurid, faded covers. Titles like The Mutilator ('85) and Madhouse ('81) are sleazy, psychotronic transmissions, highlighting murderous madness, all brought to you on film stock ends lit for maximum gauziness. A few of these are legitimate bangers - such as Blood Rage (a/k/a Nightmare at Shadow Woods) ('87), a Thanksgiving freak out that will make you believe blood and cranberry sauce can get confused once both begin to flow. That triple disc set was a gift from the grindhouse gods, sure to liven up your next viewing party from the first moment we see our crazy guide swing his oversized blade.

The Slayer ('82) sits somewhere between morbid curiosities like Madhouse and bona fide facemelters like Blood Rage. The first feature from horror lifer Joe “J.S.” Cardone (The Forsaken [‘01]), there's a distinctly Euro feel to this clearly American production, as a tortured psychic (Sarah Kendall) is haunted by visions of a marauding beast and collapsing structures in which everyone she loves are brutally torn to pieces by its sweaty talons. The narrative (penned by Cardone and William Ewing) is fractured and rearranged, not so much nonlinear as it unfolds like a half-recalled nightmare, in which reality and the medium's reveries become indistinguishable. The Slayer occupies that same grey area between art and trash commonly taken up by the work of Italian schlock maestros like Lucio Fulci; not quite highbrow, and primarily guided by a gutter sensibility.

There's a languid drift to the way The Slayer unfolds, as the psychic travels with her beau (Alan McRae), her skeptic brother (Frederick Flynn), and his wife (Carol Kottenbrook) to a secluded fishing isle. Of course, they're greeted by a doomsayer (who coincidentally is also their private pilot) before shacking up in a seaside cabin and cracking open the liquor cabinet. Some slasher buffs may be a little put off by the pacing, as we settle in with the foursome, watching the sunset and smelling the aquatic breeze before the carnage ensues. Yet the lackadaisical narrative adds a unique element to what could've been another rote stalk and stab exercise in monotony. We know that things are amiss, after an unnamed fisherman gets his head caved with a boat oar, but the waiting game is photographed with such loving care (by future Tales From the Dakrnside DoP Karen Grossman) that it's difficult to not become enamored with this lovely vacation/brutality spot.

Like many of the best slashers, The Slayer comes preloaded with a dose of unwarranted controversy. Placed on the nefarious "video nasty" list upon being released on tape in the U.K., Cardone's picture really only lost fourteen seconds to censors' scissors (during an admittedly savage pitchfork impaling). That's not to say The Slayer doesn't contain a fair share of nightmarish death imagery, as another one of the vacationers has his head severed by a trap door, and another meets a rather painful end via some fishing line. Nevertheless, the fact remains that many of the seventy-two films condemned by Mary Whitehouse's dishonorable early 80s moral crusade were actually rather tame in their bloodletting. It's just another example of Puritanism run amuck, as those holier than thou goons sought to keep artful pieces of entertainment away from the eyes of fans just looking to get their kicks in the privacy of their own homes.

If you're not already a slasher aficionado, The Slayer may not do much for you at all. It's the epitome of the term "curio", in that it's eccentricities are the main draw after you've ingested every staple the subgenre has to offer. Nevertheless, this is what's setting Arrow apart from every other boutique: they’re looking to preserve the lurid outliers of genre cinema history. They know that the curios are just important as the classics, and that movies like The Slayer deserve to be restored and revered right alongside the grandaddies, which have already received six different "Special Edition" releases.

The Slayer is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD combo, courtesy of Arrow Video.

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