The Slayer Overcomes Low Budget With Surrealist Atmosphere

We’re digging deep into the 80s horror library for this edition of The Obscuratorium. In total, the United Kingdom added 72 movies – mostly from the horror genre – to their ‘Video Nasties‘ list. This was part of a moral panic that saw sweeping hysteria over the perceived corrupting effect of horror on youth. Just like the term implies, the fear was misguided. Some of the movies are familiar (and have since been remade), some are total unknowns, and most of the movies weren’t as violent as assumed. One of those movies, the micro-budgeted The Slayer, barely made a ripple in the horror market. While other small horror movies have found life in the Blu-ray and streaming markets, The Slayer hasn’t found a wide audience.

Synopsis

From early childhood onward, bizarre nightmares have haunted Karen. Now an adult, married to a doctor, Karen’s persisting nightmares – and the demonic force she fears is hunting her – fuel her abstract art. To get away for a weekend, Karen’s husband takes her, and his brother and sister-in-law on a vacation to an empty island in Georgia for fishing and wine. But when a vicious storm hits the island, Karen becomes increasingly certain that the evil entity in her dreams is very real and lurking on the same island.

The Slayer Takes the Road Less Travelled With Familiar Material

At face value, The Slayer looks like it’s probably a terrible, low-budget movie. Both the original and updated Arrow Video cover art promise something you’d find at the bottom of a dollar store bargain bn. Just a few minutes into the movie and writer and director J.S. Cardone quickly dispels the notion that he’s making a slasher retread. With its story focused on two adult couples, The Slayer isn’t a teen body count horror movie. Yes, there’s a handful of shock scenes of explicit violence. But the opening credits and nightmare scene instantly root themselves in surreal atmosphere. Throughout the movie there’s a nightmarish quality. That is, Carbone emphasizes an unsettling vibe over jump scares.

If The Slayer runs into a problem it’s that Cardone overestimates how much intrigue he’s built into his mystery.

Cardone uses the movie’s setting an ambiguous story-telling to complement his focus on mood. As a result, The Slayer keeps you engaged – wondering where the story may turn – in between the few genuine scares. If The Slayer runs into a problem it’s that Cardone overestimates how much intrigue he’s built into his mystery. His atmosphere carries the movie’s quieter moments but, even at just roughly 80 minutes, The Slayer drags. Arguably, too much time is spent setting on table-setting in the movie’s first act. Once the storm moves in the slower pace feels a little more earned.

The Slayer Stretches Its Small Budget To Good Effect

For a very low budget horror movie, The Slayer pulls off a few impressive feats. While no one performance here turns heads, what you get exceeds expectations for this sort of movie. No one will recognize the actors and they never showed up in anything noteworthy afterward. Still Sarah Kendall turns in a reliable enough to convince as a woman haunted by her own dreams. In general, this pretty much describes the rest of the performances. Everyone plays their characters convincingly enough to never distract from the atmosphere.

But there’s some impressive death scenes in the movie including a scene with a shaft door and one with a pitchfork.

In addition to passable performances, the movie’s effects are better than they have any right to be. No, nothing here is going to conjure up memories of Tom Savini’s work. Don’t expect a high body count, either. But there’s some impressive death scenes in the movie including a scene with a shaft door and one with a pitchfork. Cardone also wisely keeps his mystery monster off screen for nearly the entirety of the movie. In addition to The Slayer’s pacing, some horror fans may take issue with the ambiguous storytelling. Cardone and co-writer, William R. Ewing, eschew any efforts to explain or drop exposition. Given the movie’s surrealist atmosphere, it’s another smart choice that further elevates this little movie.

The Slayer a Better Movie Than It Has Any Right To Be

Surprise, surprise, The Slayer is quite a good little low-budget 80s horror movie. Here is the rare case where the synopsis doesn’t so much misrepresent, as underestimate, the movie. Intentional or not, Cardone crafts an atmospheric, surrealist horror movie. Like Phantasm or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Slayer relies more on how it’s done than what it’s about. And yes, it’s not really clear what you’re watching sometimes. But The Slayer’s big problem is pacing as it takes too long getting to the point. In spite of these problems, The Slayer far exceeds expectations.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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