Title: The Slayer
Year of Release: 1982
Director: J.S. Cardone
Length: 86 minutes (uncut)
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae
Along with The Evil Dead, this understated and often-overlooked cult classic is one of the original video nasties, meaning it was one of the 72 included on the infamous ‘banned’ list comprised by the British Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1983 in the belief that they contravened the Obscene Publications Act. Written and directed by J.S. Cardone (best known for The Forsaken, Shadowzone and the 2008 version of Prom Night), The Slayer can be seen as more than a simple slasher film following in the footsteps of Halloween and Friday the 13th, as it contains legitimate supernatural elements and a depth sadly lacking in most films of this genre. It is practically impossible to examine the intricacies and sub-plots without dropping the odd spoiler, so be prepared for that over the next couple of paragraphs.
Artist Kay (Kendall) is one half of a professional, upwardly-mobile couple. But all is not well. She suffers from terrible nightmares, usually involving the gruesome deaths of friends or loved ones. Concerned that the dreams are affecting her work, her family arranges a holiday for her, her husband, and another couple, on a remote island off the coast of Georgia. They are taken there by plane. Before leaving, the pilot, a thoroughly unnerving character called Marsh, serves up a cryptic warning which sets them all on edge. It then transpires that the island is the very place Kay has been dreaming about and further alarm bells ring about half an hour in when one of their number is killed when he gets his head stuck in a trap door. That scene is probably what led to the ‘video nasty’ classification. It’s pretty fucking gruesome. Over the next few days, everyone is slaughtered except Kay. But this is where it gets interesting. With every killing, alternate possibilities are put forward for the discerning viewer to decipher. Is Marsh the creepy pilot the murderer? Has the island somehow allowed Kay’s nightmares to merge with reality? Is a supernatural entity from her dreams, a la Freddy Kreuger, the culprit? Or is Kay herself the one doing the killing? If so, does she even know she’d doing it? Or is she plain crazy?
I wish I knew the answer. But the truth is, I have no fucking clue. I loved the way all these possible scenarios, and probably a few more that I missed, overlap and are presented to the viewer leaving he or she to make up their own mind about what’s happening. It’s much better than being spoon-fed information and then left to digest it. The last few minutes, where you think everything will be revealed, are as close to genius as you would expect from a so-called video nasty. Kay barricades herself in the holiday home, Marsh appears and she kills him. But it isn’t revealed whether Marsh is there to save her or do her harm. The house catches fire, she opens the door to make her escape, and is then confronted by the monster from her dreams. Mind. Blown. Oh, but there’s more. Because then she wakes up. Yes. One of the crappiest plot devices in the history of plot devices, the old ‘it was all a dream’ chestnut, is wheeled out. Or is it? You see Kay is a little girl again, it’s Christmas morning and she’s in her parent’s house. What the absolute fuck. We are never told whether she’s having a flashback or if she really did dream the whole thing. This final refusal to offer any kind of resolution is the most frustrating aspect of all. Until that point, you were willing to withhold judgement and wait and see what transpires. We are the audience. Sure, fuck with us all you want, that’s what we are here for and some of us like it, but don’t insult our intelligence. Also, am I the only one who wanted to see more of the monster?
The Slayer (also known by the frankly much better title, Nightmare Island) wasn’t a big hit with reviewers, with most criticizing not only the non-committal approach to storytelling but also the film’s pacing. However, most praised it for the well-made kill scenes and generally good production. The director does a great job of instilling a sense of trepidation and isolation, which later turns into desperation and despair.
The scene which caused most concern with the censors is one where a female victim is stabbed through the back with a pitch fork, the prongs emerging from her chest. In most versions it was cut completely, but restored to the 2001 UK DVD release (weirdly, it has never been released on DVD in the US). It’s comparatively innocuous by today’s standards, and surely every 1980’s slasher flick needs a pitch fork, right?