Saturday, October 17, 2015

Satan's Blade

Satan’s Blade (1984)
Dir. L. Scott Castillo Jr.
Written by Thomas Cue, L. Scott Castillo Jr. (story)
Starring Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Thomas Cue, Elisa R. Malinovitz,

Boy, you don’t get Z-grade slasher cheapies quite as perfect as this one very often. Everything you could want is here. Awkward beats at the end of every scene, where people finish talking but the camera doesn’t shut off quick enough. Underlit motel rooms with the window shades drawn. Long, uncut sequences of people wandering directionlessly around for minutes on end while the same repetitive theme song plays. Native English speakers who are still somehow able to make a phrase as benign as “I brought a pizza” sound bizarre and alien. A thousand minor characters who all constantly prattle inanely about nothing while they wait around to be killed in surprisingly goreless ways. Half-developed plot threads which wander aimlessly, gradually change directions, and are eventually completely forgotten about. The only thing missing is John Saxon or somebody showing up in three unrelated scenes as the mayor or ineffectual detective who shows up at the end, so they can get a name on the poster. Otherwise, it’s a nearly pristine paragon of this particular corner of the cinematic universe.

Our story, as we might generously call it, begins with an unseen force throwing a cool-looking knife into the trunk of a tree, which must do something magic because the tint of the film immediately changes to a flashy orange-red. This is probably Satan’s blade, I bet.

We then move immediately to the supporting feature, in which a local bank is brutally robbed by two masked gunmen, who meticulously slice the buttons off the teller’s blouse (all in one dangerous-looking shot!) and then shoot her anyway. This is particularly galling, because at least at a glance, this bank does not seem like it’s going to offer a lot of financial rewards. I can’t help but notice that only two people seem to work there, which is probably all they need considering the bank’s name is crudely stenciled onto cardboard and hung inside a mostly-empty room with a couple of folding tables, two cash registers, and a shoebox-sized lockbox. There does not appear to be any vault or security to speak of, which makes it particularly odd when the two robbers make vague reference to an inside man, who co-ordinated this OCEAN’S 11-esque high-concept heist caper. I guess he gave them the brilliant idea that two people with guns could walk through the front door, shoot the only two people who work there, and open the cash drawers?

Is there even a lock on this box?

Anyway, the plan goes off without a hitch, but when our fearsome duo arrive back home to their ski lodge cabin (?) we’re in for the shock of a lifetime -- they’re women!!! 

Women bank robbers!? This movie’s got some bold new ideas. I’ll give you a second to let that sink in, to reacquaint yourself with this bold new world of heretofore unimagined possibilities.

Anyway, the two women do what you would typically do after a high-stakes robbery and murder spree, they change clothes in their living room and lounge around in their underwear, and one of them goes to take a bath. But despite their emotionally supportive banter, things are not going well in this relationship -- one of them betrays her buddy and kills her off! She thinks she’s going to get away with the whole loot (a whole 300 dollars, just for me!), but there’s something she doesn’t know. This isn’t called GIRL BANKROBBERS: THE MOVIE. This is fuckin’ SATAN’S BLADE, man. And so out of nowhere, just as she’s about to make her big escape, a mystery slasher shows up with… my God, it’s the knife from the title shot! In short order, our final character is dispatched and the killer makes a mysterious symbol on the wall in her blood, which will not turn out to be important.

At this point, every character we’ve been introduced to is now dead, so the movie starts over again. Last time it was some sort of lesbian Bonnie and Clyde movie, so this time it’s some sort of resort-weekend middle-aged adult romp, why not. PORKY’S meets THE BIG CHILL. We’re introduced to the dozens or hundreds of characters who are staying in… what’s this, the very same mountain lodge our previous victims were hunkering down in after a murderous crime spree! One couple is a little reluctant when it’s mentioned that two people were murdered in that very spot yesterday. But the people at the hotel desk explain that they shouldn’t worry, the police cleaned up all the blood and everything (which turns out to translate to: well, sure, you can still see the bloody smear on the wall, but it no longer looks like an occult symbol or anything). I guess they must have either replaced the carpets since yesterday or done a truly fucking amazing cleaning job, because those fuckers look pristine, considering they were the site of a bloody murder less than 24 hours ago, hardly long enough for the body to grow cold.

From there, nothing happens for a long time. A lot of time is spent awkwardly chatting in poorly lit motel rooms. We do learn a possible clue about our mystery killer: someone at the hotel tells a local legend about a mysterious mountain man who is said to have gone on a murder spree sometime in the vague past, which may or may not be related to another murder spree a number of years ago, our our just-begun murder spree which started the previous night. But our new characters are little concerned with such tales. Our apparent hero Tony (Tom Bongiorno, SATAN’S BLADE) is more interested in getting into hijinks with his mustachio’d friend (Thomas Cue, SATAN’S BLADE), wherein they put on a monster suit and spy on/menace the coven of beautiful young women next door in the middle of the night. The women find it charming to be awakened by the threat of murder in the dead of night in a strange place by two drunk middle-age perverts, but for whatever reason Tony’s wife turns really bitchy about it, go figure, right? Must be on her period or something. Anyway, Tony finds his wife’s disapproval to be unwarranted and unappealing, and briefly considers cheating on her with one of the neighbors who for reasons unexplained is aggressively throwing herself at him. But then he doesn’t, and he and wifey reconcile and have polite, under-the-covers sex. Meanwhile, mustachio’d friend and his wife go out to dinner, and the girls next door probably have some conversations about their lives or something, I honestly don’t remember. Then the seductress from next door mopily walks around the woods, like, for a really unacceptably long time, while the worst music in the world plays.

Finally, nearly an hour after anything has happened, the movie re-remembers it’s called SATAN’S BLADE and a killer comes in and massacres everyone in about 15 minutes flat. There’s the standard reveal of who the killer really was, and we’re out.

This movie has almost nothing going for it, and yet it somehow doesn’t matter; its innocent, enthusiastic certainty that it’s a real movie despite all evidence to the contrary is somehow winning. There’s almost no story --between minutes 5 and 53, there are no murders whatsoever and the movie divides its time between a plot about our married hero politely turning down the sexual advances of an amorous ski enthusiast, and jokes about how his mustachio’d friend really loves to eat (?)-- and the murders, when they finally get around to them, are as tame and unimaginative as anything this genre has ever provided. In fact, by far the best horror part is a sequence where one of the dozens of identical young women next door dreams that a guy in a weird old man mask (or is that supposed to be his face?) murders all her friends. All her friends do eventually end up getting murdered, but not by anyone nearly as cool. 

Still, somehow I just can’t stay mad at something this unabashedly dorky. Part of that may come from the somewhat exotic treat of seeing a movie this low-rent in English, where you can really savor the cornucopia of alien acting on display. Part is the actual slashings, which once they come are short on imagination and gore, but long on actors dramatically writhing around in pain for minutes on end, which does end up being sort of disturbing. The rest… I don’t know, it’s just the confluence of everything that is delightfully terrible about this sort of movie, delivered with the enthusiasm of a teenaged labrador retriever. Watch how committed the killer is to his intense expository monologue in the moronic twist. You gotta respect that.

Besides, what more can you expect from a movie whose top IMDB comment is titled, “I was one of the scriptwriters and glad I didn't get any credit!” (the dubious grammar of that title is all the confirmation I need that this person was, indeed, a screenwriter on the film). In fact, looking at the IMDB comments, it looks like fully half of them are from people in the movie, and the whole thing seems to have become a sort of defacto class reunion for them to reminisce about their experience making this turkey. Looks like they mostly had a lot of drunken fun (I guess the whiskey in those drinking scenes was real, holy shit, these guys went method) and remember the experience fondly, even if pretty much all of them seem to recall they were never actually paid for anything. I think they had more fun making it than anyone could reasonably be expected to have watching it, but if adorably naive 80’s slasher cheapies are your thing, this puppy is guaranteed to delight.


Play it Again, Samhain

  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No, it's even shot on 35 mm instead of the expected, cheaper 16 mm, so it looks... well, you know, not good or anything, but at least better than it would have on 16 mm, or God help us, video.
  • BOOBIES: Amazingly, yes. You can't usually get anyone interested in getting naked for something this obviously low-rent, so good job on that.
  • MULLETS: No. Quasi-mullet 70's manes, sure, but that's not quite the same thing.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: Yeah, the bank lady gets her shirt cut off.
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: Most definitely.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: None
  • VOYEURISM: Absolutely, our boys perv out on the gals next door.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Incredibly high, although it IS out on blu-ray now from the aptly-named "Slasher Video"
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Don't... uh, fuck with Satan's Blade? Oh, don't stay on hotel rooms where someone was murdered the previous night!
  • TITLE ACCURACY: There is some kind of blade, which seems kinda Satan-y.

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