The Slayer (1982)
Dir J.S. Cardone
Written by J.S. Cardone and William R. Ewing
Starring Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Let me ask you something. What’s the best part of a schlock 80’s slasher movie? Would you say it’s A) imaginative and gory kills, and as gimmicky as possible please? Or would you say it’s B) the part where emphatically dull white people wander aimlessly around looking for their missing friends and nothing happens?
If you picked option A, congratulations, you’re not special. That’s the option everyone in the 80’s picked. But sophmore writer/director J.S. Cardone (later writer of THE STEPFATHER REMAKE and director of 8MM2 and WICKED LITTLE THINGS) is a maverick. Like Mel Gibson in that movie MAVERICK, where he’s such a Maverick I think he’s actually named Maverick, and not even his middle name like a little pussy, his actual last name, so everyone has to call him that all the time. That’s the kind of maverick it would take to try the bold move of taking a standard bodycount slasher, removing the bodycount, and seeing what was left. Turns out not much, unfortunately, but hey, I guess it was worth a try.
The plot is simple enough that it barely even qualifies as a plot, more of a scenario, really -- not that horror movies ever needed elaborate narratives or fussy structuring. Kay (Sarah Kendall, the beloved role of Stewardess #2 in KARATE KID PART 2, no other roles) is a neurotic artist, plagued by dreams that a monster is coming to kill her. Some kind of Slayer, if you will. Her irritating husband and brother-and-sister-in-law think she needs a vacation, and correctly find her constant fretting to be unreasonable and ridiculous. But of course she’s right -- this is a horror movie after all-- something is coming to kill them. But slowly. Very, very slowly. So slowly that even though you know this is a horror movie called THE SLAYER, you still start to wonder if the abrasive in-laws might have a point with the whole “maybe living every moment in fear of of a monster from your dreams is not a practical way to approach vacationing” argument.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid little slasher when it sets its mind to be. It’s better-made than the lion’s share of its ilk, nicely photographed* (well-utilizing some appreciably decrepit real locations) and assembled with confidence, even occasional style. And when the kills come, they’re commendably over-the-top (one guy has a particularly memorable run-in with an unforgiving trap door). But the movie has to savor them, because, and there’s no nice way to say this… there’s really only four characters in this movie, and that leaves only three of them to kill off during the increasingly tedious 70 minutes which lead up to the climax. You gotta wait 30 minutes just to get the the first kill, and then another 30 minutes til the next one. And I’m sorry, but that’s absolutely unacceptable for a gimmicky slasher with absolutely nothing else going on. All three kills we see on-screen are pretty good, but man. It’s pretty dire going in-between.
The movie is probably best known for its one little tweak on the classic slasher formula, which is that (SPOILER) it belongs to that small subset of slashers where the killer turns out to be some kind of nonhuman monster, like NIGHT OF THE DEMON (not the classic 1957 psycho-thriller by Jacques Tourneur, I mean the sleazy 1980 slasher where bigfoot rips a guy’s dick off) or JEEPERS CREEPERS or NEON MANIACS. Not exactly shaking the foundations of horror filmmaking, but this would be a perfectly serviceable gimmick if it figured into the plot or the few scattered kills, you know, at all. Unfortunately, our titular SLAYER (I think that must be him; I don’t remember her husband’s name being John Slayer or anything) apparently shares an agent with Lance Henriksen, because his MO here is to be far and away the best thing about the movie and then to appear in as little of it as possible. Despite an enjoyably gonzo design, he has, generously, about three second of screen time, and does not appear during any of the three kills. It certainly adds a little much-needed spice, but not even close to enough to make this worthwhile. And what good is a monster-themed slasher if you only know that’s what it is in the last 5 seconds? You gotta own that shit, fellas.
I will say one nice thing about it: It has a strangely excellent orchestral score (performed by an actual orchestra! 4 serious, no keyboards!) by prolific composer Robert Folks, in only his second film score. He would go on to score such cinematic gems as POLICE ACADEMY, POLICE ACADEMY 4: CITIZENS ON PATROL, IN THE ARMY NOW, LAWNMOWER MAN 2: BEYOND CYBERSPACE, ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS, and THUMB WARS: THE PHANTOM CUTICLE. Ouch. But at least back in 1982, he was really trying. Someone should put that score in an actual movie someday. I get the sense that THE SLAYER is trying too, but there’s just not enough meat on these bones to make a meal.
(PS: I didn't want to SPOILER SPOILER the 3 good seconds at the very end of the movie by putting a picture of the killer in the review, but I did make this gif of it if you're curious.)
*By Karen Grossman, cinematographer for J.S. Cardone’s follow-up Rock N’ Roll drama THUNDER ALLEY, and the mysterious HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE, starring Dick Butkus. But I’ll always remember her from her one acting roll as “Hall Marshall” in RISKY BUSINESS.