Sunday, May 24, 2015

SATAN'S BLADE - BLU-RAY REVIEW


Original Prism VHS ad-line: “An unholy talisman of murder and madness.”

In 1985, during the waning days of the stalk ’n’ slash craze, SATAN’S BLADE (1984) quietly debuted on VHS videocassette courtesy of Prism Video.  It was also available via Mogul Communications and Galaxy (which appears to be one of Mogul’s subsidiary labels [?]), and that release’s rather striking cover-art – which adorns Slasher Video and Olive Film’s current DVD and Blu-ray release – was also reused on numerous other releases from Mogul, most notably Carlos Puerto’s SATAN’S BLOOD (1978).  According to director L. Scott Castillo Jr., SATAN’S BLADE was actually made in 1980 and remained in distribution limbo until 1984, where, at one point, even Warner Brothers expressed some possible interest.  Despite the allure of studio distribution, SATAN’S BLADE simply got lost among a glut of horror titles, which crowded shelves at most video stores of the time.

Static, bucolic shots of wintery locales – Northern California – are suddenly disrupted when a typical-looking hunting knife flies through the air and impales itself in a tree, and then, rather mysteriously, it begins to give off a red glow.  The film then quickly moves to the ‘Sierra Foothill Bank’, where a couple of bank robbers – all shot with low angles to obscure their identity, which makes it feel like some long-lost Doris Wishman film – not only rob the bank but viciously kill a couple of tellers working late that day.  They eventually make their way to a cabin – which we assume is in the very same woods from the opening – and wait for their contact, but in a nice twist of fate they fall prey to some mysterious madman.  A strange symbol is written in blood at the scene of the crime, which only baffles the local police (“I wonder what this means?”), but despite the gruesome double murder, it doesn’t stop the owners of this mountain getaway renting out both the cabin next door and the very same cabin where the murders took place.

Two groups of vacationers including Tony (Tom Bongiorno) and his buddy Al (Thomas Cue), who, along with their wives arrive on the same day as a group of college girls who are trying to ‘cheer up’ their friend Sue (Ramona Andrada), whose father recently passed away.  Despite warnings from one of the owners about a “mountain man” who was given a weapon by “the evil spirits of the mountains”, Tony shrugs it off as mere ballyhoo.  Slowing down considerably, the film aborts the rather energetic opening and focuses on ‘character development’ as Tony and Al neglect their wives, get drunk and play practical jokes on the girls next door (“Those ski instructors are just a warm-up for the main event!”), but then, out of the blue, a seriously creepy dream sequence enlivens the proceedings.  Thankfully, at this point, SATAN’S BLADE begins to pick up the pace as our weekend vacationers try to elude this “monster of death”.

Certainly not lacking in originality, this rather lowly effort remains oddly compelling despite the very amateurish performances, and while the supernatural angle is a most-welcome touch, the rather inconsistent pace will undoubtedly test many viewer’s patience, even though the film has all the requisite cut-rate gore and topless nudity, which epitomizes most Slasher films of the time.  The wintery locales always provide an aura of stillness and eerie menace, which the filmmakers capture quite well; while Martin Jaquish – who also edited the film – scores the film with a simplistic, but highly effective synth score, which amps up the chilly atmosphere considerably.

After a long wait, Slasher Video delivers SATAN’S BLADE on Blu-Ray – it’s also available on DVD – in what is undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked.  Mastered in 2K, the film is presented in an open-matte 1.35:1 transfer, which definitely displays a little too much ‘headroom’ in many scenes, but, if you so desire, zoom into the picture and it actually works quite well compositionally; although some brief nudity is cut off the frame during an obligatory shower scene.  As for the extras, the disc also includes ‘Director’s Narrative’, an interview with the director, which helps shed some light on the production and ‘Remembering Satan’s Blade’, a rather poorly shot interview with the director showing off some props, the original 35mm film cans, a couple of VHS releases and a poster.  Other extras include the trailer (which is the original Prism video trailer), extensive still and artwork galleries and a couple of deleted/extended scenes from both the Japanese and Dutch videotapes.  Unfortunately, the fan produced SATAN’S BLADE 2 trailer is not included, despite what the packaging proclaims.

Not for everyone, Slasher Video has nonetheless pulled out all the stops for this once forgotten (some viewers may think it probably should have stayed that way) film, which, in this new re-mastered edition, makes it infinitely more digestible than viewing it through some muddy old VHS tape.  Order SATAN'S BLADE at DiabolikDVD.  

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