Satan's Blade (1984)

DECEMBER 8, 2017


Even if I've heard nothing good about it, there is no slasher film from the golden era that I would refuse to see, and it's also the only kind of Blu-ray I will still blind buy, because good or bad I know I'm more likely to revisit something like Satan's Blade than a big budget action movie I enjoyed in theaters but haven't thought about since (that said, I still bought the last Fast & Furious movie even though I know I can't bring myself to see the crew let Jason Statham come to the family BBQ after he killed Han). But my friend Matt gifted me this one last year, because he figured it would be up my alley and shares my passion for seeing/collecting slashers from this particular era - alas I only now got around to finally seeing it, which makes me sad. If I'm not someone who will drop everything to make time for a random early 80s slasher, who am I?

So in a weird way I feel better that I didn't like it all that much; if I had this perfect gem sitting around for a year or so I'd kick myself for all the time I could have spent tweeting my praise (see: Cathy's Curse, which I have been championing before I even had Twitter to do it!). It's not unwatchable or anything, but the lows greatly outnumber the highs, and so it kind of exists in that middle ground where it's not actually good, but it's not insane/inept enough to watch for a laugh (like Sledgehammer) either. You can find more of that sort of thing on the bonus features, like the 30 minute interview with the director where he shows off a few props, the VHS cover, a Fangoria issue the film was covered in, etc. - all while standing up at a camera aimed at the chair he was sitting in when the interview began, so you spend most of the time looking at his mid-section and also his wife (?), who is still seated and looks annoyed. If whoever shot/edited the bonus feature made the film, we might have something for the "WTF" crowd, but alas.

That said, it has its own identity, thankfully. For starters half of the will-be victims are adults (the two men are lawyers, in fact), and there are two groups with minimal intersecting. It mostly takes place at a "ski lodge", where there are the lawyer dudes and their wives, and then five college girls in the adjacent cabin, so the killer is able to take out the group in one cabin while keeping the others from noticing/caring/going into a panic in the other. And when I say cabin I mean "Suburban Townhouse", because that's what it resembles; for a cabin, there's a distinct lack of coziness to the two domiciles - I mean their bedrooms have linoleum flooring and cement walls, which doesn't exactly sell us on the setting. If you fast forward over the exterior establishing shots you'd probably wonder why all of the neighbors didn't hear the ruckus once the killings finally begin in the film's final 30 minutes, as the idea of being isolated never really comes across. Worse, pretty much all of the killings are indoors as well, which not only minimizes the potential for chases (a key part of a slasher film), but their ill-fit makes the climactic scenes awkward where they should be tense. The homes are fairly small, so the actors have to behave unnaturally in certain scenes, like when the killer smashes a window and grabs one of the women and it somehow takes like 20 seconds for her husband to get there when she was only like ten feet away. He also looks puzzled when she screams, as if she was too far away for him to see what was happening, but based on the layout of their two positions, he should be looking right at her! Also, I'm pretty sure they just slightly redressed one cabin to make it look like a second, as the layouts seem identical and they have the same shitty paintings and tapestries on the wall (albeit in different places), so it can be a bit disorienting, while also keeping the film visually flatter than it should be.

(That said, the Blu-ray is presented open matte when it was intended to be masked down to 1.85 or whatever, so you see the boom mic a lot and lots of unnecessary headroom. Use your TV's zoom feature if you can!)

The pacing also hurts it. The killer has very little presence outside of his (again, chase-free) kill scenes, so after the opening scene kills it's like a full 45 minutes of horror-free tedium, save for one of the film's few bonkers highlights, where an old lady with a broken arm tells about some spooky legend. The rest of the time we're just watching people go in and out of their cabin to go fish or ski (we don't see any skiing footage), or drink without doing anything crazy. Hell, the male lead actually rejects the younger ski bunny girl who is hitting on him, prompting a five minute discussion about how much he loves his wife instead of a sex scene that could have resulted in a kill right when the movie could have really used one. This is followed by an endless sequence where the guy goes back to his lodge to have sex with his wife (after another long talk about how much he loves her), intercut with scenes of the spurned ski bunny walking around the woods. And if you're thinking we're watching this because it will end in her death, guess again, as all parties survive the sequence. In fact she's the closest thing the movie has to a Final Girl, making her one of the rare ones whose primary character trait is wanting to bang another woman's husband.

The kills aren't worth the wait, either. They didn't have the money/skill to do anything interesting, so it's mostly like a shot of the killer's knife swinging and then a cut to the victim holding the spot where they got hit, with blood dripping out from a pack they're probably squeezing in their hand. As for the killer himself, due to the (not particularly successful) attempt at a whodunit angle and the fact that no one involved seemed to understand that the cliches of slasher movies were there for a reason, he has no mask or anything, we just see his hand or leg or whatever during the kill scenes. This is probably why the box art promises a demonic thing that kind of looks like a Lego Bionicle (Tahu, specifically), as the titular blade wasn't enough to entice anyone, I'm sure. Final Exam (another maskless killer, though he still had a physical presence) at least had the creep silhouette thing instead of showing off their bland guy and/or lying outright.

Basically the only reason to watch the whole thing is to get to the insane killer reveal. Not his/her identity, because that's kind of obvious, but why they did it, delivered in a speech that appears to be overdubbed from someone's living room even though the scene takes place outside. It's the sort of moment you wish the movie had more of, because it's got that "holy shit what were they THINKING?" appeal that is very much missed from most of the rest of the movie. I even watched it a second time to see if it was just my mood or whatever, but nope, it just didn't work for me. Someday I'll go nuts like Rivers Cuomo did when he tried to find the scientific formula for the perfect pop song, but I will try to solve the mystery of why some of these inept indies delight me so much while others just leave me bored. I don't know if there is a specific thing to pin it on, but I sure as hell know I'll have fun trying to figure it out. Until then, I'll keep this in the collection out of habit, but against the odds described at the top I don't see myself revisiting it again (on the flipside, I'm watching Disconnected again today for the dozenth time), though I might pull it out to show someone the insane interview.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Nice review of the movie. Saw it last night and kinda liked it, especially when the victims were dying. I dunno something about the north american ski lodges seem to be very appealing to me. Speaking of Satan, has anyone seen The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)?


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