Friday, December 11, 2015

Satan’s Blade (1984): A Warm Turd On A Cold Day

The slasher boom brought about an overabundance of films ranging in quality, budget and notoriety, and if ever there were a genre with deep cuts, the slasher genre is it. It’s not much of a surprise, as it doesn’t get any simpler and more cost effective than a group of people being stalked by an unknown killer in a single location, especially when that location is as free of charge as nature is. Of course, delivering on the quality takes far more work than slapping together a group of friends to spend a few weekends in the woods being chased by some guy with an axe. There needs to be tension; there needs to be a sense of dread; there needs to be a certain level of craftsmanship on display; and there needs to be some sort of passion injected into the project.

This is why a slasher film such as 1984’s Satan’s Blade is such an interesting one. On the surface, Satan’s Blade is a terrible slasher film. It’s not particularly well made, sharing more in common with a public access show than something like Halloween or Black Christmas. The performances, while being consistent, are amateurish and best comparable to that of an eighth-grade school play. And even the story – which focuses on two groups of vacationers being stalked and slashed by a guy who, as it turns out, is possessed by the spirit of a killer mountain man wielding the titular blade – is somehow convoluted, despite being so simple.

All these elements considered, Satan’s Blade is genuine and, dare I say somewhat ambitious. Sure, much of the movie reeks of ineptitude, which comes in the form of an abundance of static shots and even an entire sequence where the killer and the lead character fight in the living room with the lights off. Despite this, however, there are times where the film shows signs, slight as they may be, of artistry.

One of these moments in particular is an effective dream sequence where a killer is attacking a group of women in a hotel room. The claustrophobic location alone is enough to create unease, but things become all the more terrifying when being forced to watch as the killer, who wears a simple yet frightening mask, viciously murders each woman in the room as the others watch in fear, knowing it will only be a matter of seconds before he comes for them. The sound design and the fashion in which the sequence is shot only adds to the effectiveness of the scene, making it a true standout in a film that maybe doesn't warrant it.

One element of Satan’s Blade that really stands out is its location. Shot in and around Big Bear Lake in California, the winter-set mountain location is simply gorgeous to look at and certainly a high point of the film. Of course, the location may be a tad overused, as there are an overabundance of nature shots clearly used to fill time and ensure the film is feature length. Regardless, a good setting can add a lot of value to a film, and the snowy mountain locations make for the perfect backdrop to spill a little blood, which thankfully comes in abundance.

Courtesy of a sleeveless mad man wearing tan construction gloves and wielding “Satan’s blade,” the death scenes are aplenty in the film’s short 82 minute runtime. Now, while the kills are consistently simplistic throughout the film – mostly relegated to straightforward stabbings, manly in the back – there remains a brutality about them that is unexpected, especially when you consider how unimpressive they are. In fact, I believe that the simplicity of the kills are actually a benefit, as the lack of flash feels grounded in reality and slightly more effective as a result.   

Satan’s Blade is the only film writer/director L Scott Castillo Jr. ever made. It’s not much of a surprise, seeing as there were a slew of one and done slasher film directors in the heyday of ‘80s horror. If you were lucky, there was money to be made, and a number of folks went and tried to cash in on the craze. I honestly don’t think this was Castillo’s intention, as the results are certainly that of someone trying to get every idea they have out and onto the screen, almost aware that this was their one big shot at doing something special. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t looking for a big payday, but at the very least there as some sense of care put into his project.

A sane person might consider a film like 1984’s Satan’s Blade to be a terrible movie. A sane person, however, has more than likely never even heard of a film like Satan’s Blade, let alone seen it. Let’s face it, movies such as Satan’s Blade only speak to a certain demographic of movie fan, specifically one driven by people who are able to brush off a turd and find that glint of polish just below the surface. To say it takes a special kind of person would be an understatement, and really, it’s those people who are keeping a certain segment of cinema alive, and all during a time when the odds are (or at least should be) most stacked against them.

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