Catching Up With: Slasher Video

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-07-09 06:33

One of the more recent labels to enter the cult home video fray, Slasher Video has been trawling the depths for obscure junk for just over five years now. In that time, they’ve grown from a small, self-distributing outfit to forging distro partnerships with the likes of Olive Films to deliver some of the scummiest, sleaziest genre dispatches, many of them hailing from the homemade and SOV ranks. There’s obscure, and then there’s the stuff Slasher uncovers—if Code Red and Vinegar Syndrome are scooping out the bottle of the barrel of genre reserves, then this label is turning the barrel over and scraping out whatever has clung to the bottom. Between Slasher and Massacre Video, no-budget horror enthusiasts have found saviors; everyone else, however, might want to tread into these grimy depths with caution.

Satan’s Blade (1984)

With the exception of its somewhat distinct wintry setting, Satan’s Blade is an otherwise mostly nondescript slasher. Shot in 1982 but not unleashed until 2 years later, it starts off promising enough, with a pair of women bank robbers absconding with a wad of cash to a winter lodge. There, they swiftly turn on each other, with one shooting the other in the bathroom; however, before she can dump her slain accomplice’s body, she’s stabbed to death by a masked assailant. You are then kindly asked to forget these two ever existed, as the actual main cast—comprised of various vacationers—rolls into the same lodge area, where the locals graciously inform their visitors of the recent bloodshed. Neither the heads-up nor the locals’ insistence that the place is haunted by the spirit of a long-dead psychotic mountain man is enough to deter these folks—they are here to party and have no time to worry about local legends, even if they do involve invocations to evil spirits and a sinister blade. Satan’s blade, even.

I know what you’re thinking: this sounds insane and I must see it now! Usually, you’d be right, but this is one of those cases where a neat premise and a sinister setting is wasted on dull nonsense. After the opening bit of grisliness, debuting writer/director L. Scott Castillo Jr.’s only effort assumes you came to a movie titled Satan’s Blade to watch a bunch of bland, poorly-acted twentysomethings go on a ski trip. Maybe you wanted to watch one lady awkwardly hit on a married man vacationing next door. If that doesn’t suit you, check out this ominous conversation between a couple dudes and a local fisherman who continues to warn them away from the place (Crazy Ralph he ain’t). Watch as two cops have lunch and discuss these unsolved murders with all the urgency of office co-workers preparing a Powerpoint.

Eventually, there’s enough slashing to rack up an impressive body count, albeit through crude, unimpressive effects work. A synth score drones on and on, heightening the stultifying monotony; at a certain point, it almost feels entrancing, almost as if Castillo is purposely lulling you into an inescapable rhythm that mirrors the film’s creeping revelation about its masked, unknown killer. Admittedly, it’s a cool take on this sort of thing and adds a genuine eerie touch, but I’d be lying if I said Satan’s Blade really deserves it.

Cemetery Sisters (1987)

Then again, Satan’s Blade looks like fucking Halloween compared to the works of Nick Millard, a low-budget schlock filmmaker who got his start in the 60s and hung on long enough to become a no-budget Betacam auteur in the 80s. Slasher Video has taken an interest in uncovering this stretch of the director’s work in recent years, proving that there’s a niche for everyone. I say this because Millard’s work feels literally homemade: as in, he picked up a camera and convinced friends and acquaintances to stand in front of it before he hastily (and with all the grace of someone cutting pizza with a pair scissors) edited it into 60 minutes of semi-workable footage. Not that doing so should require that much work, considering how simple the premise usually is, and Cemetery Sisters is very much evidence of this. It has to set some kind of record for the quickest death in a slasher movie, as it opens with a couple making out for a few seconds before another woman stabs the man to death.

The two women are revealed to be a pair of sisters who con men into marrying them so they can kill them and cash in the life insurance. Like, that’s the whole movie more or less, as we watch these two backstabbing black widows lure different men in before slashing them to death. It's not the worst premise, but Millard has no sense of drama or showmanship with its reveal: even teasing the mystery out for a few minutes would add some intrigue. Millard scripts only two intrusions into the routine: one is a visit from the girls’ nymphomaniac aunt, though the subplot sadly goes nowhere beyond adding to the body count. The other is more esoteric, arriving in the form of one of the girl’s flashbacks to a demented childhood spent growing up at a mortuary, where instead of playing with dolls she tended to corpses.

When she wasn’t looking to follow in her father’s mortician footsteps, she went to the movies, where she conveniently watched Satan’s Black Wedding and Criminally Insane, two of Millard’s earlier works. As you’ll come to discover, the real struggle with Millard’s output seems to be filling out that 60-minute runtime, as he often splices in his own movies to pad it out, an egregious, non-sequitur approach that does nothing but contrast sharply with the consumer-grade splatter of his 80s work. These flashbacks at least hint that Millard had some kind of inspiration and resources that were sorely missing by the time he tackled the likes of Cemetery Sisters, a dull, repetitive effort that features a handful of inspired moments, such as when one of the girl’s forces a man to stop a car by threatening to piss in it. The two sisters are also harboring a pretty twisted motivation beyond just money, too, and it pays off with an amusing enough final scene. Other than that, however, this one’s one that will test any splatter enthusiast’s limits.

Death Nurse (1987)

Remarkably, Death Nurse will test those limits even more. As you might have surmised from the fact it boasts the same 1987 release as Cemetery Sisters, this is another slipshod effort from Millard, one that sees him reuniting with some of his Criminally Insane actors and returning to the scene of the crime by shooting in the same house. It will not surprise you to learn that it is Millard’s own house. I told you to take the “homemade” descriptor literally in his case. Anyway, its premise is riffing on the same old stuff here, as deranged nurse Edith Mortley and her brother Gordon (Priscilla Alden & Albert Eskinazi) run a scam medical clinic to dupe unsuspecting folks into staying at their home, where they’re swiftly murdered. The Mortleys then continue to bill the state for their services and wait for local hospitals to send more patients. Rinse and repeat.

No, like seriously—that’s all that happens. While it’s true that one of the local hospital workers becomes suspicious and demands proof that the Mortleys are caring for their patients, it’s treated as a minor inconvenience. It admittedly leads to the film’s most absurd sequence, which finds Gordon having to dig up a victim’s body before bringing it back to “life” via crude puppetry when the hospital worker arrives (read: he just kinda slings the poor corpse’s arm around and mimics his voice). Not only does the worker completely buy it, but she also decides she’ll stay there herself when she later needs care. It goes without saying that everyone Nick Millard’s world, everyone is really, really dumb.

From a filmmaking perspective, he’s up to the same stuff here: Death Nurse is loaded with tons of sequences where nothing happens, and the dead air starts to become suffocating. Once again, one of the few inspired bursts comes in the form of flashbacks to his earlier work, once again to Criminally Insane, which are here framed as Edith’s recurring nightmares (whatever sense that makes, as Death Nurse is not a sequel to that film and Mortley’s playing a different character). Millard must have been especially strapped for padding this time out since he often recycles footage and lines of dialogue from this shoot—I swear, you must see the same shot of Edith falling asleep and waking up on a couch a half-dozen times.

By the way, if there’s any reason to watch the Death Nurse films, it’s for Mortley’s weirdly charismatic performance. Even though she’s mostly tasked with referring to people as “dirty old bitches,” there’s a weird, obvious streak of disdain in her performance. You can feel the contempt she has for everyone around her, making her a slasher villain who is just goddamned annoyed at her victims. A slasher everyman, if you will.

Death Nurse 2 (1988)

Picking up mere seconds after the Death Nurse’s cliffhanger ending, this sequel is very much more of the same. After quickly dispatching the nosy cop snooping around their house, the Mortleys go about their grisly business of offing patients while still raking in dough for their “services.” Less an actual sequel and more just an extension of the previous film, it finds folks growing a bit more distrustful about the Mortleys—though no smarter, it must be said, as most of the new suspicious interlopers are swiftly dispatched. Among the most colorful newcomers is an unhinged, rambling vagrant prone to going on anti-socialist screeds before Edith has enough of her shit. Boldly enough, Death Nurse 2 makes the case for capitalism as its deranged protagonists exploit a socialist system, perhaps allowing it to function as a trenchant critique of hypocrisy.

But probably not! What it is for sure is another barely tolerable exercise in no-fi indulgence from Millard, who continues recycling that same footage from Criminally Insane for no apparent reason. Likewise, you’ll see that same shot of Edith napping and waking up yet again; the absolute best recycling, however, comes with the repeated use of one of Eskinazi’s reaction shots, which is wheeled out regardless of whatever line’s being fed him. Whether he’s being informed about a minor inconvenience or being told that he and Edith have been found out, he gives the same disinterested reaction, and it eventually becomes kind of hilarious.

Of course, it’s not so hilarious that it distracts you from the fact that we didn’t need one Death Nurse movie, let alone two. While both reveal that Millard’s great filmmaking skill is limiting these taped atrocities to 60 minutes, it’s easy to imagine both being squeezed into one economical feature. Then again, I don’t know if I could stomach watching more than an hour at a time, so maybe Millard knew exactly what he was doing.

Killer Workout (1987)

Easily my favorite movie released on the Slasher Video label, Killer Workout is gloriously competent compared to everything else on this list. Trawling through Slasher’s library reveals the power of relativity for sure: taken in a vacuum, Killer Workout is amateurish nonsense, kind of a shoddier companion piece to Death Spa, what with all its gaudy, neon-soaked compositions and a preoccupation with fitness. But alongside the likes of Cemetery Sisters and Death Nurse, it’s positively transcendent. You can’t help but marvel at the existence of a sustained plot that’s complex enough to support an entire murder mystery. Delight in the sheer, basic decentness of the performances on display. Feel blessed that the budget made room for 35mm cameras* and allowed for an actual post-production to make the movie (mostly) presentable. Bask in the glory of watching the 80s slasher that features the most aerobics sequences and mulleted white boy kung-fu outbursts.

Obviously, Killer Workout is amateurish nonsense, but at least it's inspired. Its premise is exactly what you imagine: at Rhonda’s Workout, a mysterious killer is stalking and killing off the patrons in horrific fashion. Authorities—which include a doofus private eye—are stumped, much like the audience, who must be wondering why everyone keeps going about their aerobics business despite all the murder. Seriously, Killer Workout could basically double as an off-brand Jane Fonda tape at certain points. So much aerobics. Not to worry, though, as the gore is mostly up to snuff, and there are plenty of idiosyncrasies to set it apart from this particular slasher tier. It should perhaps come as no surprise that it hails from David A. Prior, the low-budget auteur who helped kick off this DIY splatter craze with Sledgehammer. Here, he’s graduated to a more robust production level, yet the outcome remains gleefully disreputable.

*In an ironic twist of fate, these original elements have gone missing, with the only remaining source at Slasher’s disposal being a PAL VHS tape. Sometimes, the movie gods are cruel.
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