Satan’s Blade Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Olive Films
Directed by L. Scott Castillo Jr.
Written by Thomas Cue
1984, Region A, 76 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on May 12th, 2015
Tom Bongiorno as Tony
Stephanie Leigh Steel as Stephanie
Thomas Cue as Al
Elisa R. Malinovitz as Lisa
Janeen Lowe as Lil
Ramona Andrada as Sue
Diane Taylor as Rita
Susan Bennet as Mary
Meg Greene as Ruth
Mary Seamen as Trish
When Tony successfully passes the bar exam, he and his wife Stephanie plan a celebratory vacation. Pairing with their best friends Al and Lisa, the couples head out for a fun-filled weekend at a ski resort. They arrive for check in at the same time as a quartet of young ladies looking for some good times in the snow. The elderly desk clerk and her son report that one of the available cabins was the site of a double murder the night before, likely in connection with yesterday’s bank robbery. Undeterred by the idea of an active crime scene, the horny ladies agree to stick around rather than try another lodge in the area. The old lady goes on to tell of a legend about a mysterious mountain man that haunts these woods with a supernatural evil spawned by no less than Satan. Nobody asked for this information, but none of the vacationers appear too concerned about it either. Everything is going just swell until an unidentified killer is making quick use of the titular weapon on everyone in the vicinity.
The slasher film rose to prominence in the 1980s as a quick and easy moneymaker, given the low production budgets and surprisingly high box office receipts. The limited plots usually revolve around a disfigured goon doing terrible things to unsuspecting teenagers in remote locations until the last girl living stands up for herself. Critics at the time were largely dismissive and rejoiced when the subgenre finally burned itself out. To be fair, there are some stinkers in the bunch, but for anyone willing to look, some real talent emerged from the pool too. For every interesting addition to the field however, there were countless cash grabs by amateur hacks who sullied the subgenre for all involved. What is interesting here is that despite the stigma, countess aspiring filmmakers used the horror genre as a stepping stone into the industry.
Not everyone making these pictures was rewarded with a career in Hollywood, but there is a certain charm to independently produced no-budget flicks that try to terrify viewers using all the wrong moves. Many of these “also-ran” titles played drive-in screens with little fanfare before disappearing into obscurity on dusty video store shelves. One such forgotten gem is Satan’s Blade, a generic mess of familiar elements lifted from better genre hits. Director L. Scott Castillo Jr. throws everything he’s got into this murderous yarn, but the results are less than satisfying. His determination to overcome limited resources in making this picture is commendable, but there’s a general lack of creativity on display that keeps me from seriously praising his efforts. Somehow this moderately entertaining picture has developed a bit of a cult following over the past three decades, possibly due to its elusiveness.
There is something special about watching a movie that doesn’t know it’s bad. Rather than play the weaker elements for camp, Satan’s Blade soldiers on despite a poorly conceived script that fails to explore the interesting premise or develop any of the characters beyond some having standard “marital issues”. The lack of archetypes is appealing, but the script manages to shoehorn in the clichés of an inept police force and an elder sage delivering a clunky warning. The bank robbery prologue introduces an element of creativity that disappears within the first reel. This is a blatant attempt to pad the paltry running time and body count, while adding nudity into the mix. There’s nothing wrong with the heist sequence except that it is more interesting than the plot that follows. Another highlight features a scary man entering the cabin and slaughtering the girls with a large knife, but the scene is quickly revealed to only be a dream that is never mentioned again.
Satan’s Blade has a good heart, but the arteries are clogged. The failure to live up to its potential rests squarely on Castillo’s shoulders. This story doesn’t require millions of dollars to bring it to fruition. The screenplay, co-written by the director with Thomas Cue, who appears as the character Al in the film, wastes a lot of time avoiding action. Despite this being a snowy resort, the only skiing occurs off screen. We do leave the cabin to watch the exciting stationary sport of fishing however. I am left with the feeling that production was a casual experience where scenes were shot out of convenience rather than a dedicated schedule. Sequences with the police for example feel like they happen months after the rest of the cast has gone home. Things do pick up once the body count begins, but only because they kind of have to by the sheer fact that something is actually happening. Audiences looking to improve their time invested watching this picture may want to make a drinking game of all the times the boom mic dips into frame. I can recommend this title to fans of low-budget horror, but anyone else is going to want to stop by the liquor store before viewing.
Video and Audio:
Satan’s Blade appears to have been shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for the theatrical release in 1984. The technical specs on this disc begin with a note that the 35mm print submitted by the director has received a 2K re-master. This is not to say that the original negative (either 16mm or 35mm) was brought in for restoration, but rather the physical print he had on hand. Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the picture receives an upgrade in clarity but is still lacking. Colors pop and contrast levels appear more balanced, making for an improved viewing experience, but there are severe inconsistencies from one scene to the next. Genre fans who have struggled with the idea of grindhouse titles making the transition to Blu-ray via elaborate HD facelifts need not worry here. All of the dirt, scratches and print damage remain on prominent display, but have never looked better.
A DTS-HD MA mono track delivers a faithful reproduction of the original audio recording. Dialogue is occasionally tinny and music cues muddy, but these are issues stemming from the source elements. This is a perfect complement to the video counterpart, in which the maximum effort has been made with the weak material provided.
Satan’s Blade makes its Hi Def debut thanks to a special teaming of Olive Films and Slasher // Video. Despite the lack of a director’s commentary, there are plenty of supplements to be found on this disc.
L. Scott Castillo Jr. recounts his efforts in bringing this film to fruition in an interview titled Director’s Narrative (16 minutes). He discusses the difficulties of making an independent feature and getting it released. The segment is not very pretty to look at, but is informative and doesn’t run too long.
Remembering Satan’s Blade (32 minutes) is a second interview with the director, this time featuring a few visual aids, including a pair of VHS releases of the film sporting alternate artwork. The 35mm print used for this new transfer, an original poster, and a prop knife are all proudly on display for your viewing pleasure. Running twice as long as the previous segment and covering a lot of the same material, this piece gets old quickly. Both interviews have a DIY vibe suggesting that they were self-produced and shot in Castillo’s home.
Satan’s Blade received international distribution and two scenes from the Japanese and Dutch home video versions are offered for fans who like to see English language movies with foreign subtitles. This could have been more interesting had the clips actually been dubbed into different languages. The real benefit of the inclusion of these clips is to serve as a direct comparison in picture quality from the previously available murky mess to this new upgrade.
Two instrumental themes from the original soundtrack are included for your listening pleasure and are a nice addition for die-hard fans.
A wide variety of print material and promotional stills are featured in the slide show Photo Gallery.
The original home video trailer is presented with a burned in title card across the bottom.
A special “fan trailer” for Satan’s Blade 2 concludes the special features on this disc.