If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Slasher//Video either have the best collection of trash or treasure depending on who you ask. Since 2012, Jesús Terán has made a career out of delving into the depths of cinema’s most lurid alleys in order to reclaim some of the finest pieces of “trash cinema” known to man. Since starting Slasher//Video,Terán has amassed a fine selection of off the beaten path titles, but Terán didn’t go into Slasher with any sort of preconceived notions of hitting it big or becoming the next ‘it’ distributor. Hell, he claims to have barely given the idea much thought at all, “There was really no planning the business, it just happened because I was getting sick and tired of having to wait around and deal with the scalpers. Death Nurse is what inspired me, because someone stole it from my to-purchase pile. So, I went to look for it online but it wasn’t available right off hand. After searching for a few weeks I found it, but it was like 2-300 dollars and I thought that I could probably find the guy who owns this thing and just release it. It was maybe two months from that point that I signed the agreement with them and released the film in April of 2012.”
Since the release of Death Nurse, Terán’s laid-back attitude has guided his business practices well. He told Diabolique Magazine that, with the exception of a single film — which he preferred to keep anonymous — he has never had a bad experience working with rights holders. His work is completely driven by his passion for cinema, something that has been with him all of his life. “My dad is a huge film fan and back in the 80s he would record all of this stuff from HBO. He used to have like 4-500 dubbed tapes with 3-4 movies on each one. That’s how I remember discovering a bunch of films.”
I late 2014, Slasher//Video announced that they were partnering with Olive Films. The original plan saw Olive re-releasing the entire Slasher output on Blu-ray and DVD (a plan still potentially in the works but currently no timeline is set) in addition to working with them on new titles. The first fruit of that effort was a Blu-ray of Satan’s Blade, an obscure and strange slasher (review here). Following Satan’s Blade, Slasher made a much bigger announcement, perhaps the biggest of their career. The company had struck a deal to release three of the late (and great) David Prior’s films; two of his masterpieces, Deadly Prey and Killer Workout, and the follow up to Deadly Prey, Deadliest Prey. In conjunction with these releases, Slasher was also set to release a Blu-ray of the 90s metal shlockfest Shock Em Dead.
David Prior and Action International Pictures
Along with David Winters (Thrashin’) and Peter Yuval, David Prior started Action International Pictures in 1986, a production and distribution company focusing on straight-to-video action/genre films. Their first films were par for the course of the times, War-set action titles, but as the film world evolved, so did the lesser known AIP. Deadly Prey is among the first of AIP’s films to see release, following Winter’s Mission Kill and Prior’s own Killer Workout, which received it’s own video premiere just a few months before.
Of the four films released by Slasher, Deadly Prey takes the mantle as the most entertaining and off-the-wall. David Prior’s film envisions a home grown militia kidnapping American citizens to use as live prey for their training/war games. When the militia kidnaps the seemingly innocuous Mike Danton (Ted Prior) they find their skills put to the greatest test. Deadly Prey is essentially Rambo meets The Most Dangerous Game, only ramped to eleven and with a fraction of the budget. As you can imagine, the film is bursting with excellent one-liners — a favorite being “I haven’t seen you since you jumped in front of a bullet and saved my life” —, but where the film really excels is in its absolute lunatic action pieces. The film rests at just shy of 90 minutes with nearly as many people killed along the way — culminating in a scene where Danton cuts off an adversary’s arm and proceeds to beat him with it. As the lead, Ted Prior (David’s brother) does a fine job, with what he is lacking in acting chops being more than made up for in on-screen presence. Playing against Prior, David Campbell stars as the bombastic leader of the militia, Col. John Hogan. Campbell is a fantastic 80s villain, filled with gusto, vitriol, and one hell of a scream.Released a few months prior to Deadly Prey, Killer Workout is a pure representation of the goals of exploitation cinema. Prior capitalizes on two crazes in the 1980s: the slasher film and aerobics/gym culture. Released just two years after Perfect — probably the pinnacle work of 80s Gym Culture cinema — Killer Workout plays out as any gym-set slasher would, only with a hell of a reveal in the climax. Prior really seemed to enjoy shooting the workout scenes, with large portions of the film’s short runtime being filled with workout-video-esque routines. The film is a bit like a time capsule, offering a snapshot into a bygone era, but, of course, filled with a great deal of fun kills and excellent 80s music. Killer Workout also has a sort of giallo feel to it, albeit far less stylish under Prior’s vision. But Prior was not untalented and for their budget both films do look quite nice and have good special effects make-up. The final Prior title released, Deadliest Prey, is probably the most problematic of the three. Shot in 2013 — one of the last titles that Prior worked on — Deadliest Prey is very much a rehash of the original film. However, because Prior is keenly aware of what he is doing, he allows the film to maintain an energetic and fun atmosphere despite it not really adding a whole lot to the conversation (there is a small commentary on the internet age, but it’s not enough to really give the film a sense of originality). Both Ted Prior and David Campbell return to the film, and there are a few cameo spots thrown in — including Fantastic Fest Programmer/Destroy All Movies writer Zack Carlson in a significant role — making the film a treat for fans of the original but potentially one with diminishing returns.
Shock Em Dead and the Spoils of Blu-ray Culture
While Deadly Prey and Killer Workout are long-time cult favorites, the fourth title, Shock Em Dead, is probably more likely to be an introduction to some folks. Paying no attention to potential popularity, Slasher had been working on obtaining the title for quite awhile before coming to fruition, “I had been trying to get Shock Em Dead for over three years, and it was back and forth for a long time. Then they were going to make a Shock Em Dead 2, so the rights were tied up with the company that was financing part two because they were going to release them together.” Eventually, the producers did come back to Slasher and (as we know) the film has seen release — although the fate of the sequel is still up in the air. A vehicle for porn star Traci Lords (who surprisingly does not get naked in the film), Shock Em Dead is an absurd take on faust, where wannabe rocker Angel Martin makes a pack with the devil (it’s the 90s, so of course voodoo is involved as well) in order to make his dreams of stardom a reality. What Martin doesn’t know, however, is that the pack carries with it an unfortunate side-effect, he must feed on human blood to stay alive. The real surprise of this film is Lords, who actually puts it a rather warm and charming turn as Lindsay Roberts, the band manager who is split between her boyfriend (lead guitarist of the band) and budding attraction to Martin. Mark Freed’s first of only two films, Shock Em Dead is as cheesy as they come but it’s a great deal of fun. It plays itself out as far less of a horror movie as one may imagine, and exists as a sort of strange fragment of the early 90s and reverence for hair metal. (oh, and Nitro guitarist Michael Angelo Batio does all the guitar work, so you know you are in for some absurdly stupid guitar solos along the way).If you’ve been following these releases, you have undoubtedly come across at least one conversation revolving around the transfers. Sadly, despite three of the four titles being shot on film, the original negatives are lost, which left Slasher with the decision on how to best release them. The current state of Blu-ray fandom has created (for better and worse) a market of pseudo-experts who take it upon themselves to police the releases as they see fit. This has been an important tool for consumers to assert a say in the ways that films are being distributed but also has some problematic aspects when people develop unrealistic desires. “People complain all the time but that happens with everything. If Criterion puts something out on Blu-ray, somebody will complain about it. If I had the money to do it, then I’d be doing the same thing as Criterion but with different kinds of films. Like with Satan’s Blade, I couldn’t afford a 4K restoration — I could barely do the 2k. It’s expensive, it’s not just something you can just go out and do and there’s not even a guarantee you’ll make your money back either. I never thought about it that way because I just want to get these films out there but that is a true consequence.”
Rather than decide, Terán put it up to his fanbase to make the decision. His masters were no better than standard definition releases (cut from 1” Beta-SP tapes), but if people wanted it pressed on Blu-ray, he’d be happy to do it. Terán describes the backstory in depth, “Shock Em Dead was shot on 35mm but the studio that edited it together didn’t edit it on film, they edited it on tape. I’d have to go dig up some landfill in Los Angeles to find a print and no one even knows where the original audio elements are. It would be near impossible. But Killer Workout and Deadly Prey are even worse, because the masters to those were stored in the Philippines in a warehouse that ended up burning down. The owner of both of the films didn’t even realize it until a few years after that. I remember when I was signing the deal I asked him if they had any of the 35mm elements — because that would be in widescreen, how the film was originally shot. I was talking to him on the phone but I couldn’t totally hear in his voice how pissed off he was: ‘They were destroyed. They were in a fucking fire and I’m fucking pissed. Now all I have are these damn Beta-SP Masters, those bastads are..’ and he went on as I tried not to laugh because it sucks. It wasn’t just those two films either, it was a ton of other films that he owned. At least we had the Beta-Sp Masters because otherwise it would be a VHS rip of both of them.”To see Deadly Prey, Killer Workout, or Shock Em Dead in widescreen with pristine prints would be phenomenal but that looks like an impossibility at this time. Judging what is left is all we can do and Slasher have provided a good representation. Many will note that about 30 minutes into Killer Workout there is a noticeable jump in quality. This is because the Beta-SP tape broke and Slasher was forced to splice in bits from a VHS master. Terán laughingly remarks that anyone claiming the films look no better than VHS, should re-watch these passages and realize the stark differences between the two formats. But Terán takes these criticisms with strides. He recognizes that there are snobs in the community and knows full well that he can’t please everybody. “Not everybody, but there are a lot of snobby people that read up on Wikipedia and think they know what it means to release something on Blu-ray or how much something would cost; but they have no idea, absolutely no idea. Back in the 90s people didn’t care. You were watching VHS-quality stuff on a standard definition TV and people were just happy to be able to watch it. I’d be happy with it, if it is all I could find.” Are these four releases the watermark for faultless restoration work? No. But, still, a lot of love and care went into this work. The thing about these releases that we have to understand is that they are not for lack of effort. Satan’s Blood is a great example of Slasher offering a stellar restoration, there was just nothing more that could be done here. “A couple people complained after that it didn’t look HD. But unless someone has been hiding a print in their homes, there’s just nothing better right now. We looked everywhere. The owner tracked everything we could down, and eventually got in touch with the company that edited the film because he was the person to who had owned a copy. When we asked, however, he said that everything was either picked up or destroyed. So that print is probably long gone.” It is heartbreaking to know that there was once an opportunity to have these works released in perfect form but eventually we have to move beyond that. For now, I am happy to see these four fun films readily available and at an affordable price.
Deadly Prey, Killer Workout, Deadliest Prey and Shock Em Dead are all now available via Slasher//Video and Olive Films.