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Satan’s Blade (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: L. Scott Castillo Jr
Writers: L. Scott Castillo Jr
Cast: Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Thomas Cue
Year: 1984
Length: 83 min
Rating: NR
Region: A
Disks: 1
Label: Olive Films, Slasher // Video
Release Date:  May 12, 2015

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1:33:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: None

Extras
  • Interviews with director L. Scott Castillo Jr/li>
  • Scenes from VHS releases
  • Photo Gallery and Scrapbook
  • Two Trailers
Satanblade_cov1981 is undeniably the year the slasher broke. Broke’s connotation, here, being ambiguous because, while the year saw an onslaught of terrific slashers (including The Burning, Friday the 13th Part 2, Halloween 2, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler—the list could go on and on), it could also be argued to call forth over a decade’s worth of cheap imitations and cash grabs. People flocked to the subgenre in order to rip it apart and earn as much from its torn remains as they could. The model was simple: death plus blood plus nudity equals money. So, while 1981 is a fantastic year for the genre, already by 1982 it was on its downward slope. It was also in 1982 that L. Scott Castillo Jr., who(to my knowledge) had no prior experience in the film industry, decided he would give horror filmmaking a shot. As he states in the interview included in this disc, he is man with a bunch of strange ideas floating around in his head….and lucky for us (or unlucky depending on who you ask!) one of those ideas just happened to make its way to 35mm film. The journey from the mind of Castillo to celluloid, however, was not quick. In fact, it took Castillo two years to finish the film and get it released. Following its initial worldwide release, the film has mostly existed as a forgotten relic of the VHS era, but the brains behind Slasher // Video don’t forget so easy. Marking the start of their collaboration with Olive Films, Satan’s Blade has been fully restored from the original filmic elements and re-presented for audiences 31 years following its release…the only question is, does the film live up to the hype?

The Film

If there is one thing that should be truly admirable about Castillo’s film, it is that he at least attempts to create something hybridic. Certainly, the film hardly ever rises above something more than mere Slasher formula — not that it has to — but there are noticeable attempts to do something a bit out of the ordinary. This is the most on display in the film’s opening scenes. Directly following the film’s opening shots, where an ominous knife is thrust into a tree and begins to glow bright red, the film opens with a bank robbery scene. Castillo shoots in an almost POV style, with fragments of the bank robbers’ actions being shown but their identities kept hidden from viewers. Once they’ve secured their payload, the robbers shoot the two witnesses (the combination of poorly designed practical effects and two over-acted death scenes setting the mood for how the rest of the film will play out) and escape to a nearby motel in the woods. The delayed reveal of the robbers-turned-killers identities would lead the viewer into believing that there will be a significant payoff but, as we are not terribly invested in the film yet, the reveal is rather ineffective — save being someone who couldn’t possibly fathom two murderous thieves being women. Following their unveiling, the twists continue and it is not long before the women turn on each other and both end up perishing.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

From here, Castillo abandons the heist-thriller formula that is at least attempted, and the rest of the film plays out in typical Slasher fare…albeit still filtered through Castillo’s strange, low budget vision. Most of the expected tropes are present. There is a fabled tale that haunts the wooded community and the current onslaught of deaths taking place mimic those of a similar crime years prior — you get the idea. Probably the single most unique aspect of the film occurs about half way through, when one of the character’s dreams of being attacked by the believed mountain man. It is the first time that the killer is depicted on screen but, as it turns out, it seems to be nothing more than a manifestation of her dream. This is left rather ambiguous. Is the “man” she dreams of the creature whose hand rose from the lake in the beginning of the film, is it pure fantasy…Castillo doesn’t seem interested or capable of developing this further. Its probably the standout scene in the film and shows the most promise and style from this director.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

It goes without saying that the acting in the film, like most of the film itself, is not professional. But it is in the stiff performances and the bad chemistry between actors that the film derives most of its entertainment from. Satan’s Blade is firmly entrenched in a genre of so-bad-their-good films and it’s hard to see how many would flock to this movie without a heavy veneer of irony. This is where the film is the most charming, however, because the film’s many failures work in the viewer’s favors. It could be argued that the film is not quite bad enough to rank high on the list of lovable cult favorites (with films that have also recently acquired Blu-Ray restorations like Runaway Nightmare, Miami Connection, or Samurai Cop), but with a few friends around, a screening of Satan’s Blade will sure to entertain.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

Its hard to say exactly why Satan’s Blade has been a significant talking point among horror fans. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that it used to be rather difficult to come across. This release marks the film’s first entry onto both the DVD and Blu-Ray format, so prior to it the only way to view it was through its various VHS releases. Collectors are often hip to hard to acquire titles, so it cannot be overlooked that this could be a major factor in the growing hype around the film. The second assumption that could be had deals with the artwork. It can’t be denied there is something hypnotic and captivating about it. In a style that is reminiscent of Frank Frazetta’s work, the cover artwork depicts a demon-like face obscured by a knife placed directly in the center. It’s a beautiful design and (judging by talk about the movie on various forums) definitely has been a big selling point for the film. There has actually been some controversy surrounding the cover, as a second film entitled Satan’s Blood utilized the same design. While Satan’s Blood came out before Satan’s Blade, Castillo claims that the design was commissioned for his film and that the company re-licensed the work for the Satan’s Blood without telling him. Humorously enough, however, one of Satan’s Blood’s backup designs — that Castillo proudly shows off in an interview included on this disc — features a cropped image from the iconic artwork of William Lustig’s 1980 Maniac. If nothing else, this series of events highlights the rather shaky and sometimes unethical state of early video-era horror distribution.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

Video

In an age with an almost unhealthy obsession with widescreen, a lot of people will be a bit turned off by the film’s aspect ratio. Shot and presented in 1.33:1, it remains one of the few films from the 80s slasher cycle shot that I can think of that utilized the 4×3 aspect ratio (although, as many would note, Evil Dead was shot in 16mm 4×3 and has often been presented in a reformatted 16×9 form). With the only comparison available being VHS tapes, the newly restored print of Satan’s Blade is surprisingly beautiful. There are, of course, signs of deterioration in the print but it is cleaner and sharper than I would have imagined. There doesn’t appear to be any digital tinkering, such as DNR filtering. The film’s low budget makes it hard to really decipher nuanced issues that could be present, but it would appear as if Olive Films and Slasher // Video have delivered an extremely faithful rendition of the original 35mm elements.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

Audio

Likewise, many of the issues in the sound design are probably problems that are on display in the original elements, so what Olive/Slasher have presented can’t be held up to too close of scrutiny. There are a great deal of moments when shouting and screaming cause distortion in the mix but, as mentioned, it would seem as if these were probably the fault of improper original sound design. Taking what they have to work with, this Blu-Ray has a respectable mix. Again, something that is the fault of the design, but there are many moments when the film’s synth score is the only audio on display, with voices, and sound effects temporarily muted. It is extremely distracting and puzzling why Castillo would opt for this aesthetic choice, and stands as probably the single most aggravating aspect of the film.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

Extras

With this release, it is much more quantity than quality in terms of features. Olive Films are kind of known for their bare bones releases, choosing instead to focus money on restoration work. Since they have proven reliable in providing beautiful print after beautiful print, they can’t really be faulted for this. Extra features are always nice but it should be more about presenting the best possible presentation of the film that the features. Perhaps because of the help of Slasher // Video, this release comes stocked with quite a few supplementary features. Most of the material revolves around Castillo, which is great because he is the most fascinating aspect of the story. Despite his eccentricities, there is an undeniable charm about him. His excitement that people care about his film seems genuine, which makes this release all the more important. The problem, however, is that he is rather repetitious in the ways he talks about the film, so you hear the same stories throughout the two included interviews that he is featured on. Both interviews are also shot with a single camera, in what would appear to be the same room (presumably in Castillo’s home?), with the same side-on angle. The quality of the footage for the interview’s is in line with the film but they do help to shed some light on the bizarre creation of this film, so they are definitely worthy of a watch. The disc includes two scenes from the film captured from various VHS releases. There is no additional info as to why these scenes are included and (full disclosure, I am far from an expert on the film) it doesn’t seem as if they differ from the restored print in any way. Thus, the value of these scenes is debatable but is probably a treat for VHS-philes. Additionally, there are photo galleries and two trailers included.

L. Scott Castillo Jr's Satan's Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

L. Scott Castillo Jr’s Satan’s Blade (1984) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

Satan’s Blade will surely never be anyone’s favorite film but fans of the Slasher genre shouldn’t go without seeing it at least once. What this release really solidifies, however, is the brilliance of both Slasher // Video and Olive Films. There is no logical or financial reason that Satan’s Blade should have been restored in high definition. It is not a major cult title nor is it a forgotten masterpiece. This is all the more reason to really be impressed with this release. Slasher // Video have built their reputation on micro-budget, virtually unknown films and with the help of Olive Films, they have really presented one hell of a release here. The restoration is top notch, something few would expect of a film of this ilk. You can tell this was not a cash grab, Slasher // Video and Olive Films have invested a great deal of time, money, and love into giving Satan’s Blade the release they thought it deserved, and they succeeded.

1981 is undeniably the year the slasher broke. Broke’s connotation, here, being ambiguous because, while the year saw an onslaught of terrific slashers…

Review Overview

The Film
Video
Audio
Extras

Bottom Line

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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