J.S. Cardone made a career in the independent and straight to video markets as a writer, director and producer. The Slayer (1982), Cardone’s first feature, already has on display Cardone’s economical approach to special effects and his sensitivity for character driven genre films. The Slayer makes use of most of the tropes associated with the slasher film such as a small group of potential victims trapped in a remote locale. Cardone adds a bit of the supernatural to the mix by featuring elements such as precognitive powers and suggested reincarnation.
The Slayer follows Kay (Sarah Kendall), a painter, on a trip to a remote island off the coast of Georgia during the off-season. Kay is accompanied on her trip by her husband David (Alan McRae), her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and her sister-in-law Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). As soon as they arrive on the island Kay begins to sense that she’s been there before. Every detail encountered on the island Kay has seen in the reoccurring dream she has been having since childhood. At night, while she sleeps, a mysterious beast attacks and kills her companions one at a time until only Kay remains to face the demonic force.
In terms of mood and atmosphere The Slayer truly excels. Cardone is more than adept at sending chills down the viewers’ backs with his suspenseful pacing and macabre production design. These technical qualities are further bolstered by the performance of Sarah Kendall whose expressive eyes and cold exterior make her a compelling heroine.
The most remarkable thing about The Slayer is that, in total defiance of genre norms, all the protagonists are middle aged. Typically a plot where two couples go to a desolate island revolves around highly attractive teenagers or twenty-somethings, not average looking folks in their mid-thirties to early forties. The target audience for The Slayer clearly matches the age of the characters which may account for Cardone’s directorial choices such as the gradual build and slow coming revelations. However, there are times when, specifically in the second act, that The Slayer feels more repetitive rather than methodical or nuanced.
The mysterious monster isn’t glimpsed until the end of the film when it finally catches up with Kay. The design for this creature is utterly disgusting. It looks sort of like a crab-man with leprosy. The look of this thing makes for a stark contrast with the otherwise realistic designs of the film. This lends the monster a sense of the uncanny. It is, after all, a creature culled from Kay’s dreams.