SATAN’S BLADE — Rescued From Obscurity

Satan’s Blade made its modern-format home video debut on Blu-ray and DVD from Slasher // Video and Olive Films on May 12.

Typically when reviewing Blu-rays I have separate categories where I discuss the film itself and the actual media, but with Satan’s Blade I feel the two are so intertwined on this particular release that I’m dropping the format and just discussing the entire experience.

Satan’s Blade is the first Olive Films release under a new distribution partnership with Slasher // Video, making its home video debut in a modern optical format. Previously unavailable since VHS, it has been plucked from the miry depths of obscurity and given a very loving renewal at life.

It is not a good movie.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Satan’s Blade is a low-budget slasher mystery, with an emphasis on low budget. However, if you’re a horror-head who likes discovering random oddities, it certainly merits some discussion.

On firing up the disc, I was kind of pleased by the grittiness at the beginning of the print. Obviously this is a matter of some opinion, but I love that grindhouse touch for movies like this — it’s fitting for the film, and it feels like watching a 35mm print — not a bad thing by any means. Anyway, after the opening credits the image cleans up nicely with only a few flecks and scratches, no significant damage. The color timing shifts a bit but it’s not distracting.

The film starts off well. Some energetic synth-driven opening music sets the atmosphere. A pair of masked crooks hold up a bank, kill the tellers, and split with the dough. After making it to their cabin hideout safely, their masks come off and our expectations are momentarily subverted. Some unexpected violence explodes, and both end up dead. But how, and by whom, is the interesting part.

After getting off to a rousing start, the film re-centers on a new group of characters who vacation at the same camp, and here it loses a bit of momentum. We’re introduced to several characters, a pair of husbands vacationing with their wives and a group of rowdy girls in the cabin next door who shamelessly flirt with them. In “Crazy Ralph” fashion, a couple of old-timers warn them about a ghoul that haunts the area — a mountain man who sold his soul and was given an evil dagger, and whose spirit inhabits the lake, or something to that effect. The recent slaying has the locals and police on edge.

Naturally, a slasher-murderer gets to work getting kills in here and there, but the proceedings feel a bit lethargic. There’s the expected slasher-horror elements of sex and violence, but it’s done with an unsteady hand. While the film is generally entertaining, it’s not particularly memorable. We do get a couple of nice change-ups from the genre, such as a male lead who chooses to be faithful to his wife rather than engage in a tryst with a very pretty and willing cabin neighbor, but the film is wise for clocking in at a brisk 83 minutes.

If I theorize a bit, I think the main problem is that the killer doesn’t have much of a visual hook, mostly due to generally being off-camera to conceal their identity. Freddy has his glove, Jason his mask. Even terrible slashers like New Year’s Evil understand the need for their murderer to have a catchy look or element that makes them memorable. With Satan’s Blade, this obviously should have been, well, Satan’s blade. But there’s nothing especially remarkable about the killer’s common-looking knife. We’re eventually treated to the truth behind the killer’s method (and it’s pretty good), but that’s at the film’s close. Similarly, the film’s supernatural and Satanic themes barely come into play beyond offering an explanation for the killer.

The film’s budgetary limitations are immediately clear from the minimal art design to the often wooden acting and amateurish filmmaking. I noticed on several occasions that boom mics could be spotted at the top of the frame, sometimes pretty egregiously, as in this shot.

Having read a bit of others’ reactions to this film, I should mention that I don’t agree with the sentiment shared by some that the Satan’s Blade is entertaining on a camp level. The more amateurish aspects of the production don’t register as funny or mockable, just earnest and kind of underwhelming. What I do like about it, I legitimately like without pretense or irony.

I know this sounds pretty negative so far, and it is, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re remotely interested in this title, there’s a high probability that you already anticipated that. The draw here isn’t the promise of a great film, but the excitement of dredging up a lost relic of the VHS slasher era and enjoying an absolutely gorgeous 2k transfer in pristine 1080p. Perhaps you understand that a poorly crafted slasher, like a poorly made pizza, can still be pretty great. If this sounds like you then welcome home. You’re gonna love this release.

The combination of cover and exploitative title are nothing less than amazing, a throwback to those VHS days when gorgeous artwork enticed customers to give even the worst movies a shot. The designers even placed faux rental labels into the artwork designating the “slasher” genre and reminding renters to rewind or incur a fee. I’m smitten. This would undoubtedly be one of the coolest looking Blu-rays in any collection, if you care about that sort of thing.

Special Features and Extras

With films this obscure, supplementary material can be pretty hit and miss, but this disc has a set of extras rarely afforded to films like this. A lot of it is fluff, and almost entirely of poor video quality, but you do get the sense that director/producer/writer L. Scott Castillo Jr. and the disc’s producers really scoured the archives and gave it everything they had.

Director’s Narrative (16:08)
 Remembering Satan’s Blade (32:47)
 Two interviews with L/ Scott Castillo, apparently shot together though the interviewers are different on each. Castillo discusses various aspects of the filmmaking and financing, and in the “Remembering” featurette shares various vintage media and memorabilia including VHS copies, magazines, and the 35mm print from which the Blu-ray is sourced. We get a closer look at some of these in the “Photo Gallery” feature. These interviews are of pretty low quality, cheaply and amateurishly made — which seems somehow appropriate.

Instrumental I (1:05)
 Instrumental II (1:15)

Photo Gallery (10:42)
 Production images, artwork, posters, and VHS covers from Castillo’s archives. It seems to me this was probably mislabeled and is actually the “Scrapbook” feature.

Japanese Home Video Scene (14:09)
 Dutch Home Video Scene (2:09)
 Not additional material, just a pair of scenes from the film with Japanese and Dutch subtitles.

Trailer (1:00)
 Very low quality trailer that appears to be VHS sourced and then highly digitally compressed.

Satan’s Blade Scrapbook (2:36)
 Photos from the production. It’s likely this is in fact the “Photo Gallery”, mislabeled.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

Previous post PITCH PERFECT 2: ‘A Ca’-mmendable Effort That Falls Short of the Original
Next post GHOULIES 1 & 2 — It’s Time For The Ghoulies Get-Together! (On Blu-ray)