Nearly as ancient an archetype as the ghost, the vampire has stalked our collective unconscious for centuries. Fascinating as both folk-tale boogieman and cosmic symbol, embodying in its charnel house condition of hunger and horror our specie's paradoxical fear and fascination with death (and, more to the point, a possible after-life), the undead have stalked across literature and film for as long as people have attempted to understand the mystery of mortality. Nosferatu has stalked, staked, and resurrected so many times, in fact, his fangs are in danger of loosing their edge. Threatening to drain the mystery from a monster that drew its power from its relationship with the unknown, the vampire hasn't only had to endure being glamorized by the tiring spat of neo-gothic Anne Rice spin-offs so in vogue, but has been robbed of its vitality by overexposure. Slayer, a film by Kevin Vanhook, injects surprising originality into this moldy stock character, reinterpreting the legend's by connecting it to dark history.

Casper Van Dien is Hawk, leader of a military group attacked by vampires on a peace-keeping jungle mission. Surviving only to be ordered back by the military officials, Hawk, along with his second in command Grieves (Grevioux), encounter walking nightmares inside Latin America. When they are attacked by villagers who have become vampires, Hawk fears he has more on his hands (like, er, guts!) than he expected. As the vampiric scourge spreads, infecting entire villages, Hawk fights for their lives and souls. Similar to a plague, vampirism is treated not as a supernatural phenomena but in scientific terms, spreading like Aids or any other infectious disease. While this itself isn't unique, its foundation in the mythical 'fountain of youth' and famed early explorers lends the myth both authenticity and antiquity. The vampires grow in number as Colonel Jessica Weaver struggles to keep the scourge hushed, adding additional stress to Hawk's mission. Bad turns to worse when members of Hawk's squad are abducted. If that isn't bad enough, he discovers that his estranged wife is on a walking tour of the jungle nearby, and unearths a conspiracy wherein the leader of the undead pack has determined to militarize their efforts, spreading their disease/way of un-life into the free world. The end races into a Western-style showdown between Casper and the vampires in grand if goofy style.

While dialogue is occasionally strained, and the final vampire sculpture too theatrical to be believable, this quick-paced adventure/horror hybrid is successful as a 'popcorn' thriller. More concerned with visual thrills and bullet-like pacing than characterization or nuances of theme, Slayer pretends to be nothing more than what it is -- a fun, rowdy explosion of blood, guts, and dark humor. Merging the basic setting/ scenario of Predator with the attitude of John Carpenter's Vampires and From Dusk to Dawn, Vanhook coaxes solid performances by genre veterans Danny Trejo and Lynda Carter. Casper Van Dien is effective if overplayed as the lead, and the effects are wonderful and incredibly bloody. Exchanging the eldritch ambience of European locations, or the familiarity of domestic America, for exotic South American rain forest, Slayer's blood-spilling, head cleaving, intestine fondling excesses are heightened by atmosphere. If not inspired, the compositions are technically polished. Sporting pre-Incan vampires, Vanhook's monsters are nasty, a refreshing move in an age where the rotting corpses of the undead have been somehow transformed by popular culture into 'pretty' boy romantic heroes. One of the few well crafted Sci-Fi channel features in existence, Vanhook does a fine job of suggesting larger issues of social politics and environmentalism into his pulp narrative, suggesting that the vampire's change of tactics and new aggression is forced by industrialization and financial greed. If little is done with this theme once mentioned, it at least provides a unique background for the violence. In no means a new classic of genre, lacking either the originality of story or style to be considered truly innovative, Slayer is nonetheless a well crafted scare 'em up, and easily worth your time.

Visually polished, this new transfer by Anchor Bay stands up to the quality that one expects from the company. Slayer benefits from a widescreen presentation in 1.78:1, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Free from grain or image softness, this low budget affair looks as good as any current blockbuster. The audio features clean, crisp tracks in Dolby Surround 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. These tracks are both vivid, free from background interference. Both also maintain a nice balance between dialogue and score.

Extras are scarce but interesting. Most significant is the audio commentary with writer/producer/director Kevin Vanhook and star Casper Van Dien. Kevin's comments are the most significant for those interested in the technical/aesthetic process of filmmaking, as he recalls significant things about preparation, shooting, etc. Casper is more the talkative-- hardly surprising, with him being an actor! -- discussing his role, stories form on-set, and the cast. Other extras include a script available only on DVD-ROM and a Photo and Concept Art Gallery.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay USA
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review