“Satan’s Blade” (1984)
by A.J. Hakari
Horror fans are among the most persistent, dedicated, and forgiving in all of filmdom. No matter how obscure or low-rent a title may be, never underestimate someone’s urge to seek it out; one person’s disposable slasher is another’s object of obsession, sparked by seeing the right actor’s flesh pierced at just the right age. There are times when I truly envy the ability of gorehounds to get enjoyment out of certain movies and see something in them that’s totally lost on yours truly, as is the case with 1984’s Satan’s Blade. Released two years after it was filmed, this very low-budget production has what I can only assume to be a healthy fanbase, judging from the newly-minted Blu-ray restoration commemorating its thirtieth anniversary. But while I’ve never been one to cry moral outrage or bemoan the popularity of slasher cinema, I found myself questioning how anyone could like Satan’s Blade as I watched it — not because of its violence, but for the abundance of scenes in which nary a damn thing happens.
Legend tells of a terrifying force that lurks within the wilderness surrounding a cozy ski resort. Long ago, a man lived in peace, until so many newcomers drove him from his home and pushed him up the mountain, none other than Satan gifted him a special knife with which to take his revenge. Although most regard the story as a silly old myth, strange murders do plague the area from time to time, with the same bloody markings discovered at each grisly scene. The two married couples and five snow bunnies who converge on the resort definitely don’t pay any heed to the legend, but it isn’t long before their holidays are interrupted by the arrival of a crazed killer. One by one, the vacationers are stabbed, speared, and slashed, by a foe who knows the woods like the back of his hand. But is it a regular old psycho who’s targeted the groups, or has the mountain man’s spirit returned to use his demonic weapon of choice on the poor souls invading his territory?
That Satan’s Blade has any atmosphere to call its own makes it a cut above many of its similarly thrifty slasher contemporaries. The synth score possesses an eerie and genuinely unsettling quality, and for as unspectacular as the photography may be overall, it effectively highlights the stark isolation of its locales. With snow-laden settings that bathe viewers in a constant, blinding whiteness, the flick brought to mind 1983’s Curtains, and that’s never a bad thing. This is one case in which not having the greatest resources to work with paid off, for instead of having its ensemble be stalked through a ritzy ski chalet, they’re cowering in junky-looking cabins, resulting in a more organically freaky experience. Unfortunately, the pros of Satan’s Blade pretty much end there, as the con side of matters is taken up by the fact that the film really doesn’t have much else going for it. Its opening sequence (in which bank robbers flee their latest heist, only to fall prey to our madman du jour) is a unique start, but it swiftly squanders whatever potential it might have had by introducing a premise, antagonist, and cast of characters that are all as simplistic as can be. While those wading in the victim pool aren’t necessarily unlikable, their little subplots make for staggeringly uninteresting filler in between kill scenes; the wooden performances given by anyone that isn’t the old lady who assumes the mantle of resident doomsayer renders them even less fascinating.
Those hoping for at least an iconic villain out of Satan’s Blade will head home from this nightmare vacation empty-handed. The movie does a poor job of exploiting its whodunit angle — disguising the killer’s identity but never playing around with possible suspects to throw us off the trail — and giving its bloodthirsty baddie the mythic aura it’s aiming for. Never mind the fact that holes can be poked in the mountain man’s lore with the slightest amount of thought (so he murders anyone who intrudes on his land, yet the resort owners and who knows how many other customers over the years are all safe?); the guy frankly doesn’t get enough time to build up a frightening presence. After that opening sequence, you don’t see hide nor hair of the killer for a solid fifty minutes or so, save for a couple teases to fake us out. When our supernaturally-enhanced slasher does return, all we get is a gloved hand clutching the eponymous knife and a hint of arm, hardly the makings of a butcher to strike fear into our collective hearts. A climactic reveal comes too late to shake things up, and both the bloody set pieces and the effects used to pull them off are mundane as all hell. If your idea of a gory good time involves watching knives smear pre-applied blood on mostly bored actors, then this is the lightweight horror show for you.
I’ve seen more woeful productions than Satan’s Blade, but the idea of anyone seriously heralding a comeback after its video store heyday is truly baffling. It’s just so flavorless, lacking both memorable imagery to help it stick out amongst its splat pack brethren and ineptitude on such a scale so as to carve itself a place in “so bad, it’s great” infamy. Satan’s Blade does what it does in as unexciting and dull of a manner as one can conceive, a movie of note only to those who are just that bound and determined to fill gaps in their horror to-watch checklists.
(Satan’s Blade is available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.)