“Satan’s Blade” (1984) — “That’s the one about the mountain man whose spirit still roams through these hills!”

Directed by L. Scott Castillo, Jr.

Synopsis
A knife is thrown from off-screen. It sticks in a tree, then pulses red to signify, I don’t know, it’s possessed or something. Opening credits.

Satan's Blade 1

November, 1981. 6:15 pm. Somewhere along the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Great day for an armed robbery. Two soon-to-be-felons screech to a stop in front of a closing bank. They run out. One of their gloved hands taps on the glass with a gun. A terrified woman naively unlocks the door. Bills are crammed into a handbag, the tellers disposed of unceremoniously, several rounds each to the midsection. The gunmen peel away down a winding, mountain road to a picturesque lakeside cabin.

Inside, they slip out of their clothes, and it’s then we’re surprised to see — hey, wait a minute — they’re women, not men, as most would assume. One of them mentions a George will be stopping in to pick up his third of the 50k (yeah, 50k, they killed two people for 50k) for informing them of the intricacies of the bank’s security system (despite there not appearing to have been a security system in place). In what was most likely her plan from the start, the darker haired woman then coldheartedly cuts her accomplice out, blasting her nekkid, jiggly chested self three times in the bathroom, once to the gut, once in the back, once more to the forehead. Meanwhile, the shadow of a third person is shown creeping up to the cabin. Then, as the darker haired femme fatale drags her freshly killed friend to the doorway back-first, another gloved hand sinks a knife into her spine. Was it George? Two clueless policemen respond to the shots a bit later. Rushing in, they discover the two women’s bodies slumped over each other, as well as a cryptic image scribbled in blood above them.

Satan's Blade 5

Wait, not that one.

The next morning, two parties of young people, one of four, one of five, arrive at the front desk of the cabin almost simultaneously. Having read of the previous night’s murder, newly certified lawyer Tony broaches the subject while checking in. The owner’s elderly mother wastes little time launching into the Legend, a lurid, local tale of a murdering mountain man rumored to inhabit the lake. “There was a time when there wasn’t a soul living in these parts, except for a giant man and his family…” the old woman starts. “But then, the people started coming in. They bought land, changed things. They forced him higher and higher up the mountains until he didn’t have a place to live… He decided to fight back for the land he felt was rightfully his.” she continues. “So, he asked the Gods of these mountains for help. They say he was given a weapon. But it wasn’t from the Gods, it was from the evil spirits of these mountains that wanted them for themselves.”

Satan's Blade 6

Hold up, why is the mom’s arm broken? It’s never addressed, and she doesn’t look to be that old, to have fallen down in the shower or whatever old people do that causes them to break their arms. Was she pushed? This is my theory. For just prior to barreling into her chunk of exposition, the son takes an oddly aggressive tone, chiding, “Mind yourself, mother!” As enjoyable as this movie already is, and I’ll get to that shortly, I feel like it would have been made even better by a son-against-parent domestic abuse angle, wherein the innkeeper comically beats his mother for speaking her mind about any and every little thing.

“Folks, have you heard of the-”

“Damnit, mother!”

Cue sounds of a belt cracking wrinkly back fat.

_________________________

I digress. The Legend inevitably comes up again and again in conversation throughout the narrative. “What about the knife?” Tony asks of a local.

“It came from Hell, bearing a curse as eternal as the Devil himself, bringing with it a siege of madness, terror and murder.” the film’s theatrical trailer seems to answer. “Its horrible power can turn an innocent man into a tool of death and destruction. Beware!” it warns. “Beware the slash of Satan’s Blade!”

So, has the homicidal hermit returned to wreak havoc upon his home turf? Has the malign power of his mystical stabbing contraption corrupted some schmuck? Or, is a local magnate going full Scooby-Doo and exploiting the Legend’s lore for personal reasons? More importantly, who, if any, will survive their stay on the mountain?

[continued below]

Review (SPOILERS)
Very few, if we’re being completely honest.

So, Tony and the other male cabin goer (there’s only two, the rest are women) head out for a beer run or what-not and bump into the film’s prerequisite Prophet of Doom (often, an elderly kook who attempts to forewarn the protagonists of impending danger, who’s almost always laughed off as out of their damn head — a common slasher trope popularized if not originated by Friday the 13th’s Crazy Ralph character). Right, so the film’s POD is at first perplexed as to why the lake’s fishing has dried up, but soon makes the connection recalling his only other day of bad fishing fourteen years back when the — oh my gootness! — last set of murders took place.

Pause.

X-Files music.

As not just expected, but necessitated, the two leads pay no mind, and continue down their merry gumdrop path of gingerbread men and blissful, unsuspecting oblivion. WHAT A CRAZY OLD FUCK.

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Of course, it doesn’t really matter who believes what, now does it? At the end of the day, the vacationing, uhm, vacationers wind up majorly kill-inated regardless. The whole thing crescendos in a tense, well-photographed scene that sees one girl peek out from under a bed as another attempts to fend off the killer. Psst, you. Yeah, you, under the bed. You could help if you wanted to. Or just lay there. That’s cool.

Finally, the film ends on a spectacular sort of King Arthur reference that leaves the door open for a sequel and instantly brings to mind the hysterical teaser trailer for Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. If you’ve never seen it, please, take a moment to culture yourself. I insist.

In a DVD extra, director Castillo refers to his style as “typical, tacky [and] sexploitative.” To me, it sounds like he’s selling himself short, but there’s also no arguing that Satan’s Blade falls victim to a handful of horror tropes and trappings. For example:

•The heroes’ tires get slashed, “preventing” them from leaving. If this happened to me, I’d drive off without hesitation. Boo-hoo, ya ruin your rims, it’s still better than dying, no?
•Habitually late policemen. Think about it, they always seem to arrive just after, never before, the murders.
•Like Friday the 13th, perhaps the most popular slasher of all, the film’s antagonist is rumored to live under a lake.
•Speaking of Friday the 13th, let’s not forget the aforementioned prophet of doom.

Yet, for every cliché it perpetuates, Satan’s Blade subverts another. Tony, the male lead (and a lawyer, no less!), turns out to be a standup guy, remaining faithful to his wife when offered hot sex by a stranger. Conversely, the film’s final girl is a homewrecking whore, not a virginal maiden. I’m sure there’s more to expand on here, but I’m lazy.

Granted, there’s not a whole lot going on in this flick that hasn’t been seen or done before, but it’s idiosyncratic enough to be able to get behind and root for in a low-budget, underdog cult movie kind of way. For most, I’m sure Satan’s Blade is nothing extraordinary, another run-of-the-mill slasher outing on par with dozens of others from the early 80s. For me, who prefers the crummier, more obscure side of things, it’s curious, campy, surprisingly competent, meager in terms of production, but hugely rewatchable for reasons I can’t fully explain. Since peeping this flick for the first time last week, I’ve watched it two or three more times, much to my poor wife’s chagrin. If I had to rate it 1-10, I’d rate it much higher — probably double — the 4.1 it currently holds on IMDb.

Yeah, it’s great.

Another plus Satan’s Blade has going for it is its ominous, snowy locale (a beautiful ski resort Northeast of Los Angeles, I read). Most wintry slashers like Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night take place in urban environments, failing to capitalize on the simple, haunting image of a snowy expanse of hillside.

Some have written that Satan’s Blade drags, or bleeds a bit slowly for a slasher film. I’ll concede that point. After all, its main cast of characters carries on unscathed not doing much of anything ’til about the fifty-five minute mark, but once they’re set upon, the tempo maintains, never slowing. A total of two pairs of boobs and nine kills whiz by in the span of twenty-two minutes. If you average that out, it lines up with Danny Steinmann’s breakneck pacing instructions going into production on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning — “to deliver a shock, scare, or kill every seven or eight minutes”. So it certainly brings home the bacon and fries it in the pan, it’s just that it’s all at once, and during the final act. Indeed, the body and boob counts are high.

As for the blood, it’s used sparingly. Realistically, I’d say.

Castillo claims to have filmed and added more murders and topless scenes to appease a potential distributor, but watching the film start to finish, nothing feels overly forced or shoehorned in for the sake of it. Actually, I take that back. The opening moments are rife with subtle lesbian eroticism that strike me as random.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that just three of the film’s actors appeared in subsequent roles. Apparently, this wasn’t much of a résumé builder. The only crew member of note here is cinematographer Terry Kempf, who went on to work in the art department of such films as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Team America: World Police. The actor who played Al, Thomas Cue, is double billed as having fleshed out the screenplay from an original idea by one-shot director Castillo, though Castillo asserts in the DVD extra mentioned above that he penned “at least half” of the script.

In the same extra, Castillo claims to have recently wrapped a low-budget cop movie and notes that he may take to crowdfunding for Satan’s Blade 2 this November! Callooh! Callay! O frabjous blade!

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TRIVIA
•The artwork for Satan’s Blade was later reused for the unrelated Spanish production Don’t Panic under the alternate title of Satan’s Blood.
•On a similar note, Satan’s Blade was released in at least one country, Yugoslavia, with the iconic artwork for Bill Lustig’s Maniac.

The Verdict
Grab yourself a copy. This old knife was recently pulled from the bark of obscurity, and rereleased for the first time on DVD (and Blu-ray, no less) by the always impressive Slasher // Video label in conjunction with Olive Films. Slasher // Video’s original pressings of Death Nurse, Death Nurse II, Cemetery Sisters and others are now out of print and quite hard to come by. No telling if these second-run pressings will disappear too.

Recommendations
these other wildman-stalking-the-woods movies that just so happened to come out within a year of each other:

Don’t Go in the Woods (1981)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Madman (1982)

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