Judge David Johnson thinks Casper Van Dien is poised to make a comeback into mainstream theatrical films. He's of course referring to Casper Van Dien the key grip, not the actor.
Vampires and South America and Danny Trejo combine to form a gory, tongue-and-cheek excursion into yet another re-"vamping" of bloodsucker mythology.
Facts of the Case
Casper Van Dien (The Fallen Ones), the Sci-fi Channel originals' go-to-guy, laces up the combat boots as Major Hawk (of course that's his name), a red-blooded commander of an elite army unit. He and his squad have faced it all—Afghanistan, Iraq, um, etc.—but no one is prepared for what awaits the, in South America. During a patrol, the soldiers are ambushed by a band of vampires that can run around in the sunlight.
Hawk and his pals manage to survive that ordeal, but are soon thrust back into the middle of some righteous vampire-smiting action when they return to rescue the fetching Dr. Laurie Williams (Jennifer O'Dell). Meanwhile, Hawk's best friend has been turned into a vampire and is being used by the mysterious leader to organize a lethal undead brigade to assault outside world.
Here's the best thing Slayer has going for it: blood. There are buckets and buckets of blood that is shed throughout the course of Kevin Van Hook's vampire opus, so much so that it's hard to imagine what the film looked like in its sterilized version on the Sci-Fi Channel. And the surprising thing is, the blood effects are quite good. The CGI is discernible in some areas, specifically when a few vamps get staked by blatantly digitized wooden sticks, but Van Hook wisely uses practical effects as well: blood flows in geysers from neck wounds, fluid is coughed up by the liter, and behind-the-scenes Super Soakers pump out streams of Karo syrup. Nice and satisfying and gives the film a nice jolt of goop.
Yet we all know gore and mayhem does not a memorable horror film make and, here's the surprise, Slayer isn't half bad. Overall, the film manages to sidestep The Curse of the Van Dien, and provides a light-hearted, fast-paced schlock adventure and, as such, exceeded my meager expectations. Van Hook made a wise decision by filing down the edge on Slayer. Frankly, the film sometimes borders on dark comedy, and while that marginalizes the shock effect of the violence, it makes for a more entertaining—and less pretentious—experience. While not flush with witty scripting, Slayer uses physical gags (most involving the aforementioned buckets of blood), musical cues and Van Dien's wooden delivery to lighten the mood.
This self-effacing feel goes a long way into softening the blow of what truthfully is just another soldiers-shooting-the-crap-out-of-vampires movie. Van Hook should be given credit for that tonal decision, as well as the idea to tweak the vampire mythology and allow the bastards to remain in the sun; this leads to lots of fights in broad daylight, which, while not thrillingly choreographed, are quick and punchy, easy to see, and edited smoothly.
The acting ranges from adequate (Van Dien, O'Dell) to over-the-top (Kevin Grevioux as Hawk's best pal delivers his lines as if he were bellowing out the opening titles of an overproduced 1980s sword and sorcery epic) to Trejo-riffic (yep, Danny Trejo shows up for another crazy, south-of-the-border vampire film). The story packs little surprise, save for the big reveal of the head honcho and the true source of vampirism, an admittedly nifty little proposition by Van Hook.
The film looks very sharp with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; the clear winners are the makeup effects personnel, whose work is well-detailed by the video quality. A 5.1 surround mix actively supports. Van Hook and Van Dien's humorous commentary track highlight the extras, supplemented by a still gallery and the script on DVD-ROM.
You could do a lot worse than spending some time with Slayer. I dig the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film and there is loads of blood. The end.
Case dismissed. Now go fetch a mop.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary
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