Day of the Reaper 1984 Review
Day of the Reaper 1984
Directed by: Tim Ritter
Starring: Cathy O’ Hanlan, Collen Foley, Patrick Foster
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tim Ritter was one of the pioneers of DTV horror throughout the eighties and his output has always been well received by fans of lower budget creativity. His 1986 splatter effort, Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness, became notorious for its copper masked psychopath, a slightly more developed motive for the killings and an extraordinarily overblown performance from John Brace as the film’s bogeyman. If I haven’t posted it already, there will be soon be an in-depth review on this site, as its a film I have enjoyed more and more every time that I have watched it. It is one of my favorite campy slasher flicks from the mid-eighties and a great postcard from that non-politically correct era.
The budget for the aforementioned genre entry was put together from the profit made from two bargain basement DTV flicks that Ritter produced and then sold to video rental stores around Florida. One of those was Twisted Illusions from 1985, which was a collection of short stories in the mould of Creepshow and Twilight Zone. A year earlier, he made this rarity from 1984, which is probably the purest stalk and slasher of his filmography.
It was shot in January and February of that year and released eight-months later in time for Halloween. The complete budget of the feature was $1000 (about $3,300 nowadays) and Ritter admits that most independent video retailers bought it out of sympathy for the sixteen-year-old ambitious film-maker. After some initial complaints about the quality of the picture, Tim had the last laugh, because the movie proved to be a popular rental and some stores even ordered more copies.
A maniac who stalked and killed a group of girls, leaving only one female survivor breaks out of the Sunnydale insane asylum (same one from Truth or Dare) during his transfer to death row. He heads back to stalk the youngster that he didn’t finish last time around, dressed in a black ‘executioner’ style mask. Jennifer (Cathy O Hanlan) cannot convince the local law enforcement that the lunatic is still at large and so she must prepare to battle him alone. Or does she?
Now if you are still reading this review after I mentioned its production budget, then you know what to expect from this show-lace slasher. I could record much better footage with infinitely clearer sound on my iPhone and there’s probably an app available that would allow me to edit it to a smoother standard too. This was a hard movie to watch, because the quality truly is atrocious. Ritter used duck tape to piece together the negatives and it was shot in silence and dubbed sometime later, which left a lack of synchronisation. There’s hardly any lighting in the night scenes, which means that when the screen is not tinged in a murky blue then it’s coated in pitch black and let’s not talk about the shaky cinematography. Alcoholics with cameras alert!!!
Of course this was just a gang of Ritter’s friends in the cast, so there are no real actors, but its the man himself that delivers the most excruciating lines. Watch the scene when he meets with Jennifer, our heroine, and dismisses her claims that the killer is once again on a rampage. The dialogue is bad-movie comedy gold and really sets the cheesy tone that makes the film appealing. There is an idea of a plot, but its the idea of a sixteen-year-old and feels like a high-school summer project that was made as a homage to Halloween. In fact, this was a high school summer project and the average age of the cast was sixteen. The final girl was even too young to shoot the scenes of her driving.
I get the feeling that I am coming across rather harsh on this cheesy slasher, which is perhaps a tad unfair. How many 16 year-olds do you know that have a movie in circulation? It is also important to recognise that the director himself admits to how rubbish his first feature was and I have heard that there’s a newer version available that includes a mocking commentary. I do like Ritter’s work and its intriguing to see such an early installment, but it’s incredibly hard to recommend it, because it’s so tough on the ocular senses.
Day of the Reaper is worth a look as a curiosity, but it shouldn’t be taken seriously. It is a teenage horror film and amusing because of that, but I really must underline the fact that your expectations need to be realistic.
Final Girl √