The more you delve into the slasher vaults, the more you realize just how many body-count horror films were released before John Carpenter changed the game forever with 1978’s HALLOWEEN (and as you’ve probably heard by now, JC’s finally returning to those essential roots).
Most horror fans adore Bob Clark’s 1974 cult classic BLACK CHRISTMAS, which laid out many of the standard slasher tropes that would surface time and time again… but not as many know about other pre-HALLOWEEN entries like SAVAGE WEEKEND and THE PLAYBIRDS (both of which we covered earlier on these pages — click the titles to read more), DEVIL TIMES FIVE, BLOOD AND LACE and many more you’ll be reading about soon.
One of the most underrated entries from this era was completed in 1976, but released in 1978: the satanic slasher THE REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN, which loosely incorporates elements from THE OMEN into a sleazy, grimy and bloody body-count scenario that is so steadfastly bizarre I’m surprised it never found much of an audience — even after it hit home video in the ‘80s under the more overt slasher handle CLASS REUNION MASSACRE.
Directed by Constantine S. Gochis (his one-and-only feature) and starring a cast of mostly unknowns (except for a few familiar faces faces from ’80s TV), REDEEMER starts out weird and gets steadily nuttier: after an overblown apocalyptic text intro heralding the arrival of the title character, an odd-looking boy rises from the depths of a flooded quarry, upon which he catches a bus to attend services at a small church, where the congregation is subjected to a fire-and-brimstone preacher’s sermon about the wages of sin.
The preacher rattles off the usual litany of offenses against God, after which he is visited by the mysterious boy and somehow gifted with supernatural powers… or something. We are then presented with the living personifications of the aforementioned sins — in the form of six young adults attending their 10-year high school reunion.
Prior to their arrival, a mysterious interloper has murdered the empty school’s caretaker and assumed his identity, preparing for a presumptive killing spree by defacing six alumni photos in the class yearbook — oddly enough, the very six people who arrive for the festivities the next day.
It’s not long before the former classmates find themselves trapped inside the school, upon which the killer — who employs a wide assortment of creepy disguises and nasty weapons — stalks and kills them one by one.
The boogeyman also seems to possess supernatural abilities, enabling him to stage highly theatrical demises, some involving elaborate props (including a creepy giant marionette). The kills themselves are not particularly graphic, but most are shockingly brutal — this dude really seems to hate his victims — and there’s a fair amount of blood on display.
While it’s apparent the “Redeemer” and the wackjob preacher are one and the same, it’s never really made clear why he has singled out this particular group for being exemplary of the “Deadly Sins” (or some of them; it seems the Redeemer wasn’t paying attention in Sunday School, and also missed David Fincher’s SE7EN).
Were I to let my own cynicism run rampant, I would suspect the filmmakers had some kind of twisted moral agenda of their own (along the lines of the “Christian Scare Films” popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s), as the victims’ alleged crimes include “debauchery” (i.e. enjoying a good party); “gluttony” (one guy just loves cheeseburgers) and “perversion,” as represented by a stereotypically swishy actor and (gasp) a lesbian!
In the end, none of this is explained, and the creepy boy we saw in the prologue finally revisits the preacher… wait, what? Was he supposed to be the preacher as a child? If yes, then how do they appear onscreen together? If no, then who the hell is he? “The Son of Satan,” as referenced in the title? If he’s carrying out his Dad’s evil bidding, then what’s the deal with all this redeeming? I didn’t think redemption was really the Devil’s bag. Wait, doesn’t he like more sinners? (I fell asleep in Sunday School too.)
Also, why exactly does he have an extra thumb? Seriously, what the hell’s up with that?
This might seem like a negative review, but don’t get me wrong here — THE REDEEMER is totally entertaining, provided you don’t set your story expectations too high. I mean, how many slasher victims make this glorious face when they die?
REDEEMER has a look and feel that can best be described as “artsploitation.” The photography is inventive, crafting a surreal alternate reality that operates on a different set of rules, and enhanced by the creepy electronic score by Phil Gallo and Clem Clem Vicari Jr. The resulting vibe is both surreal and sleazy, and that’s ace in my book.
Code Red acknowledged this infectious oddity several years ago with a modest DVD release, followed a few years later by a bare-bones Blu-ray. While the source elements are suffering heavy damage in spots (very few intact prints were available), it’s undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked — including that adequate but blurry VHS transfer from Continental Video.