A DAY OF JUDGMENT
Director: Charles Reynolds
Year of release: 1981
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 90 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: VHS only currently
Tagline: "The night he came to collect his own".
Also known as: Stormbringer
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: In 1920’s small town America a priest is at his wits end with his parishioners who have turned away from his services and seem to be descending into lives of sin. Admitting defeat he sets off for pastures new only to run across a mysterious dark cloaked figure carrying a scythe coming the other way. It seems Death itself has taken an interest in the small town folk with a terrible punishment soon to be in the future of any who’ve strayed from the righteous path.
As we begin to meet the sinful locals through ‘ a slice of life’ style vignettes they in turn begin to meet their comeuppance at the hands of the scythe carrying stranger.
Good points: *The killer though seldom seen does look the part and is someone that I wanted to see more of as a result. I think he’s very much been patterned after Death/Father Time taking into account the scythe which he carries around with him and he wears a black cloak/habit type thing as well to support the look. The face is a bit hard to describe, rather than the obvious bleached skull which you’d think they utilise he instead has a regular looking face but it’s very mottled and kind of burnt looking. It looks ghoul like and works well.
For one scene he’s seen more in silhouette with glowing eyes and this looks more striking and probably more intimidating as well. All in all I thought they did a solid job with the look of the killer so it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.
*There were a handful of characters that I enjoyed watching among the sinners. Firstly the bad tempered busy body old lady appealed to me. She was ever entertaining and it’s not too often that a lady of such a vintage falls among the victims in a slasher film so she was a bit of a novelty.
The greedy bank manager was also a riot and it was nice to spot a familiar face from Death Screams which in itself is an early eighties slasher film which I’m partial to. This tubby bank manager was probably my favourite character and he was pivotal in many of the scenes for at least the first half of the film so was awarded a good amount of screen time.
Mild spoiler: It would be remiss of me not to mention the cheating wife of the successful busines man who unintentionally provided a bit of comedy. The idea was that she was hitched up to an older man who wasn’t in her league in terms of looks. Though she schemed and was smarmy towards him to his face she was then cheating on him with one of his younger employees behind his back. The thing was is that she actually wasn’t that attractive herself, even by the standards of the day it’s hard to see her being perceived as eye candy. She seems very out of place as a trophy wife, something which is never more apparent than in one eyebrow raising scene where she does a bizarre dance. Presumably intended to be seductive it just looks plain weird. The dress she’s wearing which I think is supposed to be sexy is also extremely modest which adds to the humour.
*With the story being set in the 1920’s there’s a very different vibe going on to what we’re typically used to seeing within the sub-genre. Despite being made some sixty years after the time it was set and probably on a lower end budget as well they actually do a good job with the costumes and general look of the place. The buildings for example, (both exterior and interior) look fairly authentic. It’s nice to see very early day old fashioned cars being driven around and even a couple of buggies/wagons being pulled by a horse. It’s something very different and I think in this area there’s much to admire.
Bad Points: *As decent as the killer looks the parts involving him are almost entirely disappointing. As well as just not getting nearly enough screen time, when he is on camera his parts have a tacked on feel as if he’s not really even there properly in the room or whatever with the character he’s menacing. To play into the supernatural aspects maybe this is supposed to imply he’s appearing as more of a vision to his victims instead of being right there before them in flesh and blood. It doesn’t feel very satisfying though and it gives the impression that these bits have just been added later as an afterthought. Aside from one decapitation towards the end there’s nothing on offer either as far as gore goes so it’s as tame as you could imagine for most of the running time.
*With the killer being absent for long periods there is trouble with the pacing with their being too many long talky segments. Due to some of the characters I’ve already mentioned being fun like the old lady and the bank manager these parts don’t always feel like a drag but when the lesser characters get involved and take centre stage they do become tiresome. The story begins to follow a town drunk towards the end for example who has a beef with the local solicitor/lawyer and this part in particular struggled to hold my interest. It was harder to follow than the vignettes that had gone before and seemed a bit confusing in the way it was told.
*There were two bits I can pick out which I didn’t think were very well done. Firstly pertaining to the grumpy old woman who was taking umbrage with the young kids whom she thought were messing up her garden. We were supposed to side with the kids and feel the woman was being unreasonable which to some extent she was but at one point the kids are loitering around her garden after dark while allowing their pet goat to graze on her property. In fairness to the lady she’d be right to think this is unacceptable. It’s understandable she’d be intimidated to see a gang of youths hovering around by her property after dark peering over the fence and whatnot. This is after they’ve been told to stay away by the Sheriff as well.
Mild spoiler: Later there’s a character who’s trying to screw his parents over in order to claim an early inheritance and this guy’s demise isn’t very well explained. Initially it just seems like he ends up in an asylum but then later on he appears to be among the deceased with no explanation.
Verdict: A Day of Judgment is a real oddity and not at all like your typical early eighties slasher. Perhaps due to this together with the heavy handed religious message it often receives a lot of flak from horror fans. Though I agree it isn’t a good film by any means I don’t think it’s all that bad either with their being at least some entertaining characters and a workable looking killer. Being set in the 1920’s also provides a distinct flavour which hasn’t really been replicated anywhere else.
On the other side of the coin there are pacing issues throughout with the film even becoming a bit boring and confusing in the latter parts. It’s also extremely tame with the bits featuring the killer having an odd tacked on type feel to them.
It’s worth seeing purely as something very different but don’t enter into it with high expectations.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
0: (The twist at the end is that it’s all revealed to be a series of dreams experienced by the sinners so no one actually dies. Instead they change their ways and turn back to the church. I think there were 10 people that appeared to die though before the dream revelation plus 1 goat).
Review added on the 21st of November 2020.