Monday, June 11, 2018

"Filthy Enough to Stink Out a Polecat" - The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1978)

Let us now discuss a protoslasher released months before Halloween (1978), The Redeemer: Son of Satan! aka Class Reunion Massacre. Like many protoslashers, this film foreshadows some of the elements of later, bigger, more popular slasher movies, particularly in this case the multiple costumes of Terror Train (1980) and Hollowgate (1988).

Your universe's critics are harsh in their reviews of this film, as they are with any movie that dares to discuss philosophy and attempts to bring true meaning to the cinema. As an example, on IMDB, reviewer tommyson writes, "This movie is a stupid, boring waste of time. the acting is some of the worst i've ever seen, the charachters are faceless sterotypes, the plot (if you can call it that) is absurd, the soundtrack is a loud, annoying rip off of halloween, and to add to all that, it just doesn't make any sense." Riddler_161 writes, " Terrible writing, coupled with worse editing, made for a nightmare of a movie." And Ben Larson writes, "Accompanied by some really irritating music. It didn't appear to know where to end, so it just kept going to some magical end that made no sense."

Needless to say, these reviews are quite misinformed. Like A Day of Judgment (1981), the film presents a lucid, compelling theological explanation of the effects of sin (i.e., sinners are killed for sinning). Please read on to learn more about this special film...

The film—one of the few films that lists crew members in the titles but no actors—begins at a picturesque, rocky lake. Over the scene the following words are superimposed in red type: “From out of the darkness the hand of the Redeemer shape appear to punish those who have lived in sin...”

In fact, the hand that emerges from the darkness of the water is that of a young boy.

The boy, clothed in a nice blue and brown ensemble that no doubt originated from a nearby Montgomery Ward’s, walks out of the lake and along a path. Then he appears in the bedroom of a sleeping man who wears some kind of Orson Welles ring on his finger,and whose other hand appears capable of growing an extra thumb when necessary.

Later, the boy is picked up by a school bus, a scene intercut with another man carrying a briefcase to a building that looks like a courthouse.

After a janitor unlocks the building, the briefcase man introduces himself as an inspector from the Apex Fire and Casualty Company. “You got a lot of work to do around here,” the inspector tells the janitor. “This place is filthy enough to stink out a polecat.”

Confusingly, the courthouse features a large indoor swimming pool. Even more confusingly, the inspector pulls a gun on the janitor and shoots him. The janitor falls into the pool.

It seems the courthouse is also a private religious school called Stuart Morse Academy. The boy who walked out of the lake is among a group of boys in the school chorus.

The filmmakers artistically cut between the chorus—which supports a fire-and-brimstone sermon by the school preacher, and which appears to be happening in the past—and the insurance inspector making a plaster cast of the face of the murdered janitor.

The structure of the film soon becomes clear: six (and only six) former students plan to attend the school reunion of the Stuart Morse Academy. Among the former students are a chess player/lawyer who rejects a client because the client is not sufficiently wealthy, a blonde woman with poor taste in men, a single mother, a self-absorbed actor who says he looks “positively liverish” today, a lesbian with a cat named Little Peter, and a woman who enjoys skeet shooting and emasculating her husband as well as shooting pigeons.

After a thrilling scene of driving down the highway is intercut with an equally thrilling scene of the killer making a latex mask from the cast of the janitor’s face, the six characters arrive at the private school.

“Kirsten!” says John, getting out of his car.

“John, has it been that long?” asks Kirsten, though John has said nothing about a span of time.

Terry, another of the classmates, tells his friends cryptically, “Me and my wife are meat and potatoes but down the road it’s strictly hamburger.” Then the first three classmates mime a reenactment of a high school football game.

It soon becomes clear that the six people are either the entire graduating class, or they are the only six bothering to show up for the reunion. They are greeted inside the school by the janitor—ironically, only the audience knows this is the killer wearing a janitor mask.

Shockingly, the group finds that the football trophies have vanished from the rather small case in the front hallway.

Also mysteriously, the six classmates are confused that nobody else is at the reunion, though there is enough food in the gym for dozens of guests.

One of the most surreal scenes in the film ensues, as the characters act out a scene three times.

Kirsten asks, “Where is everybody?” as they enter the gym.

Terry says, “Who cares?”

In a closer shot, Cindy (played by Jeanette Arnette of the sitcom Head of the Class) asks, “Where the hell is everybody?”

Terry repeats, “Who cares? Let’s eat.”

In the next shot, Cindy asks, “Where the hell is everybody, huh?”

Terry says for the third time, “Who gives a damn? Let’s eat.”

The six characters enact their own last supper, finishing off the food.

Cindy attempts to leave the school in order to drive to a friend’s house to find out what is happening at the school. However, she finds the doors gated and locked. “That’s stupid,” she comments. Then she finds the dead janitor with maggots crawling out of his wounds.

Enacting the age-old murder mystery tradition, the six characters gather around the body. They reason that the body wouldn’t have maggots if the janitor hadn’t been dead for quite some time. “If he’s been dead for a while,” asks John, “then who let us in before?”

“Jesus,” says Terry, though he is not answering John’s question. Or is he?

Later, Kirsten bangs on a gate, trying to get the attention of someone walking through the park next door. Unfortunately, that someone is the grim reaper, and instead of helping Kirsten he starts banging at the gate with his large scythe.

Roger, the actor, says, “This is insane.”

“Yeah,” says Cindy, “just like some cheap paperback novel, huh?”

“Untrue, darling,” replies Roger. “This was very costly. Undoubtedly some psycho.” (The connection between having money and being a psycho is left unsaid.)

The second murder occurs when Terry stumbles into a questionably conceived trap that involves a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a swivel chair, and a stuffed dummy operating a blowtorch.

Despite the fact that the six are trapped in the school, Jane, the emasculating skeet shooter, finds an open door and exits the building without telling her classmates. As generally occurs when one leaves a private school, she immediately stumbles upon the camp of a duck hunter who bears some resemblance to Weird Al Yankovic.

Demonstrating the film’s sense of poetic justice, Jane, who was earlier shown shooting a duck, is shot to death by a duck hunter.

The four survivors investigate the school’s theater, where they find a mysterious masked man onstage, in front of a graveyard set.

There is also a human-sized marionette on stage, dancing silently.

“Guilt!” cries the mysterious man. “A hard,  edged thing. It rips one like a carrion’s beak. Examine your soul! It’s to blame for the body’s evil ways! It’s the soul that pays!”

Suddenly, Roger the actor is killed when a sword falls from the ceiling and pierces his skull.

After Roger’s death, John chases the mysterious actor backstage, and ends up in an office full of bookshelves. After many, many minutes of investigating the empty room, John finds a school yearbook with pictures cut out—six pictures.

Meanwhile, Cindy is trapped in a rest room with the killer, who is now dressed as a clown as an ironic illustration of Cindy’s obsession with her appearance and makeup.

The clown kills Cindy by pushing her in a running shower and then washing off her makeup in a sink, which of course drowns her.

John is then confronted by the man with two thumbs—now dressed in a shirt and tie with no mask—who points a gun at John. Because John is a criminal lawyer, the killer taunts him by telling him he has no understanding of criminals or the law. He says, “I’ll not redeem you before I have to,” revealing himself as the redeemer, though not the son of Satan.

“Tell me why,” John says, referring to the man’s murders. “Why did you do it? Why? Do you serve others or just yourself?”

“I just stand in the way of sinners,” explains the redeemer. He adds, “Your appetites are just like the others. They’re too big for you to go on without being punished.”

The two struggle—bookshelves are involved—and the redeemer is shot. “Take off my wig, John, and see me as I really am.”

John attempts to remove the wig, but instead the redeemer shoots him in the head.

Finally, Kirsten is the only classmate left alive. The redeemer chases her through the school. She reaches the stage, where the redeemer gives her his gun. Shockingly, however, before she can shoot him, the marionette behind her lifts its sword and strikes.

The film cuts back to a sermon given at the school. The preacher explains, “Harken unto me, those who have sinned have met with the angel of the Lord’s vengeance.”

After the sermon, the preacher shakes hands with parishioners. When they are all gone, he meets with the boy wearing Montgomery Ward pants from the beginning of the film, and a body is revealed in a station wagon. Also, the preacher reveals he has a gunshot wound. And that he has two thumbs, though one thumb slowly vanishes and then appears on the boy with red pants. Also, the boy goes back into the lake.

The epigram from the beginning returns to explain everything: “From out of the darkness the hand of the Redeemer shape appear to punish those who have lived in sin...” Then more words appear: “...and return to the watery depths of hell.”

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of The Redeemer: Son of Satan! (outside of the exclamation point in the title), is its modern view of mortal sins. Director Constantine S. Gochis and writer William Vernick replace the relatively familiar seven deadly sins of Christianity with the following equally deadly sins:
  • playing football
  • shooting ducks
  • being a gay actor
  • wearing makeup
  • being a lawyer
  • being a lesbian
Perhaps the second most innovative aspect of the film is its opening montage, which lasts 30 minutes, introduces several characters, and shows the killer making a mask, all before the story of the film actually begins.

It is odd that director Gochis and writer Vernick (two names that might in fact be anagrams for the individuals' real names) never made another film, particularly considering the success of Halloween later in 1978 and the glut of slasher movies released in the following three years. A followup from the same writer and director would have been a veritable gift to the cinemagoing public. In fact, the three-thumbed man would have made an excellent addition to the panthon of slashers such as The Prowler, Madman Marz, The Boogeyman, Tiny Tim from Blood Harvest (1987), and all the others. One can only imagine how the level of slasher films would have been pushed ever higher by a series of films featuring the three-thumbed Redeemer.