Reviews

Day Of The Reaper (1984)

Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.

First, I want you to know that I recently waded in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Second, I want you to know that Day Of The Reaper is about a cannibalistic, black-hooded nasty roaming around nondescript suburbs and killing people who wear bikinis and white short-shorts.

Third, I want you to know that you may despise Day Of The Reaper for the very reasons that I enjoy it. Unless you’re into wading.

This film’s potential is contingent on what you bring to it. Shot in Florida for $1,000 on silent Super 8 by teenager Tim Ritter (Truth Or Dare?, Killing Spree), Reaper is a psychotropic daymare as captured through the lens of a malfunctioning Kodak Instamatic. There’s a simplistic, yet incomprehensible through-line. Humans communicate, but never connect. Events unfold for unknown reasons. Most of the time, it’s just people sitting on couches or on beaches or in shabby motel rooms. And then they die. In a sense, Reaper is a gore-trash variant on Andy Warhol’s bewildering Empire; we don’t know why we’re watching this film, or why we’d even want to, but the cumulative dreamlike state that results is remarkable. Yet again, it all depends on you.

Day Of The Reaper was made by, and stars, teenagers. People who weren’t fully formed, whose minds couldn’t fathom anything other than what was happening right now, this very second. As with the work of Nathan Schiff, this aspect is important. If adults were making Day Of The Reaper, they’d think about it. They’d plan things out and do it “right.” But Ritter didn’t know any better. He just pointed the camera and let it run, smear, and bleed all over the place. That unrestrained enthusiasm took the form of a drowsy, displaced tribute to whatever horror films excited the filmmaker during the summer of ’84.

I see a lot in this film. I see Ogroff with less perversion and less mystery. I see a sexless Sinthia, The Devil’s Doll that swaps easy-listening kitsch for anxious synth-stabs. I see non-traditional techniques that make zero sense in my mind, but perfect sense in my eyes. And unlike S.F. Brownrigg’s Keep My Grave Open, Reaper‘s inadvertent sense of design isn’t drowned out by empty dramatics. Ritter’s age prevented that. He didn’t have the awareness to hassle the film with unnecessary complications. Now, someone else might see something totally different. Reaper could easily be interpreted as a dredging exercise in exhaustion.

Day Of The Reaper is 70 minutes of makeshift slasher-trash with a beautifully warped visual aesthetic. It’s the type of experience that can only be realized by people who don’t know what they’re doing. Or teenagers. Or Andy Warhol. And it’s the type of experience that I could wade through all night.

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