Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
July 16th, 2004

Demon Slayer

What we have here is a serious failure to communicate.

It's a bad sign when a DVD menu is a portrait of the protagonists overlaid on a matte shot of fire and a half-demon, half-woman thing in the background.

It's a WORSE sign when the opening credit roll looks like it was shooting for a ranking on Total Request Live. Disjointed images roll by while pulsing death-metal music plays in the background.

Yeah, it's about as bad as it sounds.

So anyway, the California criminal justice prorgram decides it has a new idea for misbehaving deliquent teenagers...send them to an abandoned hospital in the middle of South Central Los Angeles to renovate it for use in some other city program. Did anyone happen to mention that people were killed, messily, by hatchets in this hospital? In fact, within the first five minutes of the movie?

So much for cruel and unusual, eh?

Speaking of cruel and unusual, or rather, cruel and way-too-predictable, the movie chooses a familiar way of introducing our cast of characters.

It types them on the screen. Seriously. With matching sound effects.

Within the first several minutes, we learn not only the character's names, but also their dominant archetype in life. For those of you who couldn't care less what a "dominant archetype" is, just use the handy examples below.

Demon Slayer's cast of characters, verbatim (dashes are mine for the sake of accessibility):

Alicia--THE GOTH

Claudia--THE BITCH


Phillip--THE PUNK


I am, as Dave Barry is so wont to say, not making this up.

So, with our cast firmly cut into our forebrains, the cast goes forth to clean the hospital up in three days. And, before the work begins, they spent some time engaging in the countercultural behaviors that got them locked up IN this looney bin in the first place. The goth, of course, is the one that has all the disturbing flashbacks that give us insight inot the building's history. Of course, the goth is also first to have the hallucinations that let us know that the building is pretty deeply haunted. Fifty billion snakes on a floor have a way of doing that.

And, as we learn, the hospital has a really fearsome history. It was open for less than a year when the patients killed everybody in the building. Themselves included. And, as is standard for a haunted house movie, Weird Things (tm) start to happen. Doors shutting of their own accord, mysterious hallucinations (as I described before), maggots appear in the food, and plenty else. Better still, it spent more than a little time as the house of some truly vicious prostitutes.

Let's be honest, folks..."Demon Slayer" is an updated "Amityville Horror", only set on another coast and tied vaguely into the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead. It adds nothing to the genre, only replacing our Amityville family with pot-smoking sex fiends who couldn't string a proper sentence together without a grammar textbook and three tries. "Demon Slayer" is a tired retread of a film we've all seen before, and it's really rather sad. Are we so jaded, horror buffs, that no one can come up with just ONE ORIGINAL IDEA?

Even worse, it steals a classic scene from George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." And this is a horrible crime.

I'm digressing a bit...there are some originals out there. Some truly visionary pieces that owe little or nothing to anyone or anything before it do exist.

This is not one of them.

The special features menu is a bit more robust, with audio options, filmographies, an original trailer, and closed captioning. No deleted scenes, but this doesn't surprise me. They probably needed all the film they could get to fill in their runtime. Spanish-only subtitles are included, no surprise given the subject matter. A trailer gallery is also included, with trailers for "Treasure Hunt", "Cheerleader Massacre," and "Quicksand."

All in all, "Demon Slayer" is a terribly familiar film, and therefore, you don't really need to get your hands on it.

You've already seen it.



You know that when you vacation, with your family, in the middle of nowhere, and the first thing you see is a giant black crow in the air, that you should've gone to Disneyland.

And that's all you're going to hear for the rest of your miserable short life. "Daddy, why did you take us to a ghost town in the middle of nowhere to die? The THOMPSON kids got to go to Daytona!"

Bad vacations are a fairly universal horror movie theme, and Disappearance is no exception. Whether it's sending the kids off to Sleepaway Camp to be slashed to bits by androgynous monstrousities, or being eaten to death by sharks or bugs or slugs or dessert topping at the beach, (all ACTUAL MOVIE THEMES) vacation horror stories run the gamut.

And in this case, Disappearance telegraphs its punches very well. When asked about the old mining town of Weaver, no local knows where it is. Sure, it's only a stone's throw away from where their butts are currently planted, but asking them about it gets the same response as asking government agents about Area 51. "Huh? What? Weaver? WHAT Weaver?" And Weaver is definitely a screwed-up little town. Just outside town, a plane is embedded nose-first in the ground. Cell phones die completely, compasses refuse to work, and Weaver is surprisingly well preserved. After lunch one day, it seems, everyone just LEFT. Furniture still in place, plates still on tables, the whole nine yards. Chances are there's even still cash in the registers. So what could have turned Weaver into a ghost town almost overnight, and kept it from being looter bait for better than fifty years?

Chances are, the same thing that's just turned the family SUV into a thirty thousand dollar paperweight. The sun is setting, and the car is dead. Hopefully, THEY won't be....

Another family has been there recently, and they left a camera behind. A videotape left in the camera tells the harrowing story of the vanished family. One by one, the video family disappears, and our current family is badly shaken up. They try to rationalize it, and only partially succeed.

It's obvious everyone's terrified, and with good reason. Strange events continue to assault the family, and troubles within make things even harder to confront. Just when things seem to be at their worst, an inexplicable even takes place, fixing the problem. A stolen car vanishes only to reappear in the desert. A family member vanishes only to turn up within a couple days. All of this causes, or SHOULD cause, the viewer to wonder just what is going on...and the ending will come as a great surprise.

A superabundance of scary moments, followed up with the sheer creepy atmosphere of a ghost town in dark AND in light, makes Disappearance a suspense tale to match the best of them.

Not that it doesn't suffer from its share of problems. The family daughter is a classic Cassandra character--she's always right, but no one seems to care, or pay attention. Her word is inevitably proven truth, but everyone around her seeks to silence her. It's a classic part of horror filmmaking that verges on the cliche, and shouldn't have been used.

The pat explanation for the town's bizarrities and woes, the detonation of a neutron bomb, verges on the overly convenient.

But these problems are fairly easily overcome by the plusses, and Disappearance will be a suspenseful shocker, tame enough for family night viewing.

The special features include Spanish only subtitles, filmographies, a trailer, closed captioning for televisions with that option, and perplexing previews of totally unrelated films Treasure Island, Avalanche Alley, and Daydream Believers, for some strange reason.

Virtually no blood, no gore, and precious little bad language make Disappearance one to vanish off video store shelves.