“Necessity or chance approach not me; and what I will is fate.”
— poet-philosopher John Milton
A “classic” is in ye eye of the beholder; it’s a subjective adjective that’s slash n’ swung much around these ‘ere wilds of Allegheny County with these old, emulsion-scratched outdoor ditties we hail under the big white screen’s twilight’s last gleaming. And, as with most of those “classics” reviewed at B&S About Movies—such as Eyes of Fire, Brotherhood of Satan, and Messiah of Evil—those films, even after B&S About Movies’ Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, Samuel, spins the reels and fingers the keys to ’em, they’re so f-in’ friggin’ good that they need to be reviewed a second time (Sam’s The Redeemer review) to implore upon ye, the B&S surfer-reader, of the majesty of the work.
Make no mistake, ye B&S’er: This lone directing effort by Constantine S. Gochis and lone writing effort by William Vernick is a ‘70s horror classic that (for this lowly reviewer) ranks right alongside Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls, John Hancock’s* Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, and Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. And while Harvey’s lone opus discovered its posthumous popularity among horror aficionados in the digital wilds of the public domain, and Coscarelli scored one of the biggest drive-in and theatre horror hits of 1979, Gochis-Vernick’s equally phantasmagoric feast of the senses found itself lost somewhere between the space gate and the red planet of the dwarfs.
I’ve watched this film several times over the years: it was one of those go-to films you rented every October from the local mom-and-pop VHS repository—under its mid-‘80s shelf life as Class Reunion Massacre. Oh, how I remember those pulpy, black and white ads and newsprint reviews in my cherished movie mags of yore that featured that skull and cowl-faced grim reaper pressed against the diamond pattern of a wrought-iron gate. I can’t recall an October that I didn’t watch The Redeemer, Phantasm, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (sorry, forget part deux; the original does it for me), and Rocktober Blood in a same-day marathon or within the same Hollows’ Eve week; they just warm the ol’ VCR’s electronics so well!
Sadly, while the analogously weird Phantasm was blessed with a well-financed advertising campaign that came complete with radio and TV ads (that I remember hearing and seeing on my local rock stations and UHF stations), The Redeemer, aka The Redeemer, Son of Satan, didn’t become known to a mass audience as result of its poor drive-in and (select) theatre distribution—and I envy those who had the opportunity to encounter The Redeemer in 1978 on the big screen. (These ‘ol bastard who claim that they did, you’d fill a 50 K football stadium; so I doubt they did. It’s like all of those people who “saw” U2 at the Hope and Anchor in Islington, England, in December 1979—when only nine people were in attendance (about the same number of people at The Crucifixion). It’s like all of these fire n’ brimstone preachers hawkin’ splinters of Christ’s Cross as your donation “gift”—there’d be enough wood spinters to manufacture a thousand crosses. So, how that’s tap “holy water” vial workin’ for ye? Have thou been “redeemed,” dear child?)
Anyway . . . when we look back at all of the mindless, post-John Carpenter Giallos**-twice-removed body parts n’ plasma slop making bank in the slasher ‘80s, how in the Sam Hill did this intelligently-written WTF*˟-is-going-on slice of brilliance die on the overgrown crypt vines?
Ah, but ye must not be duped by Continental Video’s seven-years later 1985 VHS release under the title Class Reunion Massacre—for this Virginia-shot
slasher we-don’t-know-what-the-f-it-is, is not a post-In the Year of Our Carpenter, A.D. production: The Redeemer began production in 1975, filmed for six weeks in the summer of 1976, completed reshoots in January 1977, and completed its three-month post-production between April 1977 and July 1977.
And here’s the film noir-cum-giallo plot twist: Halloween completed its twenty-day shoot over a four-week period in May 1978—The Redeemer was in the can, first. And the yellowed-cover turns again: expectations were low for John Carpenter’s˟* follow up to Assault on Precinct 13; aimed primarily at secondary markets (duplex theatres) and drive-ins, it quietly opened in Kansas City October 25, 1978. Meanwhile, halfway across the country in Los Angeles, The Redeemer opened—on October 25, 1978. During its drive-in run, ironically, The Redeemer played on the bottom half of double bills with Damien: Omen II (1978). (Phantasm premiered June 1, 1979.)
“Thy is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sadly, everyone remembers the madcap hijinks of ol’ Crospy in The Burning (1981) and Madman Marz in Madman (1982), (sorry, both are craptastica slices of crapola, even though they’re based on the Cropsey urban legend; Sam delves into the NYC legend in his reviews)—and no one remembers the lake-unleashed exploits of The Redeemer (a very good T.G. Finkbinder in his only acting role). It wasn’t until Johnny C. reinvented the admittedly dying horror genre with Halloween (ol’ Carps was the “Nirvana” of horror world, if you will)—and some confounded contraption called the VCR appeared on retail shelves—did the (retitled) The Redeemer finally find an audience courtesy of the hungry-for-product home video market.
So, what gives with that lame title VHS title?
Well, retro-peruse those brick-and-mortar VHS shelves, ye dear reader—look at all of those films with the word “Class,” “Reunion,” and “Massacre” in the title—and all of the horror films centered around a bunch of dopey high school kids-cum-asshole adults meeting their comeuppance years later. New title x new shelf life √ new audience = we can finally make bank on our cursed movie.
This is one of those films where—and we’ve discussed this several times in the reviews of truly oddball movies (such as Harry Hope’s Smokey and the Judge and Harry Hurwitz’s Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula)—it seems, the producers didn’t have a locked script and made it up as they went along. Or they had a couple of unfinished scripts and/or movies and spliced them together into a feature. (God Bless, Dr. Shagetz from 1974 becomes 1977’s Evil Town, aka also a 1985 VHS; the unfinished films Scream Your Head Off and The Dark Side to Love (1984), and Cataclysm (1980), becomes the 1985 John Phillip Law-starring Night Train to Terror, comes to immediate mind.) Or they just went “female” and changed their minds for no godly-earthly, logical reason. (Wow, now that’s really sexist; Sam, pencil that transgression alongside my file’s other faux pas. I’ll see you at the bi-annual review.)
Seriously . . . how else can we explain the majesty of this Felliniesque, surrealistic horror?
First, we have a fully-clothed kid, his fist-raised in some sort of afterworld Heil Hitler-salute rising from the primordial stew of a rocky cliff-locked lake. And he hops a ride on church bus. Okay, so . . . we’re getting a crazy kid of The Omen variety, you know, like theatrical one-sheet tease. But wait . . . the kid’s fellow church choir mates are picking on him. Okay, so we’re getting a Prom Night knock off with a little kid extracting adult hood revenge. But wait . . . what’s the deal-e-o with this fire and brimstone preacher with two thumbs on one hand? Okay, so we have a troubled priest of the Jason Miller from The Exorcist variety, and the priest sidelines as child molester . . . and he goes “Jason Vorhees” after services have concluded . . . is he a clerical collared Freddy Kruger? And who’s the building inspector that kills the abandoned high school’s caretaker and makes a mask of his face to masquerade as the caretaker? And how did he decorate that basketball auditorium—complete with catering—all by his lonesome? Not to mention the gothic, “death trap” stage production complete with a graveyard and a giant clown marionette that’s hosted by a stovepipe-hatted magician spouting gothic poetry? Who is the poetry-quoting, camping duck hunter who just blew away one of the ne’er-do-well adults who escaped into the woods? Why the clowns? Why the masks? Why a different costume change of the The Abominable Dr. Phibes-inspired variety for each of the deadly sins-themed death trap-kills that reminds of David Fincher’s later SE7EN (1995)? Why this school? Why are these six, unrelated people sucked into this FUBAR’d version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, aka The Little Indians (see Stallone’s D-Tox)? And there’s seven deadly sins, so is the Priest suffering one of the sins? Is the kid Satan himself, who contracted the Priest to kill these people to atone for his own sin—and his occult-driven double-thumb deformed hand is his retribution, and it “vanished” because he was “atoned” for his sins?
What in the Lords of Kobol frack is going on here?
Who’s the kid and what’s his relation to the priest? Who’s “The Redeemer,” the kid or the priest? Is priest the adult version of kid and we’re in a twisted afterlife where the past and present exist as one? Was the priest part of the same graduating class as The Redeemer’s victims? Is this his revenge? Why did his double-thumb suddenly vanish and appear on the kid’s hand! We need to know!
Now, do you see why the Phantasm analogy; for this more Coscarelli than Carpenter. Like J.H Hood from Ghoul Inc Productions—who once swore to himself that he’d never, ever watch The Redeemer again (for Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum is the true “Redeemer”)—pointed out during the September 5 Drive-In Asylum Double Feature Watch Party (Beyond the Door and The Redeemer): You go into this thinking . . . okay, this is another pseudo-slasher, light parody like Slaughter High (1986) . . . and you end up with a flame thrower totin’ clown roasting a guy’s meat and two veggies, and, as Sammy Panico pointed out: a sink drowning (that couldn’t have been Jeannetta Arnette; it had to be a body double-stunt actress) that goes on way, way, way too long. In the end, you can’t get a handle on where it’s all is going—and there’s not even a space gate or Tallman morphing into the Lady in Lavender or flying Chinese cuisinart harmony balls to leave you scratching your head.
My Kobol Lords, this movie is Galactica-tastic!
You can watch it with-ads on Tubi Tv or ad-free on You Tube. If you want it in the library: Copies of the 1985 VHS original released by Continental Video and the VHS re-issues via Victory Media in 1995 are can be found in the online marketplace. There are two versions of the DVD out there: Code Red’s October 2010 release (also as a Blu) as The Redeemer and Desert Island Films put it back into the marketplace under the old VHS Class Reunion Massacre title in 2012.
The Where Are They Now Post-Script: The Redeemer is one of those movie where, not only the writer and director dropped off the face of the earth, all of the actors disappeared from the business, sans one: Washington D.C.-born Jeannetta Arnette, who made her acting debut in producers Sheldon Tromberg and Stephen M. Trattner’s feature film debut, 1977’s Washington, D.C.-shot Teenage Graffiti (VHS image via Paul Zamarelli’s VHS Collector site; theatrical one-sheet image via IMDb; trailer via You Tube). Marketed as a soft core porn movie to get those speakers hangin’ off the car windows, it’s really just another one of those light-weight, drive-in T&A’ers about a Midwestern teenager dealing with the problems of growing up and deciding what he wants to do with his life (you know, like American Graffiti, only pseudo-pornier). Stephen Trattner actually gives some insight to the film via the You Tube’d trailer’s comment threads—and, good luck finding a copy: he doesn’t even have one. Screenwriter William Vernick, who got his start as a film editor for TV, transitioned into the unheralded world of script doctoring, for both horror and mainstream films, which he does to this day.
As for Jeannetta Arnette, she became a go-to guest star in the network TV series Three’s Company, Laverne and Shirley, St. Elsewhere, and The Fall Guy, which culminated with her 114 episode co-starring role as Bernadette Meara in the 1986 to 1991 run of Head of the Class. You want to see real acting: seek out her role as Sarah Jean Dawes in “Ride the Lightning,” a 2006 episode of CBS-TV Criminal Minds (outstanding, Jennetta!). You also know her theatrical co-starring roles alongside Rodney Dangerfield in Ladybugs (1992), the Oscar-winning Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Snow Angels with Sam Rockwell (2007), and James Franco’s˟˟ Pineapple Express (2008). Her latest work, Walking Up Dead, is currently in production.
* Director John Hancock is back in 2020 with The Girls of Summer.
** We had a huge Giallo blowout in June 2019, which we recapped and explored with our “Exploring: Giallo” featurette. So, get to hyperlink-a-clickin’, ye have lots of reviews to read!
*˟ There’s more WTF flicks to be had with our “Ten WTF Movies” featurette.