A Day of Judgment, the 1981 faith-based horror film that uses moralizing and melodrama to anchor the literal wrath of God slicing through sinners in Depression-era middle America. Filmed on a shoestring budget with amateur actors, this Christian “scare film” added some frights to unsuccessfully catch the slasher wave of 1981. Severin Films resurrects this tale of retribution to Blu-ray with a pleasing A/V presentation and two interviews for bonus content. Recommended.
“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.”
In 1930’s middle America, Reverend Cage (Charles Reynolds) speaks to his dwindling congregation about the shameful state of affairs in their small town. His stirring sermon points out the corruption, lust, and greed among the people who once sat before him. Now due to lack of attendance, he sadly announces his resignation. The downtrodden Reverend goes to the bank to tie up his affairs but scheming bank manager Mr. Sharpe (William T. Hicks) isn’t going to let something like fair finance laws get in the way of getting debts paid. While leaving town Cage passes a cloaked figure on horseback carrying a scythe riding towards town.
A Day of Judgment patiently introduces us to the sinful players in this faith-based horror feature. Kenny the general store clerk is awful towards a penniless kid but never turns away the flirtatious mumblings of the owner’s wife Ruby. George runs the local filling station but treats his elderly parents terribly as they impress upon him the importance of taking over the business and being an upstanding businessman. He speaks to Attorney Mr. Grigg about committing them to an asylum. Busybody Mrs. Fitch calls the cops over some kids playing ball near her precious flower beds. When not labeling the goofy children "hellish imps" she is settling into a bottle of brandy and berating her maid. Drunkard Charlie suspects his wife Grace is sleeping around with his boss. When he confronts her there is this wonderful exchange: “Charlie, If you’re gonna kill me give me time to pray. “Grace, You’ve wasted enough time on that stuff in your life.”
Where A Day of Judgment works well is in imparting the lesson of repenting for your sins. As we visit each of the vignettes within this pseudo-anthology we’re given plenty of mild terror and “reap what you sow” moralizing that is met with a swift reply from the cloaked figure. When the cloaked reaper escorts his flock to the bounds of hell we’re treated to some insane surrealistic visions of the afterlife.
Where the film falls flat is in the sheer amount of time spent with the list of sinners. Detailing their affronts to God and the path that led them there, A Day of Judgment creeps along within each vignette making sure you understand just how despicable these people are behaving. We get it. The banker is being a total dick to everyone, can we see him die already? However, there is plenty of unintentional humor offered up from the performances making the struggle to get through the scenes a little easier.
Conceived by director C.D.H Reynolds as a Christian “scare film” for churches, his exploitation producer Earl Owensby added horror elements when Reynold’s film didn’t fare so well on its own merits. Hoping to ride that sweet early 80’s slasher wave the film, unfortunately, missed the boat and fell into VHS obscurity. While competing with other horror films of 1981 would have been an uphill battle, the film never fully relies on bloody effects but rather raises the stakes on the morally bankrupt sinners.
Cast with amateur actors, A Day of Judgment finds its stride in letting them sink into their Depression-era roles. While an interesting setting for this religious retribution film I was thoroughly impressed at the level of detail used in scenes to hide modern-day trappings. Most of the interior rooms look like community theatre sets but the film’s fire and brimstone ambitions combined with it’s slasher intentions make the film a compelling horror oddity.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
A Day of Judgment arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Severin Films. The cautionary tale is pressed onto a Region Free BD-25 disc which is housed in a standard black as sin keepcase. After loading the disc we’re treated to the Severin logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with eerie scoring and a scene from the film playing against typical navigation options.
Spending an eternity languishing on VHS, A Day of Judgment sees the true light on Blu-ray! With an AVC encoded 1080p transfer at 1.85:1 scanned in 2k from the interpositive, the film is reborn with a pleasing image quality. Black levels are solid sayeth the Lord. Grain is full and film-like offering plenty of atmosphere to the fire and brimstone. Scenes within the bank are overexposed thanks to some harsh indoor lighting. Primaries are vivid and bright from the lush green countryside to the yellows of Mrs. Fitch’s prized flowers. Skin tones are fairly even throughout the feature though reddish tones appear thanks to the unholy amount of makeup caked on the actor’s faces.
Fine detail is evident on tight close-ups and some medium shots. Soft lensing is used constantly to present an idyllic and angelic presence to the proceedings which elevates the film’s tone but causes some scenes to lose focus. Specks, scratches, and minimal damage appear though nothing to distract from the experience.
A Day of Judgment speaks to the Lord with a new DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio track. The mix is well balanced with dialogue, effects, and music produced clearly. Dialogue exchanges are clean without hiss or pop detected though some exchanges run hot during intense moments. As expected the track is flat and mostly uninspired but considering the film's pedigree it provides an enjoyable experience.
Severin doesn't load this release with features but the two interview featurettes are well worth your time. As expected the Thrower interview is chock full of information so start there first before moving onto the second interview featurette.
A Day of Judgment is full of amusing and unexpected moments for a religious retribution horror film. Audiences expecting a full-on slasher will be disappointed, but those looking for a thrilling morality tale with some unintentional humor will surely enjoy this one. Severin Films brings the film to Blu-ray with a pleasing A/V presentation and enough bonus features to please fans of the film. Recommended.