A Day of Judgment Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: September 28, 2021
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 96:48
Director: C.D.H. (Charles) Reynolds
In a 1930s small town rife with lust, corruption and sin, a mysterious figure wielding a scythe arrives to cut an unholy swath of murder, madness and moralizing that may lead straight to Hell. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
The first multi-episode podcast Patrick Ripoll and I ever recorded for Genre Grinder was a marathon look at all of the slasher movies released in (or around) the year 1981. Given that our final tally was 42 movies, many of which we’d never seen, it wasn’t surprising to learn that a number of them weren’t really slasher movies. Among the non-slasher films we covered during the first episode (at the 41:00 mark) was C.D.H. Reynolds’ A Day of Judgment – a particularly awful and cheaply made movie that is nonetheless an entertaining watch, assuming the viewer is in the right mindset. Knowing precisely what brand of weirdo exploitation cinema you’re in store for definitely helps to inform that mindset.
For the most part, fans and detractors had to make assumptions about the film’s origins. It was made by Earl Owensby Studios, a North Carolina-based exploitation factory founded by an actor-turned-producer with ties to Elvis Presley, David Allan Coe, and Roy Orbison named, naturally, Earl Owensby. While many have suspected that A Day of Judgment (aka: Stormbringer; not to be confused with the 1971 spaghetti western of the same name, Italian: Il Giorno del giudizio) began life as a church circuit scare film (based in part on the word of an imdb.com user with genuine behind-the-scenes information), only to be recut into a horror movie at the last moment. Reynolds has since verified that the movie was planned as a Christian morality tale (via Stephen Thrower, who talks all about it in this very disc’s extras), but that Owensby had also always intended to make a horror movie. Then, when Reynolds’ final product wasn’t violent enough to match expectations of the newly-minted slasher boom, studio mainstay Worth Keeter (Wolfman , Living Legend: The King of Rock and Roll , Dogs of Hell , and others) was brought on to add more graphic content.
Regardless of the back-story, it is always evident that A Day of Judgment was not a first draft or even the second, because a Christian scare slasher isn’t an inherently bad idea. The movement was already accused of being reactionary for supposedly implying that promiscuous, drug-using victims deserved their fate, not to mention the many genuine slasher movies that feature villains who are violently imposing their morals on people. You might think this idea goes wrong, because it becomes too preachy, but the more absurdly despicable the characters act, the funnier the experience is. You might also assume that the budget is too low to depict the spectre of death and pits of Hell, but the lack of funds actually forces the filmmakers to be creative with the supernatural elements, leading to really evocative lighting and abstract production design. No, the real issue is that Reynolds, screenwriter Tom McIntyre, and Owensby’s baffling decision to make A Day of Judgment a period piece and then flooded it with enough disreputable characters to fill an entire season of Tales from the Crypt. Instead of a punchy EC Comics-like anthology with a religious edge, they ended up with a bumbling community theater impression of a Robert Altman movie populated by petty goofballs in 1920s garb that then becomes a surrealistic horror movie during its final five minutes.
Enjoying A Day of Judgment requires the patience to tolerate the amateurism, the special sense of humor to laugh at pious morality, and the good taste to appreciate it when filmmakers smash together completely incompatible tonal/stylistic choices in hopes of selling their barely functional movies to distributors. If you go into the experience expecting a slasher movie or even much of a horror movie at all, you are almost certainly going to be disappointed, not to mention very bored.
A Day of Judgment was released straight-to-video in multiple countries, in hopes of establishing Earl Owensby Studios as a player in the lucrative zero-budget horror VHS market that was just exploding in the early ‘80s. It languished in obscurity, never to be reissued on US tape by Thorn EMI or any other studio and never to be released on DVD or digital streaming. 40 years later, Severin Films has decided to rescue the film, giving it a full HD makeover for its digital and widescreen debut. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was mastered from a 2K scan of the original inter-positive and it looks impossibly good. I’m actually a little mad about it, considering how much effort various boutique labels put into movies I love, only to have them fall short of this goofy STV oddity, because the materials just aren’t up to snuff. Credit to Severin for cleaning up the footage, whoever kept the IP in such nice shape, and cinematographer Irl Dixon, whose vivid 35mm photography makes this Blu-ray shine, even when the footage looks like it was shot for pocket change. The print has plenty of scratches, snow, and other artifacts, but these end up adding to the drive-in vibe that works better for this particular film than analogue video ever did.
A Day of Judgment is presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix can sound pretty flat on occasion, as one might expect from a cheaply-made mono mix, and consistency is an issue, usually dependent on location noise. Surprisingly, the outdoor sequences sound the best with their naturalistic, evenly-mixed dialogue and decent background effects. Interior shots, on the other hand, tend to be either muffled or reverby. The score is credited to Arthur & Clay Smith and includes a dramatic dirge opening title theme, downbeat Dixieland and country interludes, and moody synth/organ motifs, all of which sound fine, considering the single-channel treatment.
The Atheist's Sin (17:47, HD) – Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007) author Stephen Thrower gives us the closest thing to an official back-story for the film, including information on the careers of the filmmakers, the history of the Earl Owensby’s studio and the man’s devout Christian beliefs, as well as Reynolds’ own atheism and arthouse aspirations informing the film. He also compares the film more to EC Comic morality tales than church scare films and theorizes that Day of Judgment didn’t get a theatrical release, because Owensby was trying his hand at distributing his own films.
Tales of Judgment (3:57, HD) – A short clip of filmmaker Worth Keeter, who went on to be a regular behind-the-scenes on Power Rangers, and Day of Judgment writer Thom McIntyre talking about the film. A title card states that this is only a taste of a larger project Severin is working on (maybe a bigger Owensby collection?). Keeter verifies that he, specifically, was tasked with recutting the film and adding more graphic death scenes in hopes of cashing-in on Halloween (1978), specifically.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.