Daredevil: The Satan Killer (1993)

Dave chats to maverick helmer Steve Sayre about the kamikaze making of his no-budget serial killer movie.

“No budget and no script, but it was an enjoyable film to make – albeit with intermittent moments of near-death experiences.”

Steve Sayre there, director of THE SATAN KILLER (1993), accurately describing the guerilla nature behind so many ‘90s cheapies – but then I have a feeling that this filmmaker is the type of guy who could handle any level of adversity with just a nonchalant shrug. His self-penned bio certainly paints him in that way: a PhD in psychology, a master’s in history, a graduate (with – naturally – the highest honours) of the Defence Language Institute in Monterey, and a former top secret private investigator for the U.S. military.

Presumably, some squibs and a gallon of theatrical blood wasn’t a tall order.

Naturally, Sayre – who took the pseudonym ‘Stephen Calamari’ for his director’s credit – chose himself to play the lead in The Satan Killer: a disgruntled cop by the name of James Stephens whose fiancée, Christine, has just been brutally slain by the eponymous murderer. Granted compassionate leave by his superiors, Stephens finds himself on a boozed-up bender fuelled by grief – and with an armoury of automatic weapons at his disposal, the temptation to take to the streets to exact some revenge proves hard to resist.

“There was no attempt to follow a trend of the time,” asserts Sayre when asked about potential cinematic influences such as Death Wish (1974) and Ms. 45 (1981). “It was based on my observations of the key performers’ real-life personas. Consequently, I decided to simply create the storyline as the personalities and the circumstances allowed in respect to inspiration from the performers’ personality traits and the places where we were filmed. Every day, before filming, I would write the scene out that was to be shot that day and hand it to each of the actors to rehearse and then film.”

“If anything, a prompt was the interesting characters I met in Virginia Beach, like Billy Franklin, Al Fuentes, and Ricky Chaplain. Those people who assisted in arranging for locations and police cooperation to make the film possible. One of the major contributors to connecting these people to the project was my brother, Garrett Sayre, who had served in the region as a Naval Intelligence Officer and was therefore well-acquainted with the area and its inhabitants.”

For a feature that was filmed on the fly, with the cast a diverse range of passers-by and non-professional actors, The Satan Killer somehow – somehow – manages to be an absolute riot. Sayre, contrary to expectation, has a commendable onscreen presence, while his motley crew do just enough to elevate it out of amateur hour. Special mention must go to the aforementioned Billy Franklin who seems to be playing a weird version of himself: a P.I. hired by the parents of one of The Satan Killer’s victims to get justice for their daughter’s death. Franklin is a revelation, a bald-headed, raspy-voiced, insult-levelling crazy who’ll stop at nothing to take down the barbaric butcher, yelling during one scene that “he’s a scum-sucking, ball-biting, motherfucking death machine”.

Props as well to James Westbrook as a chaps-wearing sadist – a role that apparently had a lot in common with the real-life giant.

“He was exactly as he appears,” says Sayre. “His perfectly matching personality to the character in the film resulted in quite a few violent arguments on set. At this point in time, I have no idea what these arguments were even about – although they did seem to appear out of nowhere and for no tangible reason.” 

Produced by Sayre’s own Goldstar International and shot around the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, The Satan Killer fits comfortably into the last throes of distributor Action International Pictures’ existence, with their time serving video stores with some seriously enjoyable regional action epics approaching its final curtain. Having briefly returned to public consciousness in 2020 after featuring in one of Red Letter Media’s tedious ‘bad movie’ roasts, it would be lazy journalism to write The Satan Killer off as a well-intentioned laughing stock. Granted, there are a few too many montages, and at times the film seems like it’s been edited by The Swedish Chef – but considering its stunning end chase sequence (there’s more weaponry on show than in the entirety of some other bigger action flicks), I think The Satan Killer demands a discerning audience on disc. Even if it is just to quiz Sayre on those near-death experiences he mentioned…

“Well, one extremely dangerous event took place when one of the characters was being wired for squibs to show him being riddled with bullets. The squibs were supposed to be activated by low current batteries as the actor was scripted to fall off the dock into the water after he had been shot; however, one of the members of the crew had wired him directly to a full 120V outlet on the docks where the scene was taking place. Thankfully, just before I was about to call for the scene to begin, I noticed the wire hanging from one his pant legs into the AC plug. I then halted the scene and had the actor unplugged and properly outfitted with a low voltage battery. If this had not been done, and the actor had fallen into the water with that level of current, he may very well not have survived the incident.”   

“The other very close call was when we had set up a scene where I was firing a fully automatic M16, and it was set up to appear as though I was shooting towards the villain. However, James was not actually in the shot or in range of the gunfire. Instead, it was the cameraman, the script supervisor, and the electrician, Robert Schwenk Jr. Once the scene was in motion, I emptied the M16’s clip of what were supposed to be blank rounds; however, it turned out that they were live rounds, which blew out the modified flash suppressor on the M16 and then spewed out into the crew standing in front of the path of the bullets. At first, I was confused as to what had just happened as I could not believe that someone would have placed live rounds in a gun that had been closely guarded by the set armorer. However, I quickly realized what had happened after looking at the suppressor having been shredded like a comic book, and after seeing that Robert Schwenk had been hit in the shoulder with one of the bullets. Fortunately, the female script supervisor had not been hit and the cameraman was also safe and sound.”

“Schwenk wasn’t seriously injured though, and he continued with the rest of the day’s shoot despite being shot.”

U.S. video art courtesy of VHS Collector

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