1930s rural America – the dejected town priest resigns his congregational duties after failing the local townsfolk who have all but returned to the Church and reclaim their faith in the savior lord Jesus Christ and God. On his exit of the town’s border, the priest crosses paths with a shadowy figure riding an austere wagon and holding a scythe. A town full of heartless schemers, adulterers, swindlers, and murders have their unforgiving stories told that leave their fellow townsfolk, their friends, and even their families left suffering in their wake. The shadowy figure tracks each sinning stray down to face retributing judgment. The righteous and terrible punishments send the unsavable souls to an eternal existence in Hell.
What was once considered to be a Christian-centric educational project had turned into a Christian-centric damnation of horrors in the quasi-anthology “The Day of Judgment,” where the sinners of sin town deviate from the Godfearing path and into a vat of immorality and ungodly aberration. “The Day of Judgment,” occasionally under the U.S. bootleg title of “Stormbringer,” is the one and only directorial from C.D.H Reynolds (aka Charles Reynolds), an academic educator turned briefly to film working under the legendary, North Carolina based Earl Owensby Studios that produced the 1981 released film. The script is penned by Owensby Studios’ regular writer, Thom McIntyre, who inked the film between a pair of genre credits, including the incarcerated grindhouse actioner “Seabo,” also known as “Buckstone County Prison” a few years earlier and a snippy flick of a pack killer Rottweilers terrorizing a mountain resort in “Dogs of Hell” a couple of years later. Owensby, obviously in regard to his own studio work, took part as the fire and brimstone tale’s producer along with associate producer and longtime “Power Ranger” director Worth Keeter curating the final touches as the creative architect of the script’s grimmest portions or more line as the assistant director of adding the bleaker, bloodier fates of the sinners.
“A Day of Judgment” has a non-linear anthology-like structure that swings back and forth between different character scenarios of wickedness. You may meet one character at the very beginning of the story and don’t meet them again, until you’re already through having sent a good chunk, if not all, of the sinners to Hell in a handbasket. But McIntyre hones in well on setting up nicely each character’s backstory, those who the priest crosses paths with as he exits the town and delivering their ultimate demise (with an assistant from Worth Keeter’s gloomier approach). The director himself Charles Reynolds plays the crestfallen Reverend Cage in a classic expository preacher riding out of town and crossing paths with soon-to-be-troublesome townies in William T. Hicks (“Death Screams”) as a greedy and heartless bank owner, Careyanne Sutton and Larry Sprinkle (“Trick or Treat”) as man slaughtering, pretense adulterers. Toby Wallace as the hometown disparaging mechanic scheming to steal the family business out from his parents noses to sell, Helene Tryon (“Dogs of Hell”) as the frettingly kook and paranoid old lady poisoning the local children’s pet goat, and Brownlee Davis (“Wolfman” ’79) as the delusional and disgruntled former employee of his best friend looking for a finality in revenge. “A Day of Judgment” had this weirdly transitional acting style for an 80’s released horror that resembled the Golden Age of cinema through the 1950s and 1960s where everything is loud and pronounced without much reflection, pause, or change in tone. Though the style sticks out like a sore thumb, perhaps Reynolds made a shallow attempt to recapture the 1930s as which the narrative period is set. The acting isn’t terrible but is more staged and reactionary to the course of events. The cast rounds out with Carlton Bortell, Richard Dedmon, Inga Dennis, Denise Myers, Jerry Rushing, Harris Bloodworth and Fred Roland.
Earl Owensby produced films were not known to be big box office hits as they coursed the grindhouse, drive-in theater circuits with relatively unknown talent nearly strict to the back pockets of the Owensby Studios and still meeting profitable margins on low budgets. “The Day of Judgment,” which doesn’t feel like a grindhouse film, carried meager success by way of production design and wardrobes alone. Give credit where credit is due with an Owensby film that can dole out a variety of era appropriate automotive roadsters and specific period garments for the illusion. Some sets are dressed scarcer than others with lots of blank spaces and sparse knickknacks to build upon the 1930’s décor but the overall impression is quite effective, transporting one out of the 80’s and into the depression era the narrative frequently suggests. I also favored the non-linear anthology of individual hell bound circumstances as that structure rendered “A Day of Judgment” as a whole rather than a pie sliced into six-even segments with a common core connection that, at times with other films, individual stories can feel untethered to the main theme. In today’s times, “A Day of Judgment” is severely antiquated but the more “bleaker” character demises often landed with underripe special effects and a fair amount of cheesiness that’s a Loony-Toons illustrated representation of Hell that looks more like Wile E. Coyote’s Southwest American desert home. I was anxiously awaiting the beep-beep of Roadrunner, speeding across the screen, and the drop an ACME anvil on top of the sinners’ melons.
The overall message in “A Day of Judgment” is clear that sin and crime doesn’t pay, and the wrath of God’s retribution will come down hard in the form of a scythe. Severin Films presents up a new Blu-ray, scanned in 2K of the original interpositive print now in full 1080p HD resolution of the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Preserved pristine and having virtually no wear from age, “A Day of Judgment” is an amazing picture to behold for its first Blu-ray release with heightened resolution that extricates more details than possible than any other release can provide, especially when those other releases are the official VHS and DVD bootlegs. Here the color grading excellently pops with deeper hues of prime colors to provide more life into the death that’s onscreen. One thing to note about the release is the immense phosphorescence glow around whites and other lighter colors that can be eye-catchingly distracting when a piece of white paper becomes the main focus due to a conspicuous radiance. Other than that, the picture is clean, the grain is healthy, and no obvious signs of alterations to enhance the visual spectrum. The English language mono audio track, though emitting crystal clarity without any audio blemishes, is not terribly clear on whether Severin went with Dolby Digital or the DTS-HD. Other listings on the web offer up “A Day of Judgment” with a dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio while the back cover displays the Dolby Digital logo with a detached written description as a mono track, which coincides with Severin’s official site. With the film’s outmoded ingrained technology, Dolby Digital would be, to me, the obvious format that produces higher quality sound using a lower bitrate. Special features include a pair of new Severin exclusive interviews with British author Stephen Thrower of “Nightmare USA” in The Atheist’s Sins and snippet interviews from Worth Keeter and Thom McIntyre in Tales of Judgment. Final spec notes on the Blu-ray are a region free coding and has a runtime of 97 minutes. Stuck in stasis of prim and conservatism, “A Day of Judgment” has become this oddball labeled slasher of the 80s era that aimed to explore new and unusual stories and techniques on every avenue, but still leaves this impression of Bible-thumping Christian values that serve as a stern warning for all ye sinners!