Death comes calling in the 80s regional horror slasher flick Terror at Tenkiller on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome. The film has all the hallmarks of a genuine low-budget amateur production with an on-the-nose story, but the film’s natural do-it-yourself charm keeps it from completely sinking into the depths. With a solid A/V presentation and a host of interesting bonus features, this set is certainly Worth A Look
All it takes is one film to define a genre for a generation. While arguably not the first slasher film, John Carpenter’s Halloween set the benchmark for independently produced horror films. Not long after, any number of knife-wielding psychopaths cropped up on cinema screens and video stores all over the country with regional filmmakers adding to the low-budget fodder for cheap-seat theaters and drive-ins. Out of Tulsa Oklahoma came United Entertainment with producer Bill F. Blair feeding horror fan’s needs for bloody carnage. Probably one of the best-known entries to come out of Tulsa is Ken Meyer’s 16mm slasher with the badass title Terror at Tenkiller.
Now the plot of this film is about as basic and predictable as slashers get. College swimmer Leslie (Stacey Logan) has a problem with her overbearing, possessive, and potentially violent boyfriend Josh (Keven Meyer). To help get her mind off things for the summer, her roommate Janna (Michele Merchant) decides it’s best to take her off to Lake Tenkiller for the summer. But death has made a home at the lake. As people start disappearing, Leslie and Janna will have to fight for their lives.
Now, I’ve done you newcomers a bit of a favor and omitted to mention a few characters and actors to avoid spoilers. I’m not sure why I did this since the movie doesn’t hide who the killer is - at all. Right from the outset we see who the killer is with one heck of a gnarly opening murder! For a film that has the framework of attempting some kind of a whodunit with stabs at hiding the killer’s identity from our two vacationing beauties, it's kind of weird the audience is in on the trick from the start.
So the film doesn’t really have much in the way of story panache or plot trickery going for it, it does have some visual style. For a 16mm no-budget film shot in about two weeks, it’s not the flashiest show but it picks up some haunting visuals. For starters, the killings are quite impactful. Most of the gore effects were apparently added as reshoots but one involving an arm is quite ghastly. There’s also a well-executed dream sequence that has some impressive visual flair. And while you’re well ahead of the action by the time the third act kicks in, the home stretch has some good suspenseful beats to it.
While I am speaking praisefully of Terror at Tenkiller, that’s largely out of nostalgic appreciation. As a whole, it’s not the most amazing film. The acting is a bit weak, the scripting is slim, and again you’re a mile ahead of the plot before the opening credits have rolled. But it is pretty damned entertaining - especially with a bunch of friends and a few drinks. Not long before heading off to college, this was the movie a friend found for sale at an old mom-and-pop rental shop and our friend group poured more than a few enjoying it for one last hangout. The guys at Rifftrax gave this one a go, I haven’t given that commentary a round yet, but I hear it's a funny one.
Now watching it decades later, and sober, I have a little more appreciation for what the filmmakers had to work with to get the thing done. Made far away from big studios and without massive gobs of cash, it’s a work of grit and determination. Director/writer Ken Meyer with his co-writer wife Claudia and son Kevin worked out a halfway decent flick making it quite the family affair. I probably won’t be pulling it off the shelf all too often but it’s a nice piece for the collection, even if it’s mostly there for an ever-aging set of memories.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K UBlu-ray
Terror at Tenkiller slashes its way onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome. The 4K version is pressed on a Region Free BD-66 disc with the 1080p version staking out a BD-50. The discs are housed in a sturdy black two-disc case with reversible insert artwork and slipcover. The discs load to animated main menus with standard navigation options.
On the video scale, Terror at Tenkiller in 4K is the best I’ve ever seen it. I don’t fully recall the last time I saw it beyond that VHS viewing and one shot with the DVD ages ago, but this 1.33:1 2160p HDR10 transfer has all the hallmarks of an amateur 16mm feature but it looks great. Grain is understandably heavier than what you’d get with 35mm. Whites can get a little hot or windows can be blown out with the sun. Black levels while overall stable can fluctuate a little depending on the scene. It’s interesting to see the gore effects shots can look quite fantastic compared to the adjacent footage with true deep inky blacks and lovely crimson reds for the bloodletting. The previously mentioned dream sequence is another excellent example. Colors feature healthy natural primaries and human skin tones without looking too pink or peached. It’s not going to win awards for a beautiful-looking film but as a low-budget 16mm production 4K proves the format can be quite lovely in higher resolution. Elements are in immaculate shape without any notable flecks, speckling, or age-related issues to speak of.
On the audio scale, the film gets by with a DTS-HD MA mono track that is about as good as it's going to get. Shooting on location in the middle of August, the sounds of millions of very loud insects permeate virtually every scene. The insects were so severe that a lot of the dialog had to be dubbed in later - apparently with new voices for both Stacey Logan and Michele Merchant. Even dubbed or with conflicting background noise, the dialog is at least audible enough without needing to raise the volume to hear what’s being said. With that, it’s not a lot to hear. Scoring is minimal but for exciting bits, it kicks in nicely. The stabby-stabby bits also have plenty of squish and the film’s final act becomes a little more lively.
On the bonus features front, Vinegar Syndrome doesn’t disappoint. Kicking things off on a good foot, Ken Meyer’s son Kevin Meyer who played Josh and did some directing and editing on the film is on hand with lead actor Mike Wiles for a fun introduction and a very engaging and informative audio commentary. Right out of the gate, the track is loaded with fun production info and they can be a hoot discussing it. Then there is the Two Weeks of Terror! documentary featuring a whole slew of cast and crew members fondly discussing the making of the film. The old on-set behind-the-scenes video footage is pretty cool, looks like an old-school EPK kit! Last of the Tenkiller-related features there are the home video trailers that are pretty damned fun. From there we get to a pair of Kevin Meyer’s short films - which are pretty cool - with even more behind-the-scenes materials for a pretty stacked assortment of interesting extra features.
4K Ultra HD Disc
Of the numerous slashers to crop up throughout the 1980s, Terror at Tenkiller isn’t likely to stand out for most genre fans. But as a piece of low-budget regional horror entertainment, the film delivers. The plot may be predictable but when it comes time for the gore it delivers the red stuff. Decent acting and some effective imagery keep this fun fright flick from sinking into the depths. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, Terror at Tenkiller rises from the deep for an excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. Looking better than I’ve ever known it to look, the new 4K transfer is a treat for 16mm filmmaking. Audio can be a bit rough but blame the bugs, not the filmmakers. Best of all is the extensive array of bonus features produced for this release. Fans will definitely want to check it out, for newcomers, it’s certainly Worth A Look