MAY 16, 2009
So last night, I had to emergency fill in for Ryan Rotten at his own screening of The Car at the New Bev, but to make up for his absence (and forcing the crowd to deal with me for ten minutes when they wanted the movie to start) he gave me some DVDs to give out as prizes. One of them was Slaughter High, and thus I asked the question “What is my birthday?” so I could answer it and keep it for myself. Take that, Rotten!
I had seen Slaughter High when I was about 14, but only the one time, so I couldn’t really remember much about it. A few things lingered, such as the fact that two of the group stop to fuck when they are already aware of a killer on the loose and have seen at least two of their friends die, and that the finale took place during the day, which is pretty rare for a slasher.
What I couldn’t remember was how much they botched trying to pass off these folks as a. teens (and then early 20s), and b. Americans. Most of them look late 20s at best (why they opted to say its only five years later instead of ten is beyond me), but the lead, the beautiful Caroline Munro, is easily 35 or so here. We’re all used to having to buy the “young” version of these folks in the prologue (nothing can ever top Family Man’s attempt to pass Nic Cage off as a 22 year old in the opening scene), but it’s another thing when they still look too old for their age during the actual movie part of the movie. And the accents! Munro is OK, but there’s a blond guy who has the thickest German accent this side of the tiny footed terrorist in Die Hard. There’s also a Scot who might as well be the groundskeeper (you better get that joke) and another guy who sounds suspiciously Russian.
The setting is also botched, but in a way that makes the premise even more ridiculous. It takes place on April Fool’s Day (the idea that these people thought they were going to a reunion in April is the least of the plot’s problems), and Munro’s character somehow figures out that because of the date, they only have to survive until noon, because then “April Fool’s Day is over and Marty will stop”. Well, yes, IN EUROPE that’s how April Fool’s Day works. Here in the real world of America, we celebrate that shit all day! Marty can kill you at 4 pm if he wants!
Anyway, the movie definitely has its charms. For starters, the Jester mask is pretty creepy. You don’t often get a slasher with a costume that might keep him from walking through a narrow doorway. Also, as I said, the finale takes place during the day, which I really dig. Usually in a slasher, morning = safety, but it’s actually the most suspenseful part of the movie. The kill scenes are usually lacking in buildup - Marty just appears and kills someone the instant they are alone, so to have him actually doing some stalking is a welcome addition to his MO. And the school is pretty interesting for a location (one benefit of the UK setting - the high school resembles an old castle instead of an industrial building like most American high schools).
On the other hand, the pacing is way off. The prologue takes 20 minutes to rip off the 5 minute opening of Terror Train, and another 20 before anyone dies. Then, the first death of a “group” member occurs in front of everyone else, which means that the rest of the movie finds all of our heroes knowing they are in danger. Not only does it make their actions even stupider (if they went to high school there, shouldn’t they know people in the neighborhood that can come help?), but it keeps the suspense/stalking out of the proceedings. Plus, even if we ignore that they don’t have much of a problem with the fact that they are the only 8 people to go to the high school reunion (to be fair, we only see about a dozen total students in the prologue to begin with), none of them show up with a date?
Also, given that the film is from the producers of Pieces, it feels a bit tamer than it should. And it seems that it was designed that way, with added gore tossed in later, regardless of whether it made sense in the context of how the person died. Hence why someone who just got electrocuted in a tub suddenly melts, and why a guy who swallowed acid suddenly has his intestines expand until they burst through his belly.
I can’t make up my mind when it comes to the score though. It’s Harry Manfredini, so you know that you’re going to be hearing slight variations on his Friday the 13th score (which was just a slight variation on the Psycho theme to begin with). But, for once, he actually composed some original music! It’s overly synth-y and cheesy, but at least it’s new, and breaks up the monotony of wondering which note he will change the next time he needs to recycle some of his Friday score (which at one point he does on purpose, as a guy wears a Jason mask to scare the others).
Manfredini’s contributions to other horror movies are mentioned in the "trivia track", which is the only extra feature of note on the (full frame) disc. It’s a pretty shitty track; not only is it maddeningly infrequent (there are maybe 35 total factoids over the entire film), but half the time it’s providing trivia about shit that has nothing to do with Slaughter High. By the end of the film, you will know who invented the Bunsen burner, how Hitler was involved with Volkswagen, the ending of Night of the Living Dead, and the name of the first Hammer film (which wasn’t even a horror movie). You will NOT learn, for instance, why the film has three listed directors, why Simon Scuddamore (Marty) committed suicide, who designed the Jester mask, or any of the other things a fan would actually want to know. Worse, all of the facts are presented as true or false questions, and every single one of them is true (doing it this way takes up 2x as many title cards, which was probably how they tried to hide what little information they actually had to use). Some things are also just plain wrong, such as when they refer to Cutting Class as a spinoff of this movie. In short, don’t bother.
Basically, the only reason to watch the movie is for its occasional charm, and to recall the twilight years of a beloved era of slasher films. I can think of a hundred better examples, but I can think of twice as many that are worse. And since there has never been a really good school-set slasher, it’s not like it’s weighing down a respected section of the entire slasher canon.
What say you?