Monday, October 25, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #8: Slaughter High

There is a long and venerable tradition in cinema of films directed by two people: Powell and Pressburger, Launder and Gilliat, the Coen brothers, the Hughes brothers, the Pang brothers.

But how many films can you think of that go tripartite on the “written and directed by” credit?

‘Slaughter High’ (a.k.a. ‘April Fool’s Day’) is credited to three people: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Litten.

This film is such a PoS (albeit entertainingly so) that I automatically wonder why it took three people to make it. I’ve heard that the male definition of multi-tasking is an ability to chew gum and fart at the same time. ‘Slaughter High’ suggests a cinematic equivalent: one of them chewed gum, another farted and the third scratched his nuts. The result of these simultaneous endeavours was the film under consideration today.

The first twenty minutes document how a bunch of asshole jocks and airhead cheerleader types (no stereotyping going on here!) set up geeky science nerd Marty (Simon Scuddamore) in a humiliating April Fool’s Day prank. It earns them detention, an inconvenience which drives two of their number to make Marty the victim of another “joke”. This one has unexpected consequences.

Ten years later, the classmates responsible are lured back to the old alma mater – now abandoned and due for demolition – under the pretext of a reunion. Let’s meet the meat. We have Skip (Carmine Iannaccone), who’s exactly the kind of pain in the ass fuck-stick you’d expect a guy called Skip to be; Carl (John Segal) who, together with Ted (Michael Saffran) are perhaps the guiltiest as regards Marty’s unpleasant fate; Joe (Gary Martin), a bland but okayish kinda of guy who’s now going out with Stella (Donna Yaeger), a helium voiced blonde who still has a thing for high-school hunk Frank (Billy Hartman); the recently engaged Susan (Sally Cross) who almost doesn’t attend the reunion and pays heavily for her diligence in doing so; expendable never-to-be-final-girl screamers Nancy (Kelly Baker) and Shirley (Josephine Scandi); and glamour-puss Carol (Caroline Munro). Bear in mind that all the cast play themselves as teenagers and twenty-somethings. Munro was 36 at the time of filming. The still below tells you two things:

(a) how brick-like cordless phones were in the ’80s and (b) why she was cast. (All right, Neil, stop being a bitch. Caroline Munro gives the best performance in the whole misbegotten film and you know it.)

So, anyway, this bunch of generally unlikeable individuals congregate at the abandoned school. They find the place dusty and in complete disrepair except for one room which has been hung with banners and contains food and beer. They happily get stuck in, pass round a joint and the notably more affable Carol (an actress in cheapie exploitationers – wow, there’s a case of art imitating life – whose agent has a poster for ‘Pieces’ on his office wall) breaks out the Columbian marching powder.

But before they can get down and party like it’s 1986 (er … oh yeah: it was), there’s the little matter of why someone’s lined one wall with their old lockers. While on the other side of the room, all on its ownsome, is Marty’s old locker. Skip recounts how their actions ended up with Marty undergoing six months’ of plastic surgery and intense medical care and how his mind snapped under the strain. Skip concludes this happy little monologue by saying, “But he’ll have forgotten all about us by now.”

WTF? No-one else from your year, or for that matter the rest of the fucking school, has been invited to this little shindig, the room’s been arranged with all your old lockers as well as Marty’s, and you don’t have even the vaguest inkling that he might just possibly have something to do with this?

Guess what happens next? That’s right: the meat gets tenderized. And by “tenderized” I mean knifed, axed, skewered, drowned, eviscerated by the blades of a ride-on lawnmower (in an alternative universe this film was marketed with the tagline “the night Alvin Straight went bad!”), pinioned on railings, impaled, electrocuted, poisoned and immersed in a bath of acid.

Basically, everything you require from a trashy, déclassé stalk ‘n’ slash opus. The electrocution deserves particular kudos for ticking the have-sex-and-die box, the couple in question seeing fireworks of a different kind when they get it on.

The problem with ‘Slaughter High’ (whoa, dude – a film called ‘Slaughter High’ is flawed?) isn’t that there’s no real mystery – the writer/directors flirt for five seconds with a red herring that the killer might be the old caretaker, then just arbitrarily kill him off – but that there’s no fucking logic whatsoever to Marty’s campaign for revenge. Some random examples:

1. Marty has obviously taken his time laying things out in the school, rewiring the electricity and making alterations to the plumbing significant enough to allow the acid bath stunt and the flooding of a toilet with blood, without (a) any certainty that the bath or toilet would be used or (b) attracting the attention of the live-in caretaker who he only kills off when there’s absolutely no need to.

2. Susan joins the party late, pulling into the grounds of the school, her headlights sweeping the building, after Marty has sabotaged –’s escape attempt and left his lifelessly body pinioned on the railings … and yet Susan happily parks up and walks in without noticing this. You’d notice a dead body hung on railings, wouldn’t you? And once you’d noticed it, you’d fuck right off PDQ and call the police from maybe 50 miles away. Wouldn’t you?

3. Subject of Susan walking in, how come the door’s always locked when characters try to escape and always unlocked when they walk in? Does Marty have an automated locking mechanism fitted that he can trigger remotely? And if so, how does he know when to use it? It’s not like he’s manipulating events from in front of a bank of monitors a la Jigsaw in ‘Saw DCLXVI’.

4. How does Marty manage to get around the campus so damn quickly? In one scene, he’s chasing – (that’s chasing in the traditional sense, ie. he’s behind her); she goes flying down a couple of flights of stairs, hurls herself at a door and recoils in horror as it opens to reveal him. W to the T to the F? Did he astrally project? Abseil?

5. Moreover, how does Marty get around so quietly when he’s always decked out in a joker mask with bells on it. Bells! The kind of thing that make a constant noise when they’re in motion. In the aforementioned alternative universe, there’s a version of ‘Slaughter High’ where the survivors huddle in a corridor and keep very quiet until they hear which direction the bells are coming from. They then tiptoe in the opposite direction, quietly leave via a side entrance and the end credits roll somewhere around the 35 minute mark. Instead of, well, this kind of thing happening:

But these queries are as sounding brass compared to the ending, in which the what-the-fuck-o-meter goes off the scale. I’m not saying a goddamned thing, but if you do decide to give over 90 minutes of your life to this splodge of DTV pabulum and you hold me responsible for that decision, you are more than welcome to hit the comments section and, to quote W.S. Gilbert “use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety”.

What I will give fair warning of, however, is the soundtrack. The music is easily the best (for “best” read “most hilariously inappropriate”) thing about this movie. Virtually every scene plays out to the kind of score that would have been rejected by Albert Pyun. The kind of score that makes your average saxophone-and-wah-wah-pedal hardcore porno OST sound like Mozart’s Requiem. But then again, this is the kind of movie that makes ‘Pieces’ look like Tarkovsky at his most introspective.

As my sister-in-law is wont to say, “that’s the way the bread butters – it spreads so thin it doesn’t mean shit to anyone anyway”. I have no idea what that means, but it sums up ‘Slaughter High’ to a tee.


Troy Olson said...

Sheesh, I would never have even thought of rewatching this until I read your review here Neil. I saw this on late night TV back in high school (15-years ago) and can still remember how stupid it was, how old all the actors looked, the death by electrocution and acid bath, as well as the scene with all the lockers (and how stupid everyone is in their reactions to it).

I do appreciate your attempt to put logic in a film that obviously has none, especially the whole "death trap" thing that always defies any level of consideration that plagues many a revenge slasher (but ends up making them funnier).

Sadly, I don't remember the music or the ending, so I'm going to go track it down (hopefully someone has posted it on YouTube) and then come back to comment further...

Troy Olson said...

Hmm, I don't know...that opening rock song is pretty sweet. The recurring riff you are speaking of...I'm not even sure how you put that in words. WAH WAH WAH WAH WAHWAHWAHWAH.

Sigh...poor Caroline Munro. I just feel sad for ever having to do a film like this. She deserved better.

Oh wait, they just changed from the mocking tone of the opening song's riff to a mix between a porn theme and a karaoke version of a reggae song...damn if I can't get the blasted thing out of my head now.

The exploding stomach is perhaps the greatest death I've ever seen.

The sex scene is fantastic as well -- "tits, um, fuck, uh screw."

Hahaha...oh that ending. Such bullshit. But funny in it's ineptitude.

Well worth the 15 minutes I just spent watching it!

Neil Fulwood said...

It was the WAH WAH WAH, repeat wah-wahs ad nauseum at utterly inappropriate moments, that I was referring to by the catch-all phrase "the music". It's the kind of soundtrack you normally associate with wavy lines appearing on the screen.

The ending ... oh man. When they all start popping up out of the mist in bad zombie make-up. I didn't know whether I was still watching the film or someone had posted a home-made spoof of the 'Thriller' video on YouTube.

I love how in the exploding stomach scene, the actor is visibly tearing his false stomach open to help the special effects along a bit.

I think you made a wise decision expending just 15 minutes on it instead of the 90 I did.