Sunday, October 31, 2010

Visual poetry: Trick 'r Treat

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #13: Trick 'r Treat

Michael Dougherty’s ‘Trick ’r Treat’, clocking in at just 79 minutes but packing them with effective chills, gallows humour and some unexpected twists, is a terrific little anthology movie. Rather than adopt, say, the Amicus approach to the portmanteau structure – contrived framing device, several totally separate stories – Dougherty goes for something more akin to ‘Short Cuts’ or ‘Magnolia’. His tales of terror are interconnected. He cuts between story strands; juggles linearity (although each story is linear, the overall structure is something of an ouroborus); has fun with alternative POVs; and weaves a cobweb of sly cross-references.

Individually, the stories present exactly the kind of scenarios you’d expect of a film set on Halloween: a serial killer uses the spooky celebrations as a cover for his visceral activities; a girl eager for her first time encounters a man who has entirely different plans for her; an elaborate prank by a group of teens backfires; and an old man with something to hide is terrorized by an unlikely aggressor.

Likewise, the imagery is entirely apposite – scary costumes for the guys, sexy costumes for the gals, creepy kids, masks floating spectrally in moonlit lakes, wickedly sharp knives, puddles of blood, and fuckloads of pumpkins (seriously, ‘Trick ’r Treat’ boasts more pumpkins per square inch than any other movie I can think of) – while the urban legend aspects of the script include dark secrets from the past and a nasty fate for a group of kids on a schoolbus.

Just to sweeten the deal that little bit more, Dougherty throws in a handful of John Carpenter homages: there’s a nifty deconstruction of the opening sequence of ‘Halloween’; the recycling of the classic “you gotta be fucking kidding me” line from ‘The Thing’; and a gleeful appropriation of the waterlogged-zombies-back-from-the-depths-for-one-last-act-of-vengeance coda from ‘The Fog’. Dougherty handles these borrowings with enough panache that they retain their amusement factor without being distracting or annoying.

The two big names in the cast – Anna Paquin in a delightfully twisted take on ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and Brian Cox as the crotchety old guy who quite definitely gets the “trick” end of ‘Trick ’r Treat’ – do sterling work. Other excellent turns come from Dylan Baker as a high school principal whose extra-curricular activities wouldn’t go over too well with the PTA (a scene involving a hole dug in the backyard, a nosy neighbour and the constant interruptions from his young son build to a comedy of embarrassments painted in the darkest hue), Britt McMillip as the ringleader of the teens whose prank has unforeseen consequences and Samm Todd as the intended butt of their joke.

Glen MacPherson’s cinematography nails the Halloween atmosphere perfectly (his lighting is superb, particularly in the multiplicity of scenes involving candlelit pumpkins). Dougherty’s script is good and the final scene, bringing things full circle, ties everything together with a dark little bow. His direction is pacy and he keeps things atmospheric at all times. With its short running time, ‘Trick ’r Treat’ never threatens to outstay its welcome. It’s the kind of cynically pleasurable little movie that lends itself perfectly to a double-bill with Carpenter’s classic.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #12: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

In which Zack Snyder has the balls to remake the quintessential zombie movie, puts a different slant on things, delivers the goods in decent style and turns indie queen Sarah Polley into a gun-toting badass action heroine.

Yeah, baby!

This is why Snyder’s remake works: he pays his dues to Romero’s original, but doesn’t hold it as sacrosanct. He’s not afraid to do things differently.

But before we get to the differences, let’s consider the touchstones. We have a society fragmenting as a plague of zombies ravages urban America. We have small band of survivors holed up in a mall. We have a final reel escape attempt when continued existence at the mall becomes untenable. And that’s about it.

Snyder – working from a script by James Gunn (who went on to direct ‘Slither’), which was subject to uncredited redrafts by Michael Tolkin and Scott Frank – telegraphs his intent to rework the material from the off. The opening sequence is an attention-grabbing ten minute curtain-raiser. Overworked nurse Anna (Polley) comes off shift just the hospital seems to be gearing up for an inexplicable influx. She drives home, stopping to chat to her neighbour’s young daughter. Anna canoodles with her husband (their sex-in-the-shower interlude causes them to miss an emergency broadcast on TV) then they turn in for the night. Next morning, they’re awoken by the neighbour’s daughter who seems to have broken into their house. The child’s mouth is smeared with blood; she attacks Anna’s husband and turns him. Anna narrowly escapes the house, only to be faced with a vision of suburban apocalypse. Sirens, panic, explosions, houses burning. And zombies everywhere. But no shuffling pathetic flesh-munchers, these. Nope, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ version 2.0 has zombies that are also version 2.0. These fuckers move. Fast. Anna piles into her car and drives like hell, her now undead husband running after her like the T-1000 on steroids. Snyder pulls off a breathtaking overhead shot with a vehicle just in front of Anna sideswiped by a van that comes barrelling out of a side street, the two enmeshed vehicles ploughing across two lanes in slamming into a gas station forecourt, the whole place going up in a fireball. Someone attempts a carjack and Anna momentarily loses control, hurtling off the road and into a culvert. Her head impacts on the steering wheel and the lights go out.

Cue opening credits.

I’m telling you, it had my attention.

Anna soon teams up with Sergeant Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames); along with the good-natured Michael (Jake Weber) and semi-reformed crim Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his heavily pregnant Russian girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina), they head for a nearby mall to seek shelter. As a cop, Sgt Hall’s the closest we get to the SWAT team duo of Romero’s film. Also there’s no helicopter, a fly-away-ex-machina Snyder gleefully undermines with a shot of a chopper gliding serenely over the roof of the mall as our motley band of survivors fail to attract the pilot’s attention.

Moreover, Hall’s badge-and-gun status is immediately challenged by a group of paranoid and itchy-trigger-fingered store security guards led by C.J. (Michael Kelly), the Mugabe of the mall, the Hitler of household goods, the Stalin of store detectives.

That’s right folks: Romero’s original had the safety of the mall threatened by a bunch of badass, hard-as-nails bikers who’d tear your head off and skull-fuck you sooner than look at you. Snyder has a bunch of security guards. And here’s the thing: it makes perfect sense. The America of Romero’s original was a country on the cusp of being subsumed by consumerism, but where free-living, hard-drinking, don’t-give-a-shit bikers were still an emblem of counter-culture badassery and anti-establishment fuckyouery. Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ takes place in an America where consumerism is almost beyond satire; where a guy who can escort you out of the menswear department thereby denying you that designer outfit is actually more threatening than the Harley-riding, bourbon-swilling, skull-fucking dude in the chairs and leather and never mind that he’s obliged to call you “sir” even as he’s seeing you off the premises.

This isn’t the only example of this essential difference between Romero’s ‘Dawn’ and Snyder’s.

Snyder throws in any number of post-modern, post-ironic, this-is-America moments. There’s the mall bunch and the occupant of the neighbouring retail rooftop (the proprietor of Andy’s Gun Store) whiling away their time watching the crowd of zombies congregating below, isolating those who resemble celebrities and betting on whether Andy can take them down with one shot to the head (I’m betting Jay Leno, Burt Reynolds and Rosie O’Donnell aren’t big fans of this movie.) There’s rich asshole Steve (Ty Burrell) happily making a sex tape with valley girl Monica (Kim Poirier) never mind that the exponential diminution of the human race means that he doesn’t stand to gain any notoriety from it. There’s the whiny Nicole (Lindy Booth) blandly accepting that her father has to get shot in the head after a bite wound turns him into a zombie, but who turns into a quivering lump of jelly at the thought of something happening to her dog.

And, in most spectacular fashion, there’s an hilarious ‘A-Team’-style montage where the gang customize a couple of old buses in order to bust out of the mall and make a break for freedom.

Naturally, it goes tits up for a good percentage of the cast. It says a lot for Snyder that he makes this sequence simultaneously as tense as the clenched sphincter of a man who’s eaten a dodgy curry and is still four stops from home and absurdly, almost stupidly funny. The arbitrary deaths-by-chainsaw of two characters whose identities I won’t reveal; the heroic act of self-sacrifice by a hitherto selfish bastard; the chutzpah of a final shot that gleefully rubs the audience’s nose in pure cliché – all are delivered with an acidic sense of humour.

Oh. That final shot I mentioned:

Stick around for the end credits and grin in malicious delight at how savagely Snyder subverts it, the film lurching from Romero remake into Ruggero Deodato territory.

When there are no more ideas in Hollywood, the remakes will walk the earth. Most of them don’t deserve to. This one does.

This is my unofficial entry for Aaron’s George A. Romero week over at The Death Rattle (yeah, I know: I’m an awkward bugger for reviewing the remake). Aaron has already featured some excellent guest articles from luminaries such as Richard from Doomed Moviethon, James from Behind The Couch, Carl from I Like Horror Movies, Becky from The Horror Effect and Venom5 from Cool Ass Cinema. Check it out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #11: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

It wouldn’t be a Halloween countdown without a Hammer production or a vampire movie, would it? Well, whaddaya know folks, it’s two-for-one here at The Agitation of the Fangs Mind.

Terence Fisher’s 1958 adaptation of ‘Dracula’ – Jimmy Sangster’s script making huge diversions from Bram Stoker’s classic novel – was a relatively low-budget affair with stagey sets, functional dialogue and a generally pulpy approach to its material. It was a huge success, mainly due to the charisma of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, both essaying roles which came to define them, and a balls-to-the-wall ending in which Van Helsing, almost overpowered by Dracula, drags a curtain from the wall, the beam of light striking his nemesis, then advances on him holding two candlesticks together in a makeshift crucifix. Iconic stuff!

Despite its popularity with audiences – and despite the fact that Hammer Studios eventually produced nine Dracula titles – it was eight years before Fisher and Lee reteamed for a direct sequel. (There was an in-name-only sequel in 1960, ‘Brides of Dracula’, in which Cushing reprises the Van Helsing role but the Count himself does not appear.) ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ opens with a re-encapsulation of the ending, then jumps ahead ten years. A group of fearful looking villagers are carrying a funeral bier through a forest. The deceased is a woman in her twenties. Her distraught mother is prevented from approaching the girl’s body. One of the villagers readies a wooden stake and hoists a hammer. A shot rings out. The stern figure of Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), rifle in hand, approaches the funeral party and warns that they are about to commit blasphemy. He examines the corpse; there are no bite marks. No evidence of vampirism. He counsels the villagers that the horror is past; that Dracula has been destroyed.

Nonetheless, the next time we encounter Father Sandor he’s conversing with two English couples on the Grand Tour and warning them not to go anywhere near the castle at Carlsbad. He doesn’t give a reason, but for anyone paying attention – ie. those of us who happened to notice that the movie had “Dracula” in the title – it’s painfully obvious.

Nonetheless, our quartet of know-it-all travellers – brothers Alan and Charles Kent (Charles Tingwell and Francis Matthews) and their respective spouses Helen and Diana (Barbara Shelley and Suzan Farmer) – head for Carlsbad only to be forcibly ejected from their carriage at the outskirts of the town by a distinctly agitated driver who refuses, at knifepoint, to go any further. They’re just contemplating the less-than-four-star accommodation presented by a woodshed when a driverless carriage comes pelting out of nowhere and comes to a halt right in front of them. They hop in and Charles takes the reins. The horses won’t respond to his directions, though, and the party wind up at the castle.

This is where the shit hits the fan. Or, more to the point, where the blood dribbles into the sarcophagus.

Fisher does several really commendable things in this film, but makes one huge mistake (and I’m not even counting the plot hole regarding crucifixes and coffins). Kudos where they’re do, so let’s accentuate the positive. Firstly, he plays absolutely fair by the ending of the earlier film. Dracula doesn’t just reappear, or pull some Saturday morning serial deus ex machina; there’s a properly exposited and unhurried build-up to his resurrection. Secondly, for a film that’s not ostensibly adapted from Stoker’s novel a la its predecessor, the sequel is arguably closer in spirit – particularly with regard to the brainwashed Ludwig (Thorley Walters), a stand-in for the novel’s Renfield. Thirdly, the filmmakers pay proper attention to vampire lore, most effectively in the denouement which is one of the few instances in the genre where running water is used against the bloodsucker rather than light, garlic, crucifixes or a stake through the heart.

(It might sound like I’m stating the obvious or preaching to the converted harping on about the running water thing, but you’d be surprised how many vampire movies completely ignore this rule. Think about the boathouse attack in ‘Twilight’ or the swimming bath finale of ‘Let the Right One In’ – the latter particularly annoying because so much attention is paid to the matter of a vampire having to be invited across the threshold. Bear this in mind next time you watch ‘Let the Right One In’ or read the novel. Who invites Ely into the bath-house?)

But I digress. ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ works well on many levels. It’s steadily paced, a slow-burn sense of the inevitable infusing the first half. The finale delivers the goods in proper race-against-the-clock style. The problem is, it’s a good 45 minutes into an 86 minute film before Christopher Lee shows up and, as effective a performance as Philip Latham turns in as the sinister manservant Klove, when the film has “Dracula” in the title as it’s a Hammer production, it’s Christopher Lee in a cape with sharp teeth and eyes like the fires of hell that we want to see.

Nor does the film grace him with any dialogue (according to Lee, the script was so bad he refused to say any of the lines!) This denies us the darkly charming aristocrat of the first film, but works well considering that ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ is about the resurrection of Dracula. The thing that comes back to (un)life thanks to Klove’s machinations is quite simply a feral beast, hissing and primal. If Christopher Lee charms and chills in equal measure in ‘Dracula’, he just plain terrifies here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The art of horror

Francisco at The Film Connoisseur can always be relied on for imaginative and in-depth articles. Here, with a darkly delicious Halloween flavour, he presents a gallery of some of the most artful, creative and captivating horror movie posters ever designed. It’s eerie eye-candy a-go-go.

He’s unearthed some real gems. Here’s one to whet your appetite. Head over to his blog for plenty more.

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #10: Sheitan

A word on the title: “sheitan” is an Islamic word for Satan and not, as I originally thought, a Yorkshireman’s capsule review of the movie (“that French film was a shite ’un”). Which, to be honest, was what I was thinking during the first ten or fifteen minutes.

‘Sheitan’ starts on the evening of 23 December (the date’s important) at the Club Styxx (I’d normally interject a parenthetical “geddit?” at this point, only director Kim Chapiron lays it on so heavy-handedly there’s nothing to get). Our, ahem, heroes are hogging a corner table, eyeing up the talent and royally pissing off the management for not adhering to the two-drink minimum (mainly because they’re skint). Let’s make the introductions. Meet Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan): half-French, half-Chinese, shaven-headed, perpetually up for a fight, regards women as sexual objects. Meet Ladj (Ladj Ly): Franco-African, slightly more level-headed than Thai, actually quite philosophical at times, current interests: fielding a constant stream of calls from his girlfriend while trying to bed foxy barmaid Yasmine (Leila Bekhti). Meet Bart (Olivier Barthelemy): white trash loser whom we first meet trying to chat up a girl by calling her “bitch” and getting a bottle broken over his head by one of the bouncers when declines to stop hassling her and get back in line like he’s been told.

(I mention the question of ethnicity for a reason, btw.)

So: this bunch of charmers bump into slumming-it posh girl Eve (Roxane Mesquida) whom Thai decides he wants to knock boots with. Following Bart’s bottle-aided expulsion from Club Styxx (home to the world’s worst DJ) …

… Eve invites the gang to her palatial home in the country, intimating that she’s got the place to herself. Thai and Bart, immediately anticipating that these kind of shenanigans will ensue …

… don’t need asking twice. Yasmine’s got off her shift and is tagging along, so it’s decision made for Ladj as well. One problem: Ladj’s pimped-up GTi is out of fuel. So they rob a petrol station, then it’s off to Eve’s place.

It’s here that they meet Joseph (Vincent Cassel), who Eve introduces as the caretaker. And it was also at this point – after the crude, misogynistic dialogue; the two-dimensional characters; the crap dance music; and the in-yer-face, style-over-substance, too-cool-for-school artifice of the aesthetic – that I stopped shaking my head sadly at the film’s commitment to mediocrity and actually started enjoying it.

Part of the fun is in watching Thai, Ladj and Bart – “fake tough guys” as Joe Pesci would no doubt deem them – experience a sudden depletion in the cojones department as soon as they encounter the cheerfully sinister Joseph. And I gotta say: kudos to Vincent Cassel. Between this and his blistering turn in the ‘Mesrine’ films, the man has justified the fact that he’s married to Monica Bellucci. This is something I do not say lightly.

Joseph is proof of Shakespeare’s adage that “a man may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. Joseph has a smile for everyone. He’s accommodating to the point of overbearing. When the priapic but eternally backed-up Bart ogles the hot-pants clad derriere of village girl Jeanne (Julie Marie-Parmentier), Joseph unhesitatingly offers, in not so many words, to pimp her out. Jeanne herself proves more than willing. The small matter that she’s Joseph’s niece, however, cools Bart’s ardour somewhat.

(There’s a certain interrelatedness as regards the villagers. I mention this in passing.)

Joseph’s also got a friendly word for everyone, be it “little Turk” when he’s talking to Yasmine, “chink” in relation to Thai or dropping the N-word bomb in front of Ladj. And yet there’s no malice when he says any of these things. No malice, either, when he … ah, but that would be telling.

To use another of my occasional critical phrases (y’know, the kind that keep my name out of Sight & Sound), the home stretch of ‘Sheitan’ is batshit crazy. In a film that has gleefully flipped the birdy to its audience and randomly shifted the goalposts from word go – seguing demonically from Shane-Meadows-goes-Euro “yoof” movie to Zalman King-lite (will the low-class oiks get their end away with the high-class girl?) by way of ‘Deliverance’-on-the-Loire – the most bizarre transition is when the film lurches into out-and-out horror (albeit tinged with black comedy) then concludes abruptly and hilariously with the revelation that the whole demented exercise is quite simply a nativity tale.

A dark and twisted one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #9: The White Ribbon

Whisper it quietly, but Michael Haneke makes genre films.

Wait! Don’t hit that back button. Hear me out on this.

‘Benny’s Video’ is a social horror movie: ‘Peeping Tom’ for the post-video nasties generation. ‘Funny Games’ is your classic home invasion movie, kind of like ‘Straw Dogs’ but without the satisfaction of Dustin Hoffman muttering “Jesus Christ, I got ’em all”. ‘The Time of the Wolf’ is a post-apocalypse movie cross-bred with the home invasion scenario (Haneke doesn’t like his audiences to have any safe places), kind of like ‘The Road’ re-imagined by some strange and disturbing hybrid of Lucio Fulci and Andrei Tarkovsky. ‘Cache’ (a.k.a. ‘Hidden’) is a thriller without any kind of shoot outs or car chases and made up of inordinately static shots. ‘The Piano Teacher’ is a glacially deconstructed Douglas Sirk melodrama with slightly less colourful cinematography and a heroine who sniffs semen-encrusted tissues in a porno cinema and puts broken glass in the pockets of people who piss her off. The sex scenes don’t bear thinking about.

‘The White Ribbon’ – easily the most mellow work in Haneke’s filmography, for all that it touches on child abuse, vandalism, arson, class oppression, misogyny, suicide, and the particularly brutal demise of an innocent and defenceless caged bird – is basically ‘Village of the Damned’ as if directed by Bela Tarr.

It’s a horror movie without obvious horror genre imagery. It’s a story about demonic behaviour where the demons are – … ah, but this is where it gets ambiguous. Let’s backtrack a little and cast our eye over the plot.

It’s 1913; a small town in Germany called Eichwald. Read into that name whatever you like. The town is basically the fiefdom of the Baron (Ulrich Tukur), the Pastor (Burghart Klaußner) and the Doctor (Rainer Bock). I’m pretty sure none of these characters are actually referred to by name; only by status. In fact, I don’t recall that many of the characters have names beyond the children. Our narrator – for ‘The White Ribbon’ is recounted in the measured tones of the Schoolteacher (Ernst Jacobi – although Christian Friedel plays him as younger man), a device reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s ‘Dogville’ and which suggests a novelistic rather than filmic mindset on the part of the director – commences the story with an accident which befalls the Doctor. Nah, scratch accident. We’re talking a wire strung between a couple of trees which fetches him from his horse.*

Next up, a woman plunges to her death through the rotten floorboards of a mill, an incident which her adult son blames on the Baron’s cheapjack attitude to maintenance at said property. A minor act of vandalism against the Baron’s property is quickly followed by the kidnapping and mistreatment of the Baron’s son. Tensions exacerbate between the haves and the have-nots. Tensions develop, too, between the Baron and his wife (Ursina Lardi), who insists on decamping abroad with their son. People disappear. There’s a suicide.

The Doctor returns from convalescence and (SPOILERS) resumes his practice, as well as his private activities – sexually humiliating his mistress and doing something quite unspeakable to his teenage daughter. (END SPOILERS) He’s not the only wrong ’un in Eichwald. A labourer goes round asking the village girls how old they are, demonstrating an unnatural interest if they’re 14 and seeming almost disappointed if they’re 17. Meanwhile, the Pastor discovers his son has been practising onanism and responds by thrashing the lad and tying his hands to the bed posts at night. The Pastor reminds me of my old man in the way he talks up the old “spare the rod, spoil the child” / “this is going to hurt me more than it does you” routine. Except where mine would just belt me with the back of his hand and get it over and done with, this SOB tells his kids he’s going to thrash them the following evening and leaves them to anticipate it in a state of silent dread.

‘The White Ribbon’ is subtitled Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (trans. “a German children’s story”) and although the film ends irresolutely, with the culprit(s) never found, no real accusations levelled (the Pastor threatens the schoolteacher’s future in the town when he suggests who it might have been, but never follows through), and the village thrown into even greater turmoil with the news of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination and the inevitability of war, Haneke implies quite strongly that the children are … well, not the villains exactly. Nor does the phrase “to blame” quite cover it. To say either would be far too black-and-white. And the only thing about ‘The White Ribbon’ that’s black-and-white is Christian Berger’s magnificently austere cinematography.

The children, ultimately, are in an emotional hinterland. They’re in transition between being victims and villains. Haneke hints quite heavily where it will end for them. They’re already beginning to organize themselves. They’re starting to get smarter than the bullying but intellectually complacent adults who have no concept of the monsters they are creating. Haneke doesn’t need to revisit ‘Funny Games’ turf to make his point. Scenes where the school teacher discovers a group of them sneaking around behind someone’s house …

… or where a barn mysteriously burns to the group and some kids watch intently from a window …

… are as creepy as anything in a more obviously generic horror film. There might not be any blood and gore in ‘The White Ribbon’; it might be devoid of suspenseful set-pieces or baroque imagery, but the horror’s there all right: it’s in what’s not said, what’s kept secret, what happens when a door closes and Haneke’s camera lingers in the corridor outside.

*This scene strikes a chord with me. A little family history: three or four generations ago, a couple of my ancestors did some work for one Squire F., a nobleman and landowner, who promptly fucked them over as regards payment. In retribution, they laid in wait for him one evening, fetched him off his horse and kicked seven different kinds of shit out of him. Realising they’d just worked over a member of the landed gentry, they hotfooted it for Portsmouth, stowed away on the first ship they came across and made a new life for themselves in Canada. True story. To the Canadian branch of my family: greetings, good wishes, and good on yer for striking a blow in the class war.

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.