Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back To School, Slasher Style

Amid the glut of slick remakes and grisly torture porn that has thus far defined 21st century horror films, many fans like to harp back to the good old days of Reagan politics and drive-in cinema, sometimes falsely remembering every midnight screening as the second coming of Citizen Kane. It’s easy to forget that for all its giddy spirit and musical montage-fueled plot development, the 1980s contained a fair heap of cinematic slush, quite often slasher fueled.
And so we come to Slaughter High, Final Girl Stacie Ponder’s Film Club pick for the month of Shocktober. Directed by the possibly drunken trifecta of George Dugdale, Mark Ezra (both of Living Doll), and Peter Litten (director of To Die For, not, thanks to the helpful DVD extras, to be confused with the Nicole Kidman “starrer”) this is to the 80s what something like 2008’s The Hitcher remake is to our current time. Not good. Not needed. Almost bad enough for a good time with alcohol but a tad too awful to deserve your time.
Quick Plot: The world's oldest high schoolers since Grease decide to play a nasty prank on Marty, the bespectacled science nerd with an April Fool’s birthday. Campus hot girl Carol (genre babe Caroline Munro) pretends to seduce him in the locker room shower, only to abandon the birthday boy in his birthday suit while her obnoxious friends dip him a toilet and hurt Wendy’s commercial slogans his way. The totally ungnarly gym teacher issues athletic detention, inspiring one good humored bully to play yet another prank on the unpunished Marty by spiking a joint with poison and rigging a chemistry experiment so it explodes on the science whiz (because innocent whoopee cushions were soooo 1985). Add a jar of precariously placed nitric acid and it’s safe to say young Marty is having the worst birthday since Samantha Baker turned 16.

Ten years later (we assume), our gang of no goodniks return to their alma mater for a private high school reunion, this time as the world’s oldest looking twentysomethings. First, we get a far too long and incredibly dull scene establishing Carol as an up-and-coming actress unwilling to show her goods in a crappy little horror film (for those interested, Ms. Munro does not show her goods in this crappy little horror film either, although several others do so unimpressively). Other characters in this too-large group include a poor man’s Michael Imperioli complete with Joisey voice who seems to be something of a lead, a brassy blond with a randomly South Carolinean accent, and a few more soon-to-be victims who have just about nothing to offer the audience aside from their deaths.

Nobody seems to think it odd that only the cool kids have been invited to this reunion, nor does it raise an eyebrow that it’s being held in the rat-infested high school now abandoned (yet oddly enough, equipped with a working bathtub and fresh body wash). The school caretaker--why he still has to take care of a closed public school is unclear--pops by for a jump scare before being crucified on a graffitied locker as the old friends catch up the best way they know how: soulful bonding over recreational drugs. One of the more annoying male members gulps down a beer and quickly experiences an Alien-ish stomach eruption, minus the charismatic little creature (a shame, since it would have been more interesting than anyone else in this film). Cue frantic running around the dark empty hallways, splitting up for no apparent reason, random boob shots of women who may, if lucky, receive ribbons for participation in wet t-shirt contests, and poorly timed revelations about unseen children’s paternity. 

Yup, Marty’s back and he’s mildly pissed because, you know, these former big kids on campus ruined his social cred and mangled his face. The 99 pound weakling apparently spent the last ten years mastering the art of playing dead, then getting up really quickly and quietly so that several characters can glance at where his body should’ve been and gasp. Ugh.

Slaughter High is not a good movie, nor is it lovably bad like The Pit or slightly innovative and goofy around the likes of Hellgate. With three men credited for directing, it’s easy to see the many places the film went wrong. It’s never clear if we’re supposed to be screaming or laughing at some of the kills, most of which are gory but not particularly well executed. A bombastic score does nothing to heighten drama and the lighting and staging choices are so fuzzily dark that it’s often hard to understand what actually is going on. All this is bad enough, but what ultimately slaughters Slaughter High is its student population.
Normally, character isn’t something we expect to be focused on in a cheap slasher. Aside from the awesomeness of being able to say Kevin Bacon and neck spear in the same sentence, it’s a challenge to name any actor who met his fate at Camp Crystal Lake. The problem with Slaughter High, much like the recent F13 “reboot,” is that it overloads itself with an unruly number of characters while making us care about absolutely none of them. Munro’s Carol has no redeeming factor to make a final girl worth rooting for, while her posse of friends range from white bread bland to ungodly off-putting. Worst of all, Marty himself offers us nothing as either a victim or killer. Sure, I pity any picked-on geek on instinct, but give me one more reason to actually like him. In his one scene of dialogue, Marty comes across as whiny and dumb. My sympathies lied with no one.

At a certain point, however, Slaughter High dragged me into it enough that I was able to keep two eyes onscreen for the last twenty minutes. By then, it seems to be noon the next day (what the last couple of victims were doing for 6 hours is unexplained), which is apparently just enough time to resurrect a few corpses for a fantasy zombie sequence and toss in an unexplained twist rife with sequel and Halloween costume potential. If only anyone could care enough about this movie to get the naughty nurse in drag look.
High Points
I can’t complain about the look of the killer. The jester hat with a wrinkled old man rubber mask had a spark of creepiness about it

You have to love the totally 80s cheesiness of the poster art, even if it does bear a slight resemblance to what I imagine the Killer Condom looked like in his graduation photo
Low Points
You’d think that by featuring older actors with new life problems and what-if wonderings about their high school years, the cast could conjure up some interesting interpersonal relationships. You’d be wrong

Lessons Learned
A caretaker takes care of places

Avoid wearing jingly bell accessories if your main activity of the evening is scheduled to be stalking

When in the 80s, do coke

Gym sneakers retain their exact scent for ten years
If you have the chance to beat a psychotic murderer to near death with a baseball bat, it’s best to not drop the weapon at the mildly bruised killer’s feet and slowly run away

Trust me: the prom queen does not want to have sex with you in the girl’s locker room

Hardcore 80s slasher fans may get a kick out of this little remnant of a time passed, but most others should avoid the temptation of the somewhat kickass poster art. The sole DVD extra is a Pop-Up Video-ish trivia track that occasionally plays under the action to provide viewers with such life changing knowledge as “the hockey mask is a reference to the 1980 slasher film, Friday the 13th.” Random fun facts do offer something new; I only learned here that Nebraska was the last state to ban the electric chair, although what that has to do with Slaughter High isn’t spelled out for us in multiple choice quiz question. Perhaps the best tidbit comes in a True/False question: Actor Simon Scuddamore, who played Marty, died from an intentional overdose shortly after this film’s shooting. When that’s the most interesting thing about your movie, you have a problem.
Don’t forget to head over to Final Girl’s site for a roundup of other bloggers bravely travailing the muck that is Slaughter High. You never know: someone might have given it a passing grade. That someone would have bad taste.

Says the person about to fall asleep with a Sunday night showing of Showgirls.


  1. Hmm...guess I have bad taste.

    Thanks for writing it up!

  2. Well bad taste is such a relative term. I mean, just cause some of us know that Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford is the best performance to win a Razzie doesn't mean that everyone is entitled to be so classy.

    I love a bad 80s film, but I just felt like something was too forced about this one. Give me some ingenuity, like the dodgeball death in Fear No Evil to make a teen film transcend itself.

    Then again, I did totally forget how amazing the dirty talk sex scene was. Maybe I was a tad harsh.

  3. The electric chair pop-up-quiz-question came when Stella, after poorly timing her paternity revelation, had sex on the conveniently placed metal bed and was electrocuted. That was actually my favorite question just because of the timing. Such poor taste. It fit so well.

  4. Good point, I guess the quiz did have some relevance! Although I think a worse case of taste came with the trivia question about whether or not the actor playing Marty died from an intentional overdose. You watch it and think, "well it has to be true because if it's not, that's f'd up to write, but if it is, that's just....well...also poor taste."

    It's funny: I seem to enjoy the idea of, and talking about Slaughter High far more than I enjoyed watching it.