A tongue-in-cheek slasher movie from 1986, Slaughter High is a movie that I saw way back when I was a youngster and loved. Watching it nowadays is a very different experience, I am old enough to spot the many failings and laugh at moments that terrified me when I first saw the thing, but the movie retains a special place in my horror-loving heart and I think that’s due to its quirky, goofy charm.
The set-up is classic slasher movie stuff. Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore in, sadly, his one and only movie role before his death) is the school nerd, the target for the bullies. We see him being seduced by the gorgeous Carol Manning (Caroline Munro) but we also see what Marty doesn’t – a bunch of people lining up to humiliate and hurt him. The traumatic prank shows us Marty at his most vulnerable and sets up a cast of characters we are quite willing to see die in various ways as the film goes on. But first there is one more prank to be played on Marty, something that goes horribly wrong and causes him to be scarred for life, both physically and mentally.
Cut to – class reunion many years later that involves all of the people we saw being responsible for Marty’s hospitalisation. They arrive at the school, however, to find that it’s locked up and in a state of disrepair. Not letting that stop them, they break in and start to party. And that’s when Marty begins to pick them off, one by one.
Written and directed by three people (George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Mackenzie Litten), it’s surprising to find that Slaughter High feels like a relatively cohesive, consistent piece.
Obviously cashing in on the slasher boom of the period, Slaughter High gets big plus points for it’s amusing score by Harry “Friday The 13th” Manfredini but loses those points by trying to convince everyone that this very British flick is actually set in America. Despite some of the cast actually being from America, the range and quality of the accents varies immensely (with Billy Hartman, probably best known to UK viewers nowadays for his work in Emmerdale, being one of the worst offenders).
The acting isn’t great, the best work comes from Scuddamore and the lovely Munro with everyone else doing their best to reach a passable level, but the actors aren’t helped by a script that desperately needs help in the first half of proceedings (as Ezra himself readily admits).
Considering the relatively limited time and budget that the movie had, it’s amazing that it turned out as well as it did. There are a few death scenes that hold up well (though one great moment, in particular, is slightly spoiled by the fact that the actress involved doesn’t just extricate herself from the situation), some nice atmosphere throughout and some impressive camerawork in a final extended chase sequence that was added, if I remember correctly, to simply extend the runtime of the film.
The ending may annoy people but it allows for some added craziness and actually makes sense of a lot that has preceded it.
Give this endearing movie a try if you’re a fan of 80s horror. It’s not the nastiest or goriest or the most accomplished but it’s a little film that deserves a bit of affection and acceptance from fans of the slasher subgenre.
The new Region 0 DVD release of Slaughter High, from Arrow Video, is on a par with many of their other, superior releases. Arrow have quickly gained a great reputation for their treatment of horror and cult material and the care given to Slaughter High is no exception to their usual high standards.
As is so often the case, things begin with the cover itself, a reversible sleeve giving two options (and this time I went for the alternative cover, replicating the old VHS cover that first had me hooked). There’s also a nice poster in there and a booklet containing a little overview, written by Troy Howarth, of the movie and its place within the genre.
There’s also an interview with Harry Manfredini, conducted by Calum Waddell, that sadly focuses more on his well-known Friday The 13th score than his work on Sluaghter High.
Finally, an interview between actress Josephine Scandi and Justin Kerswell gets things focused squarely back on the film in hand, and makes for a nice read.
On the disc itself, we get an uncut version of the film in a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and the movie is introduced by co-writer/co-director Mark Ezra.
Ezra reappears for an interview in a featurette entitled Jesters & Jolts that runs for just over 10 minutes or so.
Then he’s back again for the better commentray track, featuring himself and Justin Kerswell (who conducted the Scandi interview and is the author of “Teenage Wasteland”). There’s a bit of crossover material with Ezra’s interview anecdotes but, overall, this is a solid, entertaining and informative commentary that shows affection for the movie while also admitting a number of the mistakes onscreen.
The second commentary track features Caroline Munro, DVD World editor Allan Bryce and critic Calum Waddell (a fellow Scotsman) and is a, sadly, relatively worthless affair. The chat starts off being about Slaughter High and soon digresses to encompass everyone that Caroline Munro has ever met and worked with. And Allan Bryce has a worrying obsession with the On The Buses movies. Munro is worth listening to but it’s a shame that they couldn’t stay on topic. Even worse, Waddell ruins a number of other movies for viewers by mentioning them in a context that reveals some of their secrets and, worst of all, he actually just gives away the entire, moving ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Surely, there are rules of etiquette for these things? If not, there should be.
Caroline Munro returns for “Lamb To The Slaughter: The Scream Queen Career Of Caroline Munro” and this is a brief, about 27 minutes, overview of her career and allows for some reminiscing and fun anecdotes. THIS is where half of the stories mentioned in the commentary track should have been placed. It’s a nice little piece for fans.
Last, but not least, we have the trailer.
All in all, a great package though it’s a shame to find Waddell and Bryce are such ineffective commentary hosts. Next time, I suggest they listen to the track that Kerswell contributes to and take notes.
DIRECTOR: GEORGE DUGDALE, MARK EZRA, PETER MACKENZIE LITTEN
STARS: CAROLINE MUNRO, SIMON SCUDDAMORE, CARMINE IANNACCONE, DONNA YAEGER, JOSEPHINE SCANDI, GARY MARTIN, BILLY HARTMAN
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX