Slaughter High (1986)
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment/Vestron Video
Release date: October 31st, 2017
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
After enterprising studios and producers spent the early half of the 80s hacking up the calendar with holiday horrors, it’s almost remarkable that it took so long for someone to finally stake a bloody machete on April Fool’s Day. Perhaps even more remarkable is that the light bulb went off in three different places all at once, creating a mad scramble to see which production could claim the mantle of the definitive April Fool’s slasher. Naturally, Paramount’s April Fool’s Day won in more ways than one: not only was it first out of the gate, effectively forcing the other two productions to change titles, but it was also leagues ahead of the other two, which were eventually retitled Slaughter High and Killer Party. But to be fair, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on the former’s part: Slaughter High might not be the best of this bunch, but it’s easily the most outrageous and unhinged.
Few slashers have a mile-wide mean streak and such a pronounced funny bone as this bizarre, almost tone-deaf European offering hailing from some of the demented minds behind Pieces. At various points, it’s either poking you in the ribs or subjecting you to absolute cruelty, often accompanied by either raucous, shredding guitar riffs or the (very familiar) shrieks of Harry Manfredini’s score. Given the setting, you can’t help but take the entire thing as a goof, yet it’s impossible to deny the viciousness lurking beneath its silly veneer.
Much of that silliness is now the stuff on infamy. In fact, it’s practically customary to discuss how Slaughter High opens with a prank involving high school students, all of whom (but especially 35-year-old leading lady Caroline Munro) look way too old for their roles. You watch as this group of awful high school bullies trick hapless nerd Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) into thinking the most popular girl in school (Munro) wants to bang him in the locker room and wonder just how silly this thing is going to get. The answer—which arrives quite swiftly—is very fucking silly: not only is poor Marty humiliated, but his torture is only beginning, as his tormentors give him a poison-laced joint and rig his science experiment to blow up right in his face. The latter prank goes off rather tragically when Marty is left scarred and disfigured, much to the group’s collective shock.
Five years later—which means these actors are still too old for these roles—the bunch receives a mysterious invitation to a reunion at the abandoned husk of a school, now on the verge of demolition. Sensing that they’re the victims of an April Fool’s Day prank, they proceed to break into the building, only to find a room fully furnished with food and drinks, almost as if there were an actual reunion after all. Something more sinister lurks within, however, as each of their lockers are somehow filled with their old belongings; even more troubling is the presence of Marty’s locker, prompting the group to wonder aloud about what happened to their ill-fated victim. Spoiler: Marty is very much alive and returns to exact vengeance as a masked stalker wearing a jester getup.
Typical slasher hijinks follow—namely, the gruesome deaths and gratuitous sex—albeit amped up to an absurd, over-the-top frequency, even by this genre’s standards. Slaughter High is an outsized slasher film that’s way too silly (and, yes, dumb) to be considered a sharp satire or even a spoof, so it plays as more of a complete farce. As the decade chugged along, the slasher genre gained a certain reputation that’s gone on to be calcified in the larger cultural consciousness that regards these things as cheap, trashy excuses to fill the screen with sex and violence. Whether or not that reputation is deserved is a debate for another day; what’s perfectly fair to say, however, is that films like Slaughter High certainly contributed to that perception. It’s perhaps the platonic ideal of what many people assume the genre is like, which is both terrific and damning all at once.
On the one hand, it means the traditional slasher nonsense is on full, glorious display here. The murder sequences are particularly outlandish: in addition to the usual assortment of run-of-the-mill hatchets-to-the face and coat-hook impalements, Slaughter High also boasts a guy’s inside rotting out due to ingesting acid and even a full-on acid bath that reduces one unfortunate gal to her skeletal remains. Even the customary sex-and-death mingling is a patently absurd bit: plenty of slashers feature mid-coitus carnage, but only Slaughter High dares to have two characters begin an affair right in the midst of a killing spree (that they’re fully aware of, natch), only to have it end when the girl is straight up electrocuted to death right in the middle of the act. All of this is incredibly outrageous and weirdly mean-spirited at the same time; something about the on-screen gore gags is undoubtedly impressive from an artistic standpoint, yet also quite cruel in their utter disdain for the sacks of meat roaming these school halls.
Even more incredible stuff awaits (some of it involving a gnarly use of a lawnmower), but to reveal much more would be to essentially spoil most of Slaughter High’s best bits. Besides, the lunatic gore is only half the story, here, as the usual slasher nonsense is also amplified: characters make decisions that can be described as “impressively bad”—not that they ever act like actual human beings too often, anyway. Slaughter High is expressly engineered for the purpose of moving these dolts right into the path of a meat grinder, where they’ll be swiftly pulverized for our (admittedly perverse) entertainment. Nothing will save them, especially their insistence that Marty will stop his shenanigans at noon, when April Fool’s Day ends (well, at least in the UK, where the film was produced but not set, resulting in a bewildered American audience that likely doesn’t know better).
To its credit, Slaughter High is so gleefully nuts that you could almost see that kind of non-logic working; instead, it actually opts for something even more nonsensical towards the end, when it fully unhinges itself with a weird, draggy climactic stalking scene (padded at the producer’s behest since the film wasn’t long enough) that dovetails into a loopy epilogue that leaves everything about Slaughter High into question. Admittedly, this batshit ellipsis trailing the end of the film certainly sets it apart and certainly captures the spirit of the April Fool’s Day holiday—even if it means it’s hard to say for sure just what in the fuck is going on.
Maybe it doesn’t matter: after all, those raucous guitar riffs quickly usher you to end credits, seemingly in an attempt to reassure you that you don’t need to think about the wacky ending too much. Nevermind that three directors were at the helm and still couldn’t guide Slaughter High to a coherent ending: what really matters is that is somehow just feels right. Much of the film feels so unloosed from reality that it might as well be capturing some feverish fugue state, so it follows, then, that its ending is a bit of a head-scratcher, one that leaves the audience questioning what in the hell they’ve just witnessed. As routine as Slaughter High—a holiday-themed, prank-gone-wrong boasting a vengeful slasher—might appear at first blush, it’s really anything but. Plenty of slashers follow this formula, yet few recite it in such loud, garish fashion.
When Slaughter High debuted on DVD years ago, it did so mostly in nominal fashion: sure, it arrived on disc, but it did so with a glorified VHS transfer and precious few extras, leaving hardcore adherents waiting for a truly worthy release. Lionsgate has finally answered the call, as they’ve inducted Slaughter High into their Vestron Video line with a stellar release that restores the film to its original aspect ratio via an outstanding new high-definition transfer. Considering the film only managed a small theatrical release in 1986, this is certainly the best it’s ever looked to most fans’ eyes: gone is the murky VHS haze, allowing the rich, vibrant photography to actually shine after all these years.
Lionsgate hasn’t skimped on the extras, either: both an audio interview with Manfredini and a commentary with co-writers George Dundale and Peter Litten give viewers a chance to delve into the production as the film unfolds. A pair of separate on-screen interviews with co-director Mark Ezra and Munro further detail the production, yielding such nuggets as the revelation that Slaughter High actually screened at (and was swiftly bought at) Cannes, of all places. Never let anyone stop you from chasing your dreams, kids. Radio spots, the film’s trailer, and a stills gallery round out the disc, plus viewers can glimpse an alternate ending with the original April Fool’s Day title. Because Paramount’s film beat it to the punch, it’s fair to regard Slaughter High as the other April Fool’s slasher from the Class of ’86. That’s okay, though—after all, nobody ever remembers the valedictorian, but everyone reminisces on the antics of the class clown. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: