Your proprietor took up the assignment* to watch and discuss SLAUGHTER HIGH with a certain bemusement; my own high school reunion is happening this coming weekend, and so the timing was somewhat amusing. What warnings would the film have for my own real-life situation? What could I learn from SLAUGHTER HIGH that I could apply to my return to my own high school environs, and the people therein?
The answer to both questions is: Nothing at all.
The film begins with the humiliation of a clueless teenage nerd named Marty. Lured into a locker room by the promise of a cherry-busting encounter with cool-girl Carol, Marty is instead captured on film being given a swirlie by, presumably, all of the school’s in-crowd (half of whom were filling film crew positions, a technical detail that your reporter appreciated). Marty tries to collect himself by doing some extra-curricular work in the school’s chemistry lab; he’s subjected to yet another prank that disfigures him.
Five years later the kids are invited to a reunion back at the old school, which they find in disrepair and slated for demolition. They find themselves trapped within, and stalked by a murderous madman wearing a letter jacket and a jester’s mask. Is their stalker a grudge-driven Marty, or something worse?
SLAUGHTER HIGH’s a compelling mess, initially drawing its characters VERY broadly, pursing comedy without wit and horror without suspense. The casting of Caroline Munro as Carol doesn’t help: veteran that she is and as fine as she looks, she’s clearly NOT the late-teens, early-20s the role calls for, and led your proprietor to initially wonder if Marty was being seduced by a school faculty member (most of the cast, like Munro, are British, and some of the American accents are...inconsistent). Post-high school we find that Carol’s an in-demand actress, negotiating a role with a sleazy producer. We know he’s sleazy because he has a PIECES one-sheet on his office wall. You remember:
Nice little in-joke there, as PIECES producer/co-writer Dick Randall was a producer on this film as well. The game-for-anything-but-thinking-nothing-through joie de vivre that made PIECES so winning eventually manifests in SLAUGHTER HIGH. As stupid as the first half often is, it does wear down one’s resistance – there’s a childish gag at about the film’s midpoint involving a funnel, and if you laugh at it (I did), you’re set for the film’s second half.
There’s a remarkable tonal shift that happens here: as Marty’s classmates get picked off, the film becomes more serious (even Harry Manfredini’s score, which had been a VERY 80s cheap synth pastiche, becomes more shaded and interesting here). Slasher fans will be pleased by the creative and varied kills used to dispatch the various characters. By the time we get to Carol’s inevitable one-on-one showdown with the killer the film’s built genuine suspense. And it doesn’t resolve as predictably as one might have expected.
Your humble scribe’s not one to enjoy movies ironically; I’m not a fan of the so-bad-it’s-good! kind of thinking. So I’m pleasingly perplexed by a film like SLAUGHTER HIGH. It’s not the work of competent auteurs, and the points it scores all feel like accidents. And yet in spite of itself it DOES score points: it’s less predictable than a more polished movie would have been, and the thing’s never boring.
I watched the film in the Lost Collection edition from Lionsgate, which offers an unrated, extended cut (yay!) in 5.1 digital audio (yay!) and in fullscreen ratio (boo!), the absurdity of which is totally in keeping with the movie. As is the optional Trivia Track, which picks the damnedest times to ask the viewer trivia questions or offer factoids about the various methods of murder deployed onscreen.
Though I’m not basking in the glow of a brilliant new discovery, I am pleased to have experienced SLAUGHTER HIGH in the run-up both to my own high school reunion and to Halloween. I can’t imagine any of my own classmates will stalk us wearing a jester’s mask; should this actually prove to be the case, I’ll be sure to write about it here. Assuming I survive, of course.
* = This review written for Final Girl’s October Film Club, run, as always, by the brilliant and beautiful Stacie Ponder.