DVD Review: Slaughter High

PrintE-mail Written by Martyn Conterio Wednesday, 06 July 2011

DVD / Blu-ray Reviews

Poor Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) is king dork at Doddsville High. He’s bullied by the cool kids and ends up scarred for life when a bottle of nitric acid falls from a shelf onto a lit Bunsen burner in a class room. It’s totally daft, clearly tongue in cheek, but this British slasher feels less a spoof and more a simulacrum of the genre. Which might lend it some critical merit given this particular reading.

The high school setting, fake and real American accents (which still sound fake - work that one out) and playful expectations unfortunately can’t save it from being anything but a work with sporadic points of interest – such as the male nudity, which is highly unusual in the slasher.

Slaughter High had not one, not two, but three directors (Mark Ezra, George Dugdale and Peter Litten). Haven’t they ever heard too many cooks spoil the broth? Starring cult figure Caroline Munro and a mix of American and British adults pretending to be teens, it is a wholly strange flick and may have cult value simply for its utter bizarreness, bad acting and well designed gore.

Released in 1986 (with poor distribution) it sits well beyond the tail end of the original slasher cycle by a good few years. The film’s initial title was April Fool’s Day and changed when the makers discovered Paramount had their own stalk and kill spoof on the go by that very title.

The film, shot in what looks like a country pile (some scenes were filmed in central London in a grammar school off Marylebone Road) poses as a private US school for a bunch of rich brats. Even during the opening scenes it feels very cheap and barely convincing with the soft focus photography not helping. In other words, it feels nothing at all like an American high school. Cheap props such as an American flag waving limply in a forecourt cannot mask its fraudulence. This is where the idea of the simulacrum comes in. It’s a copy mimicking the tropes and narrative we all recognise yet something isn't quite right.

After Marty’s accident, the group, now young adults, get together for a reunion and are dismayed to find their school is now abandoned and due to be pulled down. Then they each start to die in outlandish ways. The gore definitely makes up for a poor scenario. One man’s exploding stomach is a highlight along with an acid bath and a bed that electrocutes its occupant. Slaughter High likes a set-piece or two and the execution is very well done. It comes as no surprise that this Arrow Video edition is the first time the picture has appeared uncut.

The school becomes a rigged death trap playground as Marty returns to dole out some nasty punishment for past wrongs. Slaughter High doesn’t even bother to attempt mystery surrounding the killer’s motives, therefore presenting it as a stalk and slash revenge thriller. Yet there is a lame twist in the tale. The killer wears a jester’s mask which links with the idea of pranks taken too far. Marty might have been a total chump, but he certainly doesn’t deserve the cruel jibes and harassment by the other characters. They're a pretty despicable bunch.

Arrow Video usually provides great extra features. The film contains two separate commentary tracks, retrospective interviews and the obligatory trailer. Co-director Mark Ezra’s chat highlights the film’s origins in Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None, which was also riffed on with James Mangold’s Identity and other slasher-efforts back in the day. Ezra’s angle comes from his public school background and talks about the bullying that went on in his day. He also mentions the rather ropey dialogue which he freely admits he’d have liked to have spent more time on. This short piece is a telling and refreshingly frank discussion.

Another feature is a near half hour chat with Caroline Munro about her career as a scream queen. The actress got to work with Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Down the years she’s appeared in some great cult cinema including Maniac, where she replaced Daria Niccoldi, wife of Dario Argento. It is interviews such as these that make Arrow Video releases worth buying. She reveals Slaughter High was shot in central London, an old abandoned asylum and laughs at how she was way too old for her role as queen bitch. Munro also admits the tongue-in-cheek quality of the flick was deliberate and notes the cheese factor is what draws fans.

There are two commentaries and the best one is Mark Ezra’s chat with Teenage Wasteland author J.A. Kerswell. The second one with Caroline Munro, DVD World editor Allan Bryce and Calum Waddell is a bit rambling but full of reminisces from the iconic actress. It also perhaps highlights why group commentaries aren’t great as people tend to talk over one another.

Erza and Munro, on their respective yak tracks do tell us actor Simon Scuddamore, who plays Marty, committed suicide not long after the film’s production. It would be his only film and it’s a shame because Marty is perhaps the best character. Slaughter High is sadly not a particularly memorable flick and Harry Manfredini’s score has got to be one of the worst ever. Grating, and very dated synthesiser led compositions, give this movie its real horror factor.

Slaughter High is out now

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