Sunday, August 7, 2011

DVD Review: SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

LABEL: Arrow Video
REGION CODE: Region 0 PAL DVD
RATING:18 Certificate
DURATION: 87 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital Mono
DIRCTORS: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Litten
CAST: Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore, Carmine Iannaccone
TAGLINE: For Marty, School Days were the worst days of his life...




Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) has the sad distinction of being the preeminent science-nerd at Doddsville High in anytown USA (filmed in the UK actually) and he comes complete with sweater, tie,  matted hair and the prerequisite Coke bottle glasses. The poor lad is harassed by his peers to no end, it's really a painfully stereotypical caricature. As luck would have it today is April Fool's Day, which also just happens to be his birthday (poor bastard) and he is about to be royally pranked by cheerleader Carol (Caroline Munroe, MANIAC) who somehow has convinced him that one, she's a high school student (she was 36 at the time) and two, that she wants to fuck his brains out in the ladies room. I kept thinking to myself why doesn't he know this is too good to be true? Not only that, but when asked if he's done "it" before he brags that he's in fact a sex machine. We fans of horror and slashers in particular are no strangers to the idea of hanging our thinking caps at the title screen and this film will challenge even the most forgiving slasher enthusiast. Carol ushers him into a shower stall and tells him to undress while she gets ready. While he's fumbling with his clothes she let's in her friends who've come armed with an odd arsenal of party favors; a camcorder, fire extinguisher, jester's mask, car battery, Polaroid camera and a javelin!?! Carol cues him to open the curtain thinking he's gonna get laid instead find nine of Caroline's friends documenting the embarrassing scenario with his schlong flapping around for all to see while they shout "April Fool's!" and chant "Where's the beef?". As if that's not mortifying enough he gets mildly electrocuted plus a world class swirly which is interrupted by the gym teacher post-flush. The mean-spirited pranksters aren't really punished just verbally reprimanded and forced to do push-ups, oh 1980's how I miss you 


Still not sated by their mischievous deeds Skip, the leader of the bullies, and a few of the other pranksters continue the April Fool's shenanigans almost immediately by offering Marty a joint, which is odd considered he was just humiliated to the nth degree, these are the kind of pranks that would lead some to suicide... more on that later. Marty tells 'em that it was very uncool how they cock-blocked him earlier in the ladies room, that Carol's really hot for him, oh Christ this kid is in the upper zenith of denial. A few minutes later Marty smokes the joint while performing an experiment in the chem lab but the weed's been laced with something that cramps him up and he makes for the bathroom in a hurry. While he's otherwise busy in the shitter Skip sneaks into the lab and dumps some white powder into a beaker. When Marty comes back to the lab the experiment blows up knocking over a Bunsen burner which sends the place up flames. A jug of nitric acid that Marty himself placed precariously on an upper shelf earlier comes crashing down and splashes directly into his face, disfiguring him. The commotion in the lab catches the attention of the pranksters in the gym who come running but can only stare on in horror at the disfigured nerd as he clutches a white hot gas pipe screaming in agony.

Ten years later the pranksters are invited by persons unknown back to now crumbling Doddsville High for a ten year reunion. Despite the fact that only the pranksters were invited and that the school is in ruins they party on anyway. It is said that after several unsuccessful skin graft surgeries that Marty is now in an insane asylum and waits for his opportunity to exact revenge. It's at the school that someone (I wonder who?) decked out in the odd but awesome combo of letterman jacket and jester mask kills off the pranksters in a wonderfully cartoonish variety of kills.


It's the kills that are the highlight for me here, there's a nice variety including a gut-busting acid-laced beer, a blood-spraying lawnmower to the guts, a fornicating electrocution and a wonderfully gruesome acid bath with a very cool stop motion face melt alongside a few lesser but decent murders. This is fun low-budget slasher goodness from the SF/X team of John Humphries, Peter Litten and Robert Turner, it should be noted that the kills mimic in many ways the pranks foisted upon Marty at the start of the film. The killers get-up is pretty great, too. The jester mask I feared corny at first provided some genuinely creepy moments, a scene where the killer looks through a pane of glass with his head eerily cocked to the side is particularly chilling and a bit reminiscent of Michael Meyers, as is another scene where the jester is thrown from a second floor balcony and sits-up, apparently unharmed. Also creepily effective is the jingle of the jester's bells that can be heard throughout, good creepy stuff. The setting in the dilapidated school is also very cool. It's creepy, strewn with cobwebs, and makes for a great set piece as our victims scream n' flee through darkened hallways.


The not so good, first and foremost is Harry Manfredini's goofy score, it's way too campy in my opinion. The film is not without it's share of comedy but the score lays it too thick. It's an overly synthy score peppered with some stingers straight outta Manfredini's own FRIDAY THE 13th playbook, but I do kinda love the main title theme featuring a reoccurring jesters laugh and the creepy refrain "I'm gonna get you", but overall pretty kitschy.

Some might call this a guilty a pleasure, but I thinks it's just a  flat out fun late entry in the slasher game. Sure, it's flawed and goofy at times but is still quite entertaining with some awesome kills and an interesting killer. The prank set-up really brought to mind TERROR TRAIN, it's not original and though the execution is flawed is mostly satisfying. The fever-dream ending is admittedly sketchy but overall I must say that I really dig this film.


A few fun facts about the film; it's original title was 1 APRIL FOOL'S DAY until co-producer Stephen Minasian sold the rights to the title to Paramount who used it for Fred Walton's APRIL FOOL'S DAY. Actor Simon Scuddamore who played Marty committed suicide by overdose before the film's release. Apparently he was an unhappy individual with some drug problems. There's a cigar chompin' cameo from producer Dick Randell whom appears in an office with a poster of the Spanish-Italian slasher PIECES hanging in the background, he produced the British slasher DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS which was directed by PIECES star Edmund Purdom. And lastly, apparently in the UK April Fool's Day last just till noon which explains several references to just being able to survive until and things will be fine, assuming a masked killer would properly observe protocol.
 
DVD: When I was really getting knee-deep in buying slasher DVDs a few years back I came across SLAUGHTER HIGH several times, and each time I would actually sweat it out as I considered a purchase, turning the DVD over and over in my hands but I could never do it though, you know why? The Lionsgate DVD was fullframe, and similar to how Frank from David Lynch's BLUE VELVET's couldn't stand warm fuckin' beer I can't stomach cropped DVDs, original aspect ratios only, please. Thankfully Arrow Video have remedied this with a rather nice looking anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The film probably hasn't looked this good since it's very brief theatrical run in the U.S., slasher fans in the UK didn't even get that, it made it's debut there on VHS - long live VHS! Apparently sourced from the UK Vestron print the film has the original title of 1 APRIL FOOL'S DAY, it's original title before co-producer Steve Minasian - somehow involved with the FRIDAY THE 13th series - sold the title to Paramount who then slapped it on Fred Walton's slasher-comedy APRIL FOOL'S DAY, a film that gets short shrift in my opinion, I dig it. The transfer looks good, it's a clean print, nice color saturation with some good grain. I've seen the Lionsgate DVD image and it's pretty dark, this is a substantial improvement.

The English Dolby Digital mono audio sounds good if not overly dynamic, it's a balanced mix and Henry Manfredini's score rarely overpowers the dialogue.


The film has not one but two audio commentaries. The first is from co-writer/co-director Mark Ezra that's moderated by Justin Kerswell of the slasher cinema site HYSTERIA LIVES! http://www.hysteria-lives.co.uk/ and also co-hosts the Hysteria Continues Podcast, with an episode dedicated to this film which includes an interview with star Caroline Munroe. I highly recommend the site and the podcast. It's a detail oriented commentary, quite focused thanks in large part to Kerswell who definitely knows and loves the film, seemingly more so the Ezra who's quite candid about the film's shortcoming, including his own contributions. The second commentary with star Caroline Munroe, moderated by Arrow familiar, Calum Waddell of High Rising Productions is joined by DVD World/The Dark Side editor Alan Bryce. It's a fun though not as focused as the Ezra track, there's a lot of talking over one another. Not a bad listen but I personally find commentaries with more than two commentators a bit of a chore to sit through at times.  


There are two video interview featurettes also with Mark Ezra and Carolyn Munroe. Jesters and Jolts: Interview with co-writer/co-director Mark Ezra (11:46) features the director speaking towards how he came to be on the film, critiques his own writing a ropey, and the poorly conceived idea of having three directors helm the film, he speaks the truth, name another Mark Ezra directed film, see? The second featurette Lamb to the Slaughter: The Scream Queen Career of Caroline Munro (25:59) is more interesting. Munroe, still a gorgeous woman, gives a fond retrospective of her career which proves quite interesting. Munroe is a many storied starlet, a former contract player for Hammer Films who worked on DRACULA A.D. 1972, CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER, was a Bond girl in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, and starred in both William Lustig's MANIAC and THE LAST HORROR FILMS plus Jess Franco's FACELESS. She tells of working with the horror masters Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as well as very warm memories of working with Joseph Spinell (CRUISING, VIGILANTE) and Euro-sleaze auteur Jess Franco. Typical of a High Rising Productions features there are clips galore. The last of the video features is a fullframe Theatrical Trailer from the Vestron release.


Arrow Video always very giving with their extras extend their graciousness here to include reversible artwork with the main sleeve featuring fantastic newly commissioned artwork from Graham Humphreys and a 17x14" fold-out poster featuring the Humphries artwork, the reverse side featuring a gallery of Arrow DVD covers plus a 16 page booklet with an essay by Troy Howarth, the author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava, an interview with composer Harry Manfredini by Calum Waddell, and an interview with actress Josephine Scandi (the acid-bath gal) by Hysteria Lives! writer Justin Kerswell whom also moderates the Caroline Munroe commentary. It's a jam-packed affair with many  interesting tidbits, particularly for a slasher that's not been held in the highest regard, very cool.  


Special Features:
- Available on DVD for the first time in the UK!
- Introduction by co-writer/ co-director Mark Ezra (:20)
- Jesters and Jolts: Interview with co-writer/co-director Mark Ezra (11:46)
- Lamb to the Slaughter: The Scream Queen Career of Caroline Munro (25:59)
- Audio Commentary with star Caroline Munro, DVD World editor Allan Bryce and author and critic Calum Waddell
- Audio Commentary with co-writer/ co-director Mark Ezra moderated by Teenage Wasteland author J. A. Kerswell http://www.hysteria-lives.co.uk/
- Original art by Graham Humphreys http://www.grahamhumphreys.com/
- Theatrical Trailer (0:20)
- Easter Egg (0:19)

VERDICT: Guilty pleasure my fat ass, this is a straight recommend in my opinion. Arrow Video's DVD blows away the Lionsgate edition with a anamorphic widescreen presentation and a host of special features that really enhance repeated viewings. If you're in the mood for a semi-cheesy slasher with some great kills, gratuitous nudity and an awesome masked killer SLAUGHTER HIGH definitely fits the bill.




3 comments:

  1. Dude... Love this movie... but then again, I don't feel guilty for liking what I like! I will yell it from the rooftops that I 99% love this show (the one percent is from seeing that guy's schlong)...

    ReplyDelete
  2. BonesawLtd - No doubt, this is an enjoyable flick. I'd heard for years how awful it was but I don't see it, this is pure cheesey slasher goodness. Great kills and the oh so important gratuitous nudity. This Arrow Video edition comes highly recommended. I put off a purchase for years cuz I hate spending cash on cropped DVD i.e. the Lionsgare DVD. Thanks for the feedback!
    - McBASTARD

    ReplyDelete