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December 7, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #153 - Slaughter High

In a lot of cases, the difference between a slasher film and a revenge thriller is your opinion of the killer. Sure, there are a lot of stylistic differences between a film like Death Wish and a film like Slaughter High, and you wouldn't be able to mistake one for the other if you tried. But one of the things that I find most interesting about the typical slasher film of the 1980s is how similar the plots to these films are to the kind of films that Charles Bronson and others were making in the 1970s. If someone were to tell me that they were watching a movie in which a character suffered a deep trauma and later started killing those responsible, I would probably picture a Bronson-esque anti-hero immediately.
I probably would not picture someone who looks like Simon Scuddamore, the 28 year old actor who co-stars in Slaughter High. Scuddamore plays nerdy teenager Marty, the ill-fated victim of an April Fool's Day prank that goes too far and then returns ten years later to seek revenge on the cool kids as they return for their class reunion. His motivation can be compared to Bronson's - but that's about as close as this movie comes to being one of those noble vigilante films.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that Marty is too far gone down the path to crazy town to be anything but a villain.  (Speaking of too far gone, it's unfortunate that the young Scuddamore, who made his film debut here, died by his own hands shortly after the film was completed.)
There's a little bit of a dilemma that can be found when you consider the fact that this group of pranksters, led by my true love Caroline Munro (who sports a loud hairstyle and seems comfortable playing an actress named Carol), are not really good guys.  The situation that put poor Marty into the deranged and deformed business was directly their fault, which makes Slaughter High something of an outlier when compared to its slasher brethren.  A common theme of this subgenre is punishment for sins, but most films offer up a sympathetic character or two who find themselves in the path of our killer despite their innocence (or at least their willingness to repent).  Munro and company were all directly involved in the pranks that set Marty off, which makes Slaughter High more of an exercise in slasher traditions than a story that provides any meaningful moral content.
A low budget production from the UK, Slaughter High is most memorable because it stays inventive throughout the film.  Marty has a lot of different ideas for punishing his prey, and the film does a good job of setting each up and preparing the viewer for what will follow.  The April Fool's Day theme is very appropriate, because many sequences feel like the killer is letting us in on the joke before he springs a trap on unsuspecting victims.  The image of Marty in the present day - wearing an old letter jacket and a bizarre jester mask and hat - also plays into the killer's playful opinion of justice, speaking volumes about his intentions while the character himself remains mostly silent.
I'm making Slaughter High sound more profound than it is - it's really not profound at all - but it's nice to find a movie at the tail end of the slasher's "golden age" that doesn't just follow the same path we've been down dozens of times before.  Slaughter High is a fun watch, and it's the fun (yet stupid) slasher films that get me thinking about how this why this whole slasher movie family is so much fun to watch (even when it's stupid).  I could sit here and pick apart the bad things about Slaughter High - for crying out loud, it's a film with no good guys! - but that wouldn't be any fun. And Slaughter High is fun, especially when it goes off the rails in the final act and twists the plot around too many times. 
Slaughter High probably isn't what most would call a good movie, and there's a little bit of The Mike in the back of my head that's telling me how silly I am for covering it when there's more profound genre films out there that are worth your time.  But it got me thinking about the whole revenge aspect of slasher films one more time, and while it did that it showed me a watchable '80s slasher film. And Marty looks pretty creepy in that last picture. And that's good enough for me this week.

1 comment:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

This was one of the first Slashers I ever saw, back when I was way too young for the slashings. And of course, I remember a wealth of details. =P

I especially recall the twist in the ending. Just when you thought it never happened, it would. ;-)

PS -- That's terribly sad about Simon Scuddamore. =(