Sadly I was too young to experience the golden era of slasher movies first hand in the late 70s and early 80s. Rather, my affection for the genre was bred out of ropey panned and scanned, often heavily cut, VHS versions that I bought second hand from a 'video shop' at some point in the early 90s. Nonetheless, it was enough to get me hooked. With many of these flicks only now resurfacing in the UK under the watchful eye of a comparatively lenient BBFC, it's fantastic to see them presented with superior quality prints, uncut and unmolested.
In the case of Arrow Video's release of Slaughter High
, it's a new discovery for me. Previously rated 18 in 1987, with a substantial 32 seconds cut, this is the first time the uncut '1 April Fool's Day' version has seen the light of day over here. The title was only changed to Slaughter High
at a late stage in the production, after Paramount bought the title rights to use on their own April Fool's Day
Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) is the class nerd, bullied mercilessly by his peers at Dodsville County High School. When a particularly mean spirited prank goes wrong, Marty is covered in nitric acid and set alight, leaving him terribly disfigured. Some years later his persecutors, now adults, are sent an anonymous invite to their high school reunion taking place at Dodsville High itself. They arrive to a derelict building, spookily uninhabited save for the ex-janitor now functioning as caretaker. They throw caution to the wind and start partying anyway, buoyed by a kindly laid out spread. However it's not long before they find themselves picked off one by one via some elaborately staged deaths. All the clues point to Marty's return...
Let's be clear, Slaughter High
(AKA 1 April Fools Day) is no classic of the genre. In fact it's a pretty amateurish affair overall, a long way from the glossier studio offerings of the era. The tone varies wildly, particularly in the opening section where Marty is tormented by his classmates. Farcical comedy and uber-contrived nerdiness are crashed together with some really vicious bullying. It's an odd mix, not helped by the amusing but preposterous score. Thankfully, once the stalk-and-slash scenario kicks in, things settle down. For all its flaws Slaughter High
is a thoroughly entertaining throwback with some imaginative set-pieces that amuse and repel in equal measure. It really is a shameless piece of fun with gratuitous nudity and a defiance of logic that will have you moaning through a broad grin.
As with most slashers, it's all about the killer and here the figure who returns to wreak vengeance on the bullies cuts a creepy image indeed. Some have ridiculed the use of the jester's hat/mask as the killer's 'disguise' but I kind of dig it, even if the jingle used to announce his presence is ripped straight from Friday 13th
. It's distinctive, memorable and more than a little nightmarish.
With some protracted and especially painful deaths (step forward the acid bath!), Slaughter High
is gleefully unpleasant slasher with a twisted sense of humour. Have a couple of drinks, and cheer along with the daftness of it all.
Picture quality is good for such a low budget flick from this period though don't expect an all-singing, all dancing restoration. Sound is adequate with Harry Manfredini's hilariously over-the-top score coming through strongly, though you'll need the volume high to make out all the dialogue.
There are two specially commissioned docs here, both from Arrow Video regular contributor High Rising Productions.
The first is a brief (12mins) talking head interview with one of the three writer/directors, Mark Ezra. He seems reluctant to talk about the film and makes it instantly clear that working as a trio of directors wasn't the best idea from either a career or creative angle (Ezra has scant movie credits since). What he lacks in enthusiasm he makes up for in candor, openly admitting the three week rush-job script is "ropey". For a film that uses a setting so definitively American as the 80s high school, it's fantastic to discover the movie was shot entirely in the UK with none of the directors having so much a stepped foot in the states at the time.
The second, more thorough, interview (26mins) is with Hammer favourite and all round scream queen, Caroline Munro. Dating co-director George Dugdale at the time of the shoot, she's a wonderful story teller. Playing teenager and the inevitable final girl Carol Manning, Munro was a young-looking 35 at the time of shooting. More affable than Ezra, she takes us through her career from the Hammer Horror days (Dracula 72AD et al.) right up to her role in Jess Franco's Faceless
. It's all in good humour and Munro is informative and articulate without taking any of it too seriously.
The two new commentaries are a mixed bag. The first features a touchy Ezra and author of "Teenage Wasteland", J. A. Kerswell. The latter clearly knows his stuff when it comes to slashers but seems (justifiably) perturbed by Ezra who frequently interrupts and seems to take offense rather too easily. Still, there's insight to be had, though it's not the most fun commentary you'll sit through and you can't help wonder what a stellar duo like Kim Newman and Alan Jones would have made of it.
More lively is the second with Munro, DVD World Editor Allan Bryce and High Rising Productions' Calum Waddell. The atmosphere is altogether more light-hearted as they amiably ramble through anecdotes and digressions.
The packaging (including booklet, poster and artwork) wasn't available for review at the time of writing, but looks to complete the package nicely.
Overall it's another unique and compelling release from Arrow Video - and of a film that I doubt you'll see treated with as much care anywhere else.
-Addendum from J. Hurtado
I just wanted to add a little bit to the review as I have since received a final release product.
Arrow are very good and providing extra material, and the video content on the disc is only the beginning. For Slaughter High they've also included their traditional custom cover art that is reversible with the classic Italian one sheet (titled Jolly Killer) as a second option. The custom artwork is also included inside the package as a poster. There is also an unusually lengthy booklet with this one. Typically Arrow Video booklets are around 8-10 pages, but this one is a hefty 16 page job, with one scholarly essay on the film from Troy Howarth, an interview from High Rising's Calum Waddel with Henry Manfredini, the composer of this and many other slashers, and an interview with actress Josephine Scandi. These are all very interesting, and Howarth's essay in particular comes off very well. The film was shot in England, which probably makes Arrow Video all the more excited to get a great edition out, and these extras have done just that!Slaughter High will be released on DVD by Arrow Video on 11th July 2011.THIS EDITION CONTAINS
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
- Collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Troy Howarth, an interview with legendary composer Harry Manfredini by Calum Waddell and an interview with star Josephine Scandi by Justin Kerswell
- Available on DVD and UNCUT for the first time in the UK!
- Introduction by co-writer/ co-director Mark Ezra
- Jesters and Jolts: Interview with co-writer/co-director Mark Ezra
- Lamb to the Slaughter: The Scream Queen Career of Caroline Munro
- 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
Original art by Graham Humphreys
- DVD Region 0 PAL