7.19.2010

Slaughter High (1986): Clever clichés of slasher gold


It took three directors to assemble this collection of slasher stereotypes and archetypes into a single 90 minute film. Everything about Slaughter High screams “typical,” yet it somehow manages to be atypical in the process of presenting creative deaths, nonsensical characters, and bizarre twists. Starring the 36-year-old Caroline Munro from Maniac and scored by Harry Manfredini, this film definitely oozes of campy 80’s slasherama. Perhaps the two most telling trivia details about this film is that it was originally titled April Fool’s Day (only to be changed since Paramount was releasing their film with the same title also in 1986) and that it was produced by the same men who brought us the legendary Pieces.
Marty is jail bait.
When the awkwardly nerdy Marty Rantzen is subjected to a cruel and elaborate April Fool’s Day prank by eight of the cool kids, things inevitably go wrong. Marty ends up the victim of a tragic chemical fire, leaving the popular teens feeling guilty over their dirty secret. Ten years later, they are invited to a class reunion only to find their old high school building abandoned. After breaking into the school and wandering around the cobweb-decorated hallways, they discover that they’ve all been invited to a macabre April Fool’s Day party by Marty himself.
High School: The Best Four Years of Your Life...right
The plot has all the good ol’ slasher elements combined into one: high school prank gone wrong, vengeful nerd chasing the beautiful people, popular kids getting what they deserve, and it all happens to occur on a holiday. Within the story, the writers/directors somehow managed to pack in the smallest details of clichés as well: random nudity, unlikely sex scenes, lots of alcohol/drugs, and the obligatory exploration of abandoned buildings. However, all of these stereotypes seem to be serving a self-referential purpose. It’s not as if the filmmakers were unaware of exactly what type of film they were making and exactly how to please target audiences.
 
SPOILERS: The greatest moments of Slaughter High are the clever death scenes. Ted chugs a beer only to discover its contents have been replaced with an acid that makes his intestines explode. Shirley inadvertently gives herself an acid bath until she becomes a skeleton. While Stella and Frank fornicate, Marty hooks up cables to the metal bed frame, electrocuting them at their climax. And the list goes on…It’s moments like these that make Slaughter High stand out from the entourage of campus slashers--many of which were full of off-screen deaths and had very little personality.

The conclusion of Slaugher High is also what sets it apart. After killing off all of her classmates, Marty chases the Final Girl in the climax of the film. When all hope is lost and she is cornered, you would expect the tables to turn. This is when a character, who we previously thought was dead, would come back and save her. Not in this movie. Instead, she is simply impaled with a javelin. I was honestly a little shocked by the suddenness of it. Then, as Marty revels in the completion of his revenge plot, he awakens in a hospital bed, covered in bandages.
Why soooo campy?

Just like another certain film from 1986, the entire film is one large April Fool’s joke…only this one was a dream, or perhaps a premonition of the killing spree that Marty is sure to inflict after his escape from the hospital. Some may consider this ending a copout, but I enjoyed it, as I did not see it coming. It also made my view of the preceding events more interesting. The archetypes and stereotypes were exaggerated because the entire film was a part of Marty’s revenge fantasy. That’s why Shirley decides to strip completely nude to wash the blood off her face. That’s why Stella and Frank were so eager to have sex after witnessing gruesome deaths. END SPOILERS.

While Slaugher High is in so many ways an ordinary slasher film, it is also a unique version of all the things we’ve seen before. Its hyperboles and ridiculousness begin to make more and more sense as the film goes on. The humor, camp, and gore is all spot on and make it a true classic from a better time. 

10 comments:

  1. I still can't get over that girl who actually took a bath AFTER her friend just blew up in front of her. It's like her thought process was - "Oh noes! My friend iz ded! What do I do? Do I cry? Do I get revenge? I know! I'll take a nice bath!" And the skeleton part is nothing short but hilarious.

    Definitely a fun, cheesy film whose camp value is extremely high.

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  2. Sounds pretty cool, I'll give it a go soon enough. I haven't watched too many 80s slasher flicks recently, anyhow.

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  3. I only half read this since you thankfully provided a spoiler tag, but I have always wanted to see this film. I am a huge fan of the Slasher genre, and I love me a bad, but oh-so-good Slasher film, and if it comes to us from the folks behind Pieces, I am all in!

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  4. Solid pick! My favorite execution herein is the "acid beer gut". Classic.

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  5. I have this on DVD and its still a classic. Somehow being so cliched makes it so likeable.

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  6. +JMJ+

    I remember the first time I saw this. I was as surprised by the twist in the ending (the double twist?) as you were. But how else would they have been able to get away with such absurd kills, aye? Have to love that satirical element!

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  7. I like this film a lot as it is one of those films that transports me back to the day. Cliche and ridiculous? Absolutely. But that's the fun it in for me. And I agree with how good the ending and how you made sense of it as it related to some other bizarre parts of the film...but I won't say specifically since it is in your SPOILERS section.

    On a side note, I always get a weird vibe when I watch his film nowadays because apparently the guy who played Marty took his own life a little while after this film was released. Now that is always in the back of my mind whenever I think about this flick.

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  8. I never knew that about the actor that played Marty! That is kind of depressing, especially thinking back to the opening scene of the film. Even though it was played for comedy, I thought him stripping down naked and sprayed with the hose, while being videotaped was pretty graphic and about as unfunny as it could get. Sad face.

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  9. YES high five on this one Becks, I am glad you enjoyed it! I went in expecting it to be the average censored bore from the late 80s, but this was a real treat!

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