10,000 Bullets   Exploring the world of Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse™

Slaughter High (Arrow Video) 
Written by: on August 4th, 2011

Theatrical Release Dates: USA, November 14th, 1986
Director: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Litten
Writers: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Litten
Cast: Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore, Carmine Iannaccone, Donna Yeager, Billy Hartman 

DVD released: July 11th, 2011
Approximate running time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: N/A
DVD Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99

A group of students ritually ridicule and humiliate the high school nerd Marty Rantzen for their own amusement, but one April Fool’s gag goes too far…leaving Marty mentally and psychically-scarred for life and committed to a mental asylum. Ten years later and the gang responsible are summoned back to the Doddsville County High School for a class reunion. The building appears to be long-abandoned with the windows boarded up, but that does not deter the drunken merriment as the group recall old times. What they do not realise is that Marty is no longer locked away and has arranged this gathering. Donning a jester mask, he lurks in the shadows, planning for each of his former classmates to meet an unfortunate and sadistic end. With the doors and windows locked the gang find themselves trapped and are picked off one by one. 

Any film that bares the credit “produced by Dick Randell” insures schlock, sleaze and Z-grade filmmaking. His productions – The French Sex Murders, The Clones of Bruce Lee, For Y’ur Height Only and Don’t Open Till Christmas, to name just a few – were funded from multiple sources, sometimes with dubious connections, and are usually cheap, silly and riddled with head-scratching ineptness. However, what makes many of the movies enduring is that Randall, a notorious prankster, encouraged tongue-in-cheek humour that heightens, rather than attempts to play down, the limitations of poor dubbing, clumsy direction and slapdash narrative. This does not excuse many of his films from being simply awful, but it nearly always makes them watchable since they are not only comedic but have an element of unpredictability at the cost of conventional filmmaking logic.

Slaughter High was lensed in a derelict British boarding school doubling for an all-American high school, while the actors sport either phoney or exaggerated stateside accents and are all too old for their roles – in typical Randall fashion, this simply adds a layer of surrealism and ramshackle humour to the overall proceedings. It should be noted that, while the film is just as goofy as any production associated with Randall, overall Slaughter High holds together surprisingly well. Any film that credits three directors is never a good sign but the narrative, pacing and continuity are consistant and, while the characters relentlessly act illogically and stupidly for the sake of plot mechanics, this is not unusual for an 80s slasher movie. The murder set pieces – including a woman who baths in what turns out to be acid and a couple electrocuted while having sex – are imaginative, and the body count and gore content level is suitably high. An interesting variation of the regular slasher format is the screenplay goes out of its way to make the victims not just one-dimensional but unsympathetic, and their pranks seen in the early scenes are particularly cruel and none of them seem to be remorseful about what happened to Marty as a result of their actions.

The DVD:

Slaughter High looks decent on DVD, sporting a 1:85:1 aspect ratio that reflects the film’s original theatrical dimensions (the films went straight to video in Britain, while having a small cinema release in America). The cinematography is unexceptional but the transfer appears to accurately represent the film’s dark low-budget look. The print carries the original shooting title 1 April Fool’s Day, which was changed since Fred Walton’s April Fool’s Day was in production (reportedly, the co-producer of Slaughter High Stephen Minasian was vocal in doing so since he was associated as an uncredited producer on the Friday The 13th series, which was also made by Paramount).

When originally released on video in the UK, the above-mentioned acid bath and electrocution murder scenes were trimmed by the censor. These cuts have been waived and the DVD is uncut. 

The soundtrack is presented in its original mono audio mix. It is clean and the musical score by regular Friday The 13th composer Harry Manfredini – which repetitively mimics a jester’s laugh and is effective but grows rather tiresome – is adequately depicted here.

The DVD features two audio commentaries. The first one features co-writer/director Mark Ezra and is moderated by Justin Kerswell of the Hysteria Lives website and the book Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut. Ezra is very dry and comes across as somewhat humourless but he is often candid in his responses to the film, while Kerswell is well-researched and keeps the track going for the full duration of the picture. The second commentary with actress Caroline Munro is moderated by film critic Calum Waddell and The Dark Side magazine editor Allan Bryce is much more lively and light-hearted but is a frustrating listen. Munro is charming and it is wonderful to listen to her recollections, but the track is dominated by the moderators. Waddell is overbearing, often going off on tangents about how when his was a child his sister wouldn’t let him watch one of a gorier scenes in Slaughter High, or having a crush on Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles at the time. While Bryce’s fondness and persistant comments about the On The Buses big screen outings and Munro’s tenuous connection to them is amusing, he often talks over Munro and Waddell and the subject often annoying changes without resolution. The commentary is worthwhile for Munro’s presence and not without moments of humour, but the track is disappointing for its lack of focus and professionalism. Also featured on the DVD are on-camera interviews with Ezra (12 minutes) and Munro (26 minutes), plus a fullscreen trailer (2 minutes) which seems to be sourced from VHS and begins with the Vestron Pictures logo.

 The DVD should also include a “collectors’ 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”. A copy was not supplied with the screener.

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