Monday, March 31, 2014

Final Girl Film Club - Slaughter High

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Cody and Priscilla show you they ain't no April fools.

It's April 1st, Marty Rantzen's birthday, and as the day begins Marty probably thinks this is going to be the greatest birthday of his life. The biggest dork at Doddsville County High School, Marty has somehow caught the amorous attention of Carol Manning, the prettiest girl in school, who has decided that she doesn't like the jock types anymore. While the rest of the school is off watching a track meet, she wants to get some nerd love from Marty in the girls locker room shower.

Of course, Carol isn't really into Marty, this is all part of an overly elaborate prank being played on him. While Marty disrobes for their tryst in a shower stall, Carol hasn't removed a stitch of her own clothing - the fully nude Marty throws open the shower curtain to find Carol and her entire group of popular friends waiting to mock him mercilessly, Polaroid and video cameras in hand. They spray him with a fire extinguisher, prod him with a javelin, and he can't grab a towel to cover himself up with because the towel rack has been electrified. By the time an authority figure arrives to break up these shenanigans, Marty's head is stuck in a toilet bowl.

Under supervision of the gym teacher, Carol and her cohorts are given a grueling workout as punishment... And since they got in trouble for their mean prank, they continue picking on Marty. They tamper with the project Marty is working on in the chemistry lab, and this stage of their bullying goes horribly wrong, resulting in an explosion that leaves Marty with severe burns and his face doused with nitric acid.

They blame Marty for their punishment, but Marty himself seems to be okay with it all because he still thinks Carol is into him and he trusts the guys blindly right after the awful prank they pulled on him. For a geek/nerd, he doesn't seem to be very smart. Or maybe he was playing dumb around them or something, which wouldn't make any sense. But thing is... something must've changed after the accident.

Speaking of the accident, it's funny how you can clearly see the liquid being thrown right into his face. The way they show it is never what it would've been like in reality if the bottle of acid fell or broke. Just another little thing that makes Slaughter High Slaughter High.

Many slashers start off by showing an event in the past that sets up all the slashing to follow, and Slaughter High spends a bit more time on this set-up than usual. It's seventeen minutes into the running time when the film cuts from the horrifically injured Marty to the present day.

This particular extended sequence feels a bit too long and silly, and shows more of the "kids" and their coach punishing them than we need to see.

On the subject of things we don't need to see, there's full frontal male nudity during the prank played on Marty, which I didn't really need to see, especially with how the movie goes out of its way to show his lack of any sort of appeal.

I could do without seeing Marty the sex machine in all his glory. With that being said, I always think it's great when there's any male nudity in movies, considering there's always female nudity. It levels the field, so that's always nice.

An untold number of years have passed since the Marty Rantzen incident, and now members of a Doddsville County High School graduating class have been invited to a reunion at their old school, which has since been abandoned and is scheduled to be demolished soon.

Carol has become a low grade actress with a really cool apartment. It has some of that late '70s / early '80s vibe with really crowded and busy fabrics and patterns all over. And it seems like they cut her water, because the shower pretty much only dripped. Didn't look like a nice shower time at all.

When the former students arrive for the reunion, they find that the only people who have gathered at the school are those responsible for the pranks played on Marty that tragic April 1st.

And you'd think that once they got there and saw that there was no way in, it'd be enough to either send them home or to some other place they could party at, but no. They break into this old, dark school.

Despite how strange the situation is, which is further enhanced by the fact that their lockers have been collected together into one room and contain personal items that went missing back in their school days, Carol's old friends don't take things very seriously, nor do they display much regret for what they did to Marty. They just settle in for a night of drinking booze and Pabst Blue Ribbon, smoking weed, and snorting cocaine, and even talk about what happened to Marty after he was taken off to the hospital...

Legend has it that Marty's mind snapped and he was deemed unfit for human company, locked away in a mental institution, forever disfigured by his injuries because skin graphs didn't take. They say Marty roams the asylum hoping to someday escape back to the high school so he can begin exacting his revenge.

Marty's tormentors have put that April day behind them, but Marty hasn't. A rampage of revenge is exactly what's happening. It's April 1st again, and Marty stalks the halls of the storm-battered Doddsville County High School, wearing a jester mask and picking off the people who ruined his life (and the hapless property caretaker, who used to be the school janitor) one-by-one, in various gruesome and sometimes innovative ways.

I love the jester mask Marty wears.

The caretaker doesn't look much older than the rest of the cast. I wonder if he used to pick on Marty too when he was a janitor, because it looks like Marty really wanted to kill him.

Slaughter High was produced by Steve Minasian, who was one of the trio of "boys from Boston" who invested in director Sean S. Cunningham's independent production of Friday the 13th. Following the success of F13, Minasian partnered with a producer named Dick Randall to make some more genre films, including the 1984 British film Don't Open Till Christmas and 1982's popularly nonsensical Spanish/Italian slasher Pieces. For Slaughter High, which was filmed under the title April Fools Day, Minasian brought on board one of the big names from the '80s F13 movies - composer Harry Manfredini.

As always, Manfredini's music is instantly recognizable, there are some very F13 cues in the score, but he does bring some unique touches to the sound of Slaughter High. For me, the standout of Manfredini's musical contribution to this film is the awesome, maniacal rock theme song. On the opposite end of the spectrum is this jaunty tune that plays whenever the characters are enjoying themselves, it sounds like it should be playing over a pair of characters walking on a tropical beach in a very cheap comedy, it's heard often enough in the movie to grate on my nerves.

There are actually two bits of the score that really get to me. They're annoying, silly, and play over and over again. My favorite parts of the score are the ones with the F13 cues.

I do find it strange that Manfredini recycled his F13 music so much in the '80s, given how popular the F13 series was and how tied into the films that sound was. It's just weird to watch other movies he scored and hear F13 tracks.

There is a direct reference to Friday the 13th when a character wears a hockey mask to jump out and scare someone. Laughing about this prank, the guy pulls off the mask and asks, "Who did you think I was? Jason?"

The Jason reference is awesome!

Further nodding at Minasian's filmography, a Pieces poster is also shown in the movie. Like Don't Open Till Christmas, Slaughter High was filmed in England.

Which is why the characters keep saying that April Fools ends at noon. Apparently, that's how it is in the UK. I really had no idea.

Yeah, according to the internet the "rules of April Fools" in the UK say that there can't be any pranking after noon. That rule makes it into the movie, but we don't have that rule in the United States, where the movie is set.

Three different men share the writing and directing credits on the film, which is usually a recipe for disaster for a movie, unless it's an anthology. If writer/directors George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, and Peter Litten had differing visions on this production, however, it's not really obvious. Which isn't to say this is a well-polished masterpiece. It's sort of a sloppy, low budget affair, but I don't think having so many cooks in the kitchen are to blame for any messiness, that's just the sort of movie it is.

Slaughter High can sometimes be unnerving and off-putting just due to how dirty and cheap it feels. Although there are dark, serious moments, it's not played very straight at all, in fact there's a humor to the movie that almost feels Troma-esque, especially in how sleazy and unlikeable the characters are and how willing the film is to make things look gross.

If those two goofy parts of the score didn't get played so often, the movie would have more of the dark feel and less of the sleazy feel.

Bodies melt, guts explode, one unfortunate individual is forced to wallow in an open cesspool...

Some of the kills are very nasty and it works perfectly in this movie. The make-up isn't bad, either.

One thing that's strange to me is that, despite the school setting, the movie still has characters going off to have sex in an actual furnished bedroom, and another finds a bathtub to soak in. I didn't know they had these things in schools.

The first time I saw Slaughter High, I kept wondering if they really had bedrooms and bathtubs in high school in the US. By then I didn't know it was shot in the UK. But it's good to know that I'm not the only one who noticed and was a little bothered by that fact. It's really weird.

The cast is decent, with the most notable members for me being Carmine Iannaccone as Skip, Simon Scuddamore (who unfortunately committed suicide soon after filming) as the put-upon Marty, and Caroline Munro, The Spy Who Loved Me Bond girl, star of Hammer productions, and one of the nicest celebrities you can meet on the convention circuit, as Carol.

The same actors play the characters when they're teenagers and when they're attending the reunion later on, so in the first seventeen minutes you have actors who are clearly in their thirties playing high schoolers. Munro herself was in her mid-thirties at this time, dating (and would later marry) co-writer/director George Dugdale.

I think the only one of them who could almost pass as a teenager was Simon Scuddamore. Even with heavy make-up and bangs on her face, Caroline Munro looks old enough to be Marty's mom in the beginning. The same goes for the rest of the cast, they cannot pull it off.

Munro doesn't look like a teen in the beginning, but does well in the heroine role when the group is eventually whittled down to only her.

I don't think Caroline Munro was good in this. Carmine Iannaccone and Simon Scuddamore are by far the only ones who do a decent job. The rest are pretty weak, including Munro. She gets a little better during the final scenes, but it's still not redeeming. Her performance feels too cheap, even for this type of movie.

A coke-snorting boozer, Carol isn't your typical final girl, but the nightmares she has about the Marty incident shows that she does have a regretful conscience, which buys her some slack. And she can run and scream as well as anyone.

I think she's a really bad choice for final girl. I can't get behind it and I don't feel bad for her. What an empty, cold character. I don't know if it's just the character or how Munro felt at the time, but she's way too standoffish for anyone to relate to, let alone root for.

In the beginning, when they're in the locker room and Marty tells her it's his birthday, you almost see a tiny bit of reaction from her, but that lasts like half a second, and is not enough.

The directors also have her deliver that "It's your birthday?" question while looking straight into the camera, which makes it more of a ridiculous moment than a display of Carol having depth.

I feel like the character of Nancy would've been a better choice. She's the only one who shows some sort of emotion and depth as a person.

In other circumstances, Nancy would've been the clear choice to be the final girl. Unfortunately for her, Carol is the one who led Marty into the prank, so she has to be saved for the ending... and Nancy gets dropped into the poop pit.

My favorite part of the sequence in which Carol finds herself trapped alone in the old high school with Marty is a 40 second shot with no cuts during which the camera follows Carol down hallways, around corners, and up stairs.

I like that part and also how Carol accidentally offs one of her friends at the end. That was pretty neat and looked good.

Slaughter High isn't one of my favorite slasher movies of the '80s, it's not one that I watch very often, but it is one of the most notable slashers of the decade and one which I would recommend any fan of that era of the genre should check out.

I love Slaughter High. Yes... the acting and directing are kind of all over the place. The movie feels cheap and there's a lot of other elements in it that could be called "wrong", including the very old teens. But it's still a lot of fun and doesn't take itself very seriously. The kills are creative and well done... I think my favorite is the bathtub one, even though the tub had no business being there. I love the score, when I totally ignore those goofy parts of it that are overplayed. Even with all the buts, it's still a movie I enjoy watching and do so a few times a year.

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