Sunday, October 18, 2009

Slaughter High (1986)

This month in the Final Girl Film Club is Slaughter High. Click here for many more amusing deconstructions and disembowelments of the film.

If you accept the endemic flaws of the '80s slasher film as tropes holding the sub-genre together rather than artifacts of a creatively bankrupt outgrowth of mercenary-capitalist film making sensibilities, then Slaughter High is the greatest slasher film ever made. From the excruciatingly obnoxious characters to the paper thin plot held together by little more than frayed rubber bands and children's letters to Santa, the film takes every irritating slasher cliché and cranks the intensity to eleven before ripping the dials off.

It begins with a painfully overlong flashback sequence setting up the killer's origin. Marty is a pathetic chemistry nerd with huge glasses and a boner for Carol, one of the ten other students who are ever seen in their creepy, asylum themed school after the film's opening credits. Unfortunately for him, all ten appear to belong to the same giant clique, which happens to have an official policy of nerd abuse. With promises of naked tits and awesome sex, she cruelly lures him into the ladies locker room for an April Fool's prank. The token black janitor spots the shenanigans through a conveniently unglazed square of window and gets the school's (apparently) single teacher, an ineffectual Phy-Ed coach, to break it up, but not before they videotape the poor dweeb nekkid, poke him with a javelin, trick him into grabbing an electrified towel rack, and do a lot of general point-and-laugh action. (Though they might just be amazed by his magic pants that disappear between shots without being removed.) Needless to say, the prank climaxes with a swirlie.For humiliating and endangering the life of poor Marty, they are sentenced to a few afternoons of push ups and cardio. Since their increased exercise is obviously the nerd's fault, they naturally have to take revenge. This takes the form of a toxin laced joint that, using their preternatural insights into human behavior, they know he will light up in the chemistry lab while working on his big new project. See, this tainted marijuana is merely the distraction for the main revenge event: putting an unknown powdery substance into Marty's dangerous acid filled science beaker.It probably would have been good enough to simply ruin the experiment's final results, but the powder somehow makes the beaker explode once Marty returns to it. (With the crackerjack timing involved in this prank, these bullies should seriously consider careers in international espionage.) This creates a chain reaction of the absolute last things you want happening in a chemistry lab. First the Bunsen burner explodes, engulfing the edges of the screen in flames. Then the giant, precariously balanced bottle of nitric acid falls off its rickety shelf and flings its entire contents directly at Marty's face.The explosion attracts everyone's attention, but they arrive only to see Marty burned alive and wheeled away by paramedics. Carol leans over to apologize only to get strangled. It turns out to all be a traumatic nightmare of hers, and the movie proper can begin. (Only a quarter of the way through its runtime, no less.) Thanks to some excruciatingly wooden acting, we learn that it's class reunion time, one of the gals is going to be late arriving, and the weather is going to be rainy.

The movie then has to reacquaint us with its long separated cast of annoying characters who were all just on screen a few moments prior. They arrive at their creepy, isolated high school to find it locked up and in a state of even more advanced disrepair than when they attended as suspiciously old looking high school students. This doesn't seem to really alarm anyone, but then, neither does the fact that no one has shown up except those involved in a certain nerd's humiliation and mutilation. Nor is anyone concerned about the April 1st date, which is the anniversary of their fateful prank and Marty's birthday. They eventually tire of standing around pretending to have American accents and break into the school to explore.After about a billion prank based fake scares, the stumble onto the reunion site: a room decked out with food, liquor, and all their old lockers. Every locker has something personal that went missing in high school, except for a single extra one, which turns out to be Marty's. Somehow, absolutely none of this raises any red flags for anyone. They discuss the little nerd's fate, make jokes, and get super duper high, but no one bothers to ponder their situation's sinister implications.A couple of the guys run into the old janitor and give him a beer, but since the dude is black and this is a slasher film, he gets killed almost immediately afterwards by a man in a joker mask. The same joker mask worn by the lead prankster on Marty's fateful day.Now that everyone is nicely shnockered and the movie is half over, people can finally start dying. And considering the awful chunks of human waste they are, it can't start soon enough. Seriously. Look what they did to poor Marty's picture:It's bad enough that they are too stupid to see the clear intent of this evening, but now they're mocking the wounds of their tragic victim and soon to be slaughterer. A slaughterer who has calculated their behavior with the same inhuman precision that they once used on him. You see, he apparently knew exactly which beers they drunken revelers would start shotgunning (PBR, natch) and filled the cans with a special expanding science brew so devious that it neither causes the beer can to explode nor warns the victim with a noxious flavor. (In all honesty, I probably wouldn't be able to tell PBR from fizzy green science juice either.) One burst stomach later, the killing finally starts in earnest.
You seriously didn't notice that going down?

Oh what easy pickings these kids provide, too. One gal, after being sprayed with blood by the gutsplosion, has the completely sane and rational idea to separate herself from the group and draw a nice hot bath. Even ignoring the strange existence of a bathtub with working hot water in an abandoned high school, what could possibly motivate someone whose friend was just murdered by a psychopath who is almost certainly in the same building to get totally naked and take a fucking bath all by herself. Does she have some kind of OCD cleanliness thing?Since the killer is practically precognitive, he had already made plans for someone to hop in the tub and rigged it to start filling with acid after a couple minutes. Not just any acid, either. This stuff can apparently convert an entire bathtub of water into extremely potent flesh dissolver almost instantly. Which I guess makes it similar to ice-nine or Buck Fever Reliever, and also means that Marty certainly would have won his chemistry prize if he hadn't been horribly disfigured.
The bath-termath.

The girl who was going to be late eventually shows up, people wander about endlessly in the dark, someone finds a giant picture of Marty that hands keep erupting from, and everyone generally gets picked off one by one. The gearhead tries to rig up a lawn tractor to smash down the locked gates, but no one bothers to stand guard while he works underneath lawnmower blades. Meanwhile, his horny wife goes off to score with one of the other guys.Once it's down to the last three victims, they finally do the sensible thing and hole up in a room with a javelin as a weapon. Unfortunately, they all eventually pass out and end up sleeping in until passed 11am. (slackers) Refreshed and reinvigorated with stupid, they split up again until there is only Carol as the 'final girl.'Whoo-boy, what a final chase it is, too. The filmmakers take every opportunity to show off their steadycam technology as she runs desperately through the halls to try and run out the clock. It seems that April Fools Day only lasts until noon (huh?) and since "Marty's stuck to the rules so far" (what?) he should let anyone who survives into the PM on the 2nd go free. (Really?) What set of rules exactly is she referring to? Sure it is clearly an elaborate revenge plot of Marty's on a specific, important date, and yes, some of the characters have died in manners related to things they did to Marty in the beginning, (acid, electrocution, nudity, lawnmowers... wait, nevermind) but Carol has no more reason to assume that the killer is following any special set of rules than she does assuming that the killing will end at noon.
This was a High School?

Okay, it has been brought to my attention that "April Fool's Day" does indeed technically end at noon in the UK, but since the movie has just spent an hour and a half desperately pretending it is taking place in the US despite all the poorly disguised accents, I'm still calling 'bullshit'. Also, the jokes may end at noon, but I have found nothing saying that they begin the night before. Either it goes all day or you have a six hour prank window; anything else is cheating.Carol hides in the girl's locker room, but the toilet starts to fill with blood, so she goes back into the halls to get chased some more. Then some more. Then a pause to let the camera guy catch up. Then she circles back around through the same exact hallways. When Marty shows himself, she easily batters his nerdy frame with a bat, but then leaves the bat right next to him as she runs away. He attacks again and she throws him out a window, before ineffectually tossing a javelin at him so he can use it later. This is the movie in a nutshell, an incredibly stupid protagonist doing absolutely everything she can to offer her life up to the killer, who is too frail to be any sort of physical threat to her. Oh yeah, then she hides in the girl's locker room again. Why on Earth would she assume he is not going to look for her at the site of her betrayal and his humiliation... twice?Despite his ineffectiveness, the writers clearly couldn't think of a way for someone so stupid to actually get away, so she eventually does get her ass stabbed with a javelin. Now that Marty has revealed and avenged himself the movie should be over, but instead it starts getting weird. About two seconds after finishing his last victim off, he starts hearing creepy, wailing voices. The voices of his recent victims to be precise. They have come back from the dead with a fog machine to bully him supernaturally. Poor kid just can't catch a break.Only it's all a fever dream of the still bandaged, still hospitalized Marty. That's right kids, it's all a dream. A doctor shows up to check on him, but now he's switched places with the nurse and back to killing mode. Then he starts ripping of his own face. The End?Okay, so none of the film's three different endings makes much of any sense, but neither did anything that came before. Slasher films aren't known for their quality writing, but usually the actions performed within have at least some basis in traditional human behavior. The writers of Slaughter High appear to be so disconnected from how people think and act that it would not be surprising if they turned out to be extraterrestrials or a computer matrix. (Considering the strange, forced accents of many of the actors, I'm leaning toward the alien theory.) Despite the fact that the creepy, clearly abandoned school is locked up tight and may as well be covered in neon signs proclaiming "unpleasant death inside" none of the characters show even the faintest signs of suspicion until the first actual death, after which they proceed to split up, run around, and generally do whatever they can to get killed. On the other hand, if Marty wanted to lead his victims into believing that this was a genuine reunion and not a death trap, why would he keep the place locked up with no indication of what he had set up inside? (Though it does seem to magically unlock itself every once and a while.) Why would he wait until the night of his revenge to kill the janitor? How come the janitor never noticed him moving lockers around and bringing in so much booze? The only possible explanations are that the filmmakers were using the "it's all a dream" excuse to do whatever they wanted, or that they were simply too lazy and stupid to bother caring if anything made even a tiny flicker of sense.While Slaughter High is certainly a decent movie for drinking heavily and marveling at the balls to the wall idiocy, you're time would probably be better served by watching the nearly identical and vastly superior April Fool's Day, which coincidentally came out at almost the exact same time. (SH was originally titled April Fool's Day, but wisely decided to differentiate itself by tricking movie rental patrons into thinking it was a high school slasher film and not just a bunch of annoying people alone in a creepy old building.) If you do decide to brave the horrors, take special note of the ultra synthy Harry Manfredini score and enjoy the murky cinematography. Just to give you a taste, here is a digitally enhanced still of some douchebag crawling through the woods:If any of you out there are experts in the field of illicit substances, is this even remotely close to how one should smoke a joint?


  1. Yeah, the dope smoking was...unusual. Must have been an 80s thing? Great screencaps. And man, I LOVE your header!!

  2. I grew up in the 80's, and by grew up I mean I smoked weed in the 80's. And they are doing it wrong. Or I was. What?

  3. Perhaps they had filled their cupped hands with water to use as the world's worst makeshift bong. It's no less plausible than anything else in the film.

  4. We occasionally smoked weed that way - it's supposed to give you a better high thanks to all the additional air being sucked in (sort of like the difference between "shaken" and "stirred" when it comes to vodka martinis) and also keeps things cool if you're stuck with the butt end. Doesn't really make a lot of sense now that I type it, but I guess it was a good enough explanation at the time.

  5. "from the makers of Friday the 13th". All bad 80's "horror" films start with this boldly emblazoned sigil. It is true, just look.