There’s exactly one clever scene in the 1986 slasher film Slaughter High, and it has nothing to do with slaughter or high school. Awakening from a nightmare in which she remembers a cruel prank played on a classmate a decade ago, Carol (Caroline Munro) is surveyed by multiple Steadicam shots as she carefully treads through her gaudily decorated apartment. She shortly thereafter receives a phone call from Manny (Dick Randall), a film producer sitting in his office with a poster for 1982’s Pieces behind him. The metatextual joke is clear to those familiar with Randall, who produced both Pieces and Slaughter High. Carol became an actress after high school and is debating whether or not to take a part in a low-rent horror film.
While about as on the nose as it could get, this scene could be viewed as a precedent for the self-aware genre films that were popular in the 1990s, particularly Scream; in fact, Wes Craven follows Drew Barrymore’s character with similar tracking shots in the opening of his 1996 film as she discusses horror movies throughout a series of increasingly threatening phone calls. But Scream uses its opening as a springboard for dissecting the way pop culture has become irrevocably attached to the minds and bodies of each new generation of American youth, whereas Slaughter High merely deploys its playful sensibilities as a prelude to the main event: a cheap, imitative cash-in that looks like it was conceived, shot, and cut in about a weekend’s time.
The scene with Carol and Manny follows a nearly 20-minute prologue in which Marty (Simon Scuddamore), a nerdy chemistry student, is led into the girls’ locker room by Carol on the promise of sex. Trailing them are a handful of other teens—with video and sound recording equipment in tow—who’re planning a vicious April Fool’s Day prank that ends with Marty being humiliated and repeatedly assaulted. What befalls Sissy Spacek’s lead character in Brian De Palma’s Carrie inside of a locker room has nothing on what happens to Marty here: Fully nude, he’s first prodded, then electrocuted, and finally dunked headfirst into a toilet. The arrival of Coach (Marc Smith) breaks up the assault, though rather than interrogating the class on what transpired and phoning the police (or at least school administrators), he orders them into afterschool detention. Subsequently, several students sneak away from detention to once again prank Marty, only this time he’s engulfed by the flames of a nitric acid explosion, leaving his face completely disfigured.
The opening of Slaughter High is a witless melding of the events that commence both Carrie and 1980’s Terror Train, but it’s also categorically incoherent in its visual grammar and pacing, suggesting a five-minute sequence that’s been extended fourfold to help sustain a feature-length film. The multiple acts of cruelty against Marty by the characters are less comedic revisions of the slasher template, despite the generally goofy tone of the music and direction, than a stretching of events to excruciating lengths.
The filmmakers employ a repetitive approach to action and suspense throughout the film’s last hour, as the dozen or so perpetrators of the prank all gather at their old high school, now boarded up, for a self-planned 10-year reunion. Once again, the possibility of satire seems immanent, especially given the absurd setting of an isolated, almost Victorian-looking school. Yet, as the sun sets, Slaughter High merely settles into being a rote slasher film, as a killer wearing a jester’s mask starts to off the mostly anonymous characters one by one. When potentially absurd events arise, as when Susan (Sally Cross) arrives well after midnight as a possible rescuer, she spends nearly five minutes wandering around the school, spouting unmemorable lines such as “Hello?” and “You guys here?” before meeting a bloody fate.
Despite the pretense of commentary, the film asks no underlying questions about the society that produces slasher films and revels in its narrative’s basic premise to numbing ends. Susan’s presence simply provides another body for dispatching. Consider as an alternative the most unorthodox postmodern slasher film, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which uses the device of a late-arriving character to far more meaningful ends. When Benny, a black high schooler, is introduced, it’s an hour into the film. He creeps toward the sound of gunfire while Van Sant’s camera stays locked on him, in tracking shots. After several minutes, Benny approaches the shooters and, rather than changing their course of action, is shot and killed; he’s not a hero to save the day, but another victim. The sequence speaks to Elephant’s interest in narrative precedent as an untrustworthy barometer of truth. In Slaughter High, Susan’s arrival simply extends the suffering, both of the characters and viewers.
Vestron Video has emerged as a worthy addition to the increasing number of home-video distributors specializing in restoring and releasing horror films. Slaughter High's image has been restored to an exemplary state, though there are still several instances of scratches and debris that a more meticulous restoration could have likely eliminated. The original monaural soundtrack has also been restored, so that Harry Manfredini's memorable theme track sounds clear and full alongside the dialogue and screeching sound effects.
The disc's impressive, if fan service-y, assortment of extras is highlighted by a feature-length audio commentary with co-directors George Dugdale and Peter Litten. Energetic and informative, the pair is clear that they "winged" much of the film's sequences and special effects, and tried to focus on creating a playful tone. Anyone interested in Slaughter High's production history will find ample detail here. Another intriguing supplement features composer Harry Manfredini's isolated music and SFX selections as an audio-commentary option, with samples of a new interview with Manfredini interspersed throughout the track. Two original featurettes made by Vestron Video include conversations with co-writer/director Mark Ezra and actress Caroline Munro. Each one has them talk about influence and the precedent for their roles in the film's production. Rounding out the set are an assortment of radio spots, a trailer, a still gallery, and an alternate title sequence.
Vestron Video's Blu-ray of Slaughter High contains a worthy HD image, remastered monaural soundtrack, and an explosive assortment of extras, all of which should please fans of this at once strange and typical '80s slasher.