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High school student Marty was the kid all the students teased, taunted, and tortured mercilessly. One day, things went too far – one of their jokes backfired and disfigured him for life. Now, five years later, Marty has arranged a special reunion for all of his high school “friends.” (From Vestron’s official synopsis)

 Slaughter High
It took no fewer three (credited) writer/directors – Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, and George Dugdale – to bring the modest slasher flick known as Slaughter High to life. How is this possible? Honestly, I’m not sure, because every inch of it is lifted wholesale from a different, more popular horror movie. This isn’t a particularly shocking accusation, given the formulaic nature of the slasher genre, but Slaughter High can’t manage to produce a single original idea, character type, or plot device for its entire runtime. The story, as it is, liberally references everything from Roger Spottiswoode’s Terror Train (1980) and Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976), to George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine (1981) and even The Phantom of the Opera, then employs Friday the 13th’s (1980) moralistic slant by ensuring that all of the victims engage in smoking, drinking, sexing, and snorting drugs to further ‘earn’ their deaths, Oh, and the black guy dies first. I suppose some might call attempts at aping Psycho’s shower scene or a gag involving Jason’s Friday the 13th hockey mask homage or satire, but there isn’t a whole lot indicating that Slaughter High is meant to be a farce. Furthermore, there already was a slasher spoof called National Lampoon’s Class Reunion released several years earlier in 1982 with an almost identical screenplay by John Hughes. And when I say identical, I mean that the character names and specific murders are about the only differences between the two films.

It’s not a total wash or anywhere near the worst ‘80s slasher ever made. Ezra/Litten/Dugdale are professional and stylish enough to set the imagery apart from the true Z-list, DIY slashers that plagued the early ‘90s. I imagine that the film’s cult fans appreciate the way that Ezra/Litten/Dugdale press everything to near-Troma-level extremes. The victims are perpetually irredeemable assholes who deserve every ounce of comeuppance chopping their way, the violence is cartoonishly cruel, and any attempt at comedy involves characters practically screaming the joke into the audience’s face, which is actually valuable, since it’s otherwise impossible to tell the difference between intended and accidental laughs. Most notably, Hammer Studios goddess Caroline Munro, who was about 37 at the time, makes an appearance as a high school student. I’m not saying she doesn’t look fantastic, but there couldn’t have been many people in the audience that weren’t aware that she had already made a name for herself playing adults in the 1960s. And, to be fair, the cast only plays ‘teenagers’ for the first act. The film’s timeline is so unclear that I’m not sure how much time is supposed to have passed between Marty’s accident and revenge. Besides, it seems more constructive to make fun of the very British actors’ awkward attempts at American accents.

 Slaughter High
Slaughter High was originally titled April Fools Day, but was forced to change that when Fred Walton’s (vastly superior) film of the same name was released the same year by major studio player Paramount. To add insult to injury, the new title is so generic that it could be easily confused with Larry N. Stouffer’s Horror High (1974) and Gorman Bechard’s Cemetery High (1987) – though neither of those movies are particularly memorable. Upon release, it was the victim of major cuts to its gory content in order to secure an R-rating. Towards the end of the initial slasher cycle, somewhere around 1984, the MPAA had weathered a storm of parental complaints and was wary of allowing any bloodshed to make it into R-rated horror movies. In a case like this, spectacular violence is just about the only worthwhile aspect of the film and Slaughter High certainly suffered as a result. Fortunately, that compromised version has been lost to history and we’re free to enjoy all of the melting faces, bursting guts, acid baths, lawn-mowed legs, bedpost electrocutions, and blood-gurgling toilets.

 Slaughter High

Video


Since it is being released as part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collection, it’s easy to posit that it was readily available on VHS. Vestron actually released both edited/R-rated and uncut/unrated versions of the film, which was still unusually at the time (oddly, the more gaudy red box contained the censored version). Uncut versions were also available in Japan and Hong Kong on Laserdisc, followed by a pan & scan DVD from Lionsgate as part of their ‘Lost Collection’ line in 2009. Fans could buy anamorphic discs from Arrow in the UK and Uncut Movies in France, but there were no HD releases available until now. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is similar to the other Vestron Video discs, in that it is definitely an upgrade and the best version on the market, but there’s still room for improvement. Alan Pudney’s foggy, soft-focus photography makes it difficult to thoroughly judge the quality of the scan, because, while it certainly isn’t sharp, the film grain quality is better than previous Vestron BDs – specifically their pre-’90s releases. There are still some signs of CRT noise and some of the darker sequences have banding and posterisation effects, but compression effects are minimal. The rather bland, desaturated palette is consistent and warm, and black levels are strong without appearing ‘crushy.’

Audio


Slaughter High is presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound. The mix is flat, but pretty lively, considering its tiny budget. A lot of the dialogue and sound effects were clearly added in post – probably because the British cast couldn’t maintain their American accents. This leaves the sound quality unpolished and volume levels/clarity inconsistent. The bigger issue is the high sound floor, which causes light buzz during otherwise quiet moments. Some first-time viewers may find the music familiar and for good reason – it was written by Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini (who was already ‘borrowing’ ideas from Bernard Herrmann at the time). When stuck in horror/suspense mode (including poking fun at his own ‘chi-chi ha-ha’ Jason theme), Manfredini’s work is quite generic, but the oft-repeated title track is good ‘n goofy, especially when accompanied by a live drum set and rock guitars.

 Slaughter High

Extras


  • Commentary with co-writer/directors George Dugdale and Peter Litten – Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher moderates this charming, funny, and humble little group track. Dugdale and Litten constantly run off on long tangents, while Felsher attempts to bring them back around to more screen-specific discussion.
  • Audio Interview with composer Harry Manfredini featuring isolated music and sound effects selections – Felsher returns to host this composer interview and give context for the mostly isolated score. Apparently, they couldn’t access musical master tapes, so they had to use the mono music/effects track. The intro and interview run until about the 23:30 mark.
  • Going to Pieces (18:29, HD) – The other co-writer/director, Mark Ezra, talks about his early movies, his inspirations, and gives his perspective on the making of the film. According to him, the division of labor was as follows: he wrote the script, Litten devised the special effects and how to shoot, and Dugdale directed the actors.
  • My Days at Doddsville (14:35, HD) – Star Caroline Munro recalls her larger career, acting in Slaughter High, and laughs about the age discrepancies between her and the character. Apparently, she was dating Dugdale at the time, but kept it secret as to not alienate the other actors.
  • Alternate April Fools Day title sequence (00:41, HD)
  • Trailer and radio spots
  • Still gallery


 Slaughter High

Overall


Slaughter High is not good, but it certainly tries hard and I can’t help but praise its over-the-top violence in this completely uncut form. The film’s fans have a lot to look forward to here, from a solid transfer (one of the better Vestron Video restorations thus far) and a fair share of amusing extras, fronted by a very funny co-writer/director commentary track.

 Slaughter High
*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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