Oh, ’80s slashers. You come in so many shapes and varieties that I never get tired of you. Take Slaughter High, for example, a slasher movie that was released in 1986 but looks like it was made in 1981. It has three directors. It was shot in the UK by English filmmakers, but passes itself off as an American film taking place in an American high school. The high schoolers all appear to be in their early 30s. It’s entirely placed on April Fool’s Day but couldn’t be called April Fool’s Day (its original title) because there was already a movie coming out called April Fool’s Day. Nothing about Slaughter High makes complete sense, but it’s in this way that the movie distinguishes itself.
Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) is the school nerd, picked on by just about everyone. Naturally, he’s surprised when Carol, one of the prettiest girls in school (played by Caroline Munro, who was 37 when the movie was made but cast as a high school senior), shows romantic interest in him. She lures him to the locker room and has him undress, only to reveal that it’s part of a cruel prank and that all of Carol’s popular friends are on hand to point and laugh at Marty’s misfortune. Humiliated, he flees into a chemistry lab… and that’s where the prank really goes wrong. There is a fire and Marty is badly burned by acid.
Jump ahead five years: everyone involved in the incident returns to the high school for what they think is a reunion, only to discover the building closed and empty. They decide to have their own mini-reunion anyway, breaking in to hang out, get drunk, and probably have some of the sex. What they don’t realize is that it’s April Fool’s Day: the fifth anniversary of their cruel and scarring (literally) prank on Marty. Now he’s back, wearing a jester mask and killing them off one at a time. Will they survive and make it until noon when, as one character claims, April Fool’s Day ends? Spoiler: it does not end at noon. No day ends at noon.
There’s almost nothing remarkable about Slaughter High except for all of the weird ways it tries to approximate standard slashers, but that in and of itself makes it somewhat remarkable. Actually, scratch that: the jester mask that the killer wears is pretty cool, and while it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the content of the actual film (I mean, I guess he’s playing “pranks?” Which is something a jester does? Maybe?), it makes for a striking visual. Sometimes when it comes to ’80s slasher movies, having a cool costume for your killer is half the battle. There are also some pretty gnarly moments of gore, none more so than when one of the jester’s first victims ingests some acid and his stomach melts away from the inside out. Another character is dropped into a bath of acid. What I’m saying is that acid figures prominently into several of the kills. Marty really leans into his origin story.
The fact that the movie was helmed by three different directors—Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, and George Dugdale—helps explain why the movie is a little all over the place. Each of them was responsible for a different aspect of the production, so there was never a single cohesive vision with which any of them were working; in that case, it’s a miracle that the movie holds together as well as it does, which is to say that it’s a mostly formulaic slasher with a few eccentricities. It’s a little more graphic in its sex and violence, a little bit goofier, and it has the same quality of some Italian films of the early ’80s because it’s attempting to approximate something that’s specifically American, but can’t quite get it all correct. Hell, the age of the actors alone makes Slaughter High a weird entry in the slasher genre because it feels like your parents trying to act out one of those movies all the teenagers are watching. Some movie watchers would call these flaws, but I find them to be the things that set the movie apart from the countless other offerings of the era.
The recently released Slaughter High Blu-ray is my first opportunity to see the movie in a format that doesn’t look like a bad full-frame VHS dub, and while it’s not really necessary to see this title in the most pristine format possible, I’m a believer that even cheap, largely forgotten genre fare deserves to look as good as it can. As part of Vestron Video’s Collector’s Series, the movie gets a 1080p upgrade and looks considerably better than its past releases, but just decent when compared to other high-def titles on Blu-ray. The image leans a little soft and colors tend to be washed out, but all of this is more a function of the photography than it is a faulty Blu-ray transfer.
Being a Vestron title, there are a considerable amount of bonus features included with this Slaughter High Blu-ray. Two of the directors, George Dugdale and Peter Litten, sit down for a new commentary track and discuss their experiences making the film and the division of duties. Though not present on the commentary, the movie’s third director, Mark Ezra, has been interviewed separately and speaks about his start making movies and how he came to be involved with Slaughter High. Also interviewed is the present-day Caroline Munro, a cult movie legend with a sunny disposition and a wonderful attitude towards the kinds of films in which she became famous for appearing. Also included is an audio-only interview with composer Harry Manfredini, an alternate title sequence that displays the movie’s original April Fool’s Day title, a collection of production and promotional stills, a few radio spots, and the movie’s original theatrical trailer.
Slaughter High is at once deeply formulaic and amusingly singular. It may not be effective in the traditional sense of offering memorable characters, well-crafted scares, or suspense of any kind, but it makes up for any of these deficiencies by being wacky fun. So many of its contemporaries were joyless, boring slogs, and that’s a criticism that cannot be leveled against this movie. There are so many slasher movies from the 1980s. There is only one Slaughter High.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5