Friday, February 1, 2013

This nerd's revenge is no laughing matter

Slaughter High (1986)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Carmine Innaconne, Simon Scuddamore, Gary Martin, Billy Hartman, Michael Safran, Donna Yaeger, Kelly Baker, Josephine Scandi, and Sally Cross
Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, and Peter Mackenzie Litten
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Ten years to the date after an April Fool's prank gone bad leaves a kid scarred and maimed for life, the clique of bullies who were at fault (led by Innaconne and Munroe) are invited to a class reunion at their now-closed high school. By the time they discover they are the only ones invited, they are locked in the building and being stalked by a homicidal maniac in a jester's mask.

"Slaughter High" belongs to a family of films that are as old as horror and thriller film genres themselves--a collection of more or less unlikeable characters are gathered together and made the subject of revenge by someone they wronged in the past. It's actually a plot that pre-dates film, but it's one that continues to be the driving force in so many films because it is an easy skeleton upon which to build a story that everyone can relate to.

This particular version of the very old story was, in 1986, a mix of hoary tradition and newer trends. It's got the mysterious masked figure, who's been around since silent films, with an uncanny ability to kill and vanish without a trace until he returns to kill again; and it's got the gory and sometimes bizarrely creative and unlikely murder methods that are the hallmark of the then relatively new Slasher Film subgenre. And just like the old time thrillers, the cast of victims are a bunch of louts who deserve some form of justice to be meted out against them. This mix of old and new resulted in a film that remains fun to watch even now... and which feels fresher and more original than the majority of modern slasher films and revenge thrillers you may be unfortunate enough to catch of cable television or, God help you, during an overpriced visit to your local movie theater. Even the gratuitous nudity that you expect in a film of this type and vintage turns out to not be quite so gratuitous, as it leads to one of more shocking double homicides you're ever likely to witness. (And it's also one of those moments where you may feel a little bit of guilt over laughing at what you're seeing unfold.)

One particularly strong point about the film is that it has a "surprising shock twist ending" that actually is just that. Not only that, but the mail story resolves itself in an unexpected fashion, which would have been a satisfying end all to itself, but the fact the filmmakers then give us an honest-to-God good twist ending denoument makes the film all the stronger and causes me to forgive what minor missteps I noticed along the way.

The fact the film has a strong cast lifts the film even further than the well-written story and fun kill scenes already did. The performances are even more noteworthy when one considers that this is a British film with British actors pretending to be Americans and yet there is only one dodgy accent in the bunch.

All in all, "Slaughter High" is an underrated classic of the Slasher Film genre. It's well worth checking out.

Trivia: This film's original title was "April Fools", which explains why the title song reference April Fool's Day, why the victim of the prank gone wrong is born on April Fool's Day, and why the action takes place on April Fool's Days ten years apart. The title was changed prior to release so as to avoid confusion with the Paramount Pictures release "April Fool's Day" which came out the same year.

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