As hardcore horror fans, sometimes it feels like you’ve seen it all. There are no surprises left to discover, no classic slasher film waiting around the corner to thrill you and slap a childlike grin on your face. You try to feed the fix by searching through lists of “The Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen” only to come across titles like May, The Descent, and Suspiria. These are, of course, films that us die-hards know and love all too well. That’s where I come in, dear reader. We’ll be taking a deep dive into the bowels of obscure horror from decades past and uncovering titles that might have fallen “Through the Cracks”.
Mild Spoilers for Slaughter High Follow
Now that we’ve gotten our intro out of the way, I have to admit, Slaughter High probably isn’t the most random title we’ll be discussing here. Typically we’ll want to uncover those really obscure titles that few of you may have heard of, and I’m sure quite a few readers are at least aware of this little British/American production. However, it’s April 1st and certainly, you’re in need of something a bit different to throw on your watchlist this April Fool’s other than…well, ya know, April Fool’s Day. Released on Nov 14th, 1986 (the same year as that other April Fool’s horror movie), Slaughter High actually started its life entitled April Fool’s Day, only for Paramount Pictures to buy the title right out from under the filmmakers who were already knee deep in production. Notice I said, “filmmakers” plural. Slaughter High comes to us with no less than three credited writer/directors.
I’ve done some digging to try and clarify whether those three separate names are due to multiple replacements during filming, but apparently, it was all by design. I don’t see how directing duos manage to avoid murdering one another on set, let alone three directors on the same picture. Nonetheless, the trio of first-time filmmakers banged out a screenplay in three weeks and got master producer, Dick Randall (Pieces, Don’t Open til Christmas) to foot the bill. Randell even cameos as the scummy manager to our heroine, B-movie queen, Caroline Munro (Maniac, Captain Kronos).
What did all these creative minds conjure up? It was 86′ and they were working with a minuscule budget. Did you say, “slasher”? Duh. Slaughter High shares a lot in common with one of my previously mentioned faves, Terror Train. Both open with put-upon geeks getting irreparably harmed by the “cool kids” as part of a heinous prank. Flash forward “insert number years later” and surprise! They start getting picked off one by one. The fun twist here is that each victim is murdered in ways that relate back to their overly contrived, vicious April Fool’s prank. So, yeah, there isn’t a whole lot going on beyond the surface. The cast of characters are instantly set up as despicable asshats. The prank they pull on our hapless nerd, Marty, is way above and beyond tricking him to lie down next to a corpse. These kids are mean, and probably should’ve spent the rest of their lives behind bars.
But, this is a slasher flick, so their punishment is meted by inventively nasty kills instead of the judicial system. From exploding intestines, acid baths, and electro shock orgasms – there is a hell of a lot to love for fans of good ol’ latex and Karo. Also, surprisingly, for every pair of bare breasts on display, there’s a set of male butt cheeks to match (even some peen). It’s always nice to see equal opportunity nudity in a horror flick. While the film takes about 45 minutes to really get going, it never lets up once it does. With one gonzo set-piece after the other, the cast is whittled down to our final girl, and the trio of directors manage to deliver a surprisingly chilling finale. The goofball yet oddly catchy score from Friday the 13th’s Harry Manfredini fades away. It’s an eerie silence that stands at odds with the over the top score featured throughout most of the film. We’re left with only the sound of our heroine’s whimpering. It makes for a creepy finale to a mostly silly flick. That’s without having yet mentioned our slasher’s get-up of choice, a rubbery old man mask with oversized jester’s cap complete with tiny bells that jingle with each step. Instant. Shivers.
For those looking to celebrate the holiday and take the plunge with Slaughter High, I feel it important to warn you. Prepare your suspension of disbelief for a thorough pummeling. There are leaps of logic so vast that the grand canyon bows down to this flick (too much? eh). While our surviving group bands together to figure a way out of their predicament, our lead macho douche has this to say, “April Fool’s Day ends at noon. Marty won’t hurt us after mid-day. I’m sure of it.” Say what, Dr. Logic?! Since when do holidays end at noon, and what makes you think a corporeal being who’s orchestrated an elaborate scheme to bring all his tormentors together for mass revenge slaughter would give a shit what time of day it is?
That brings me to another point. For all extensive purposes, Marty appears to be no more than one pissed off dude in a jester’s mask. There doesn’t seem to be anything supernatural at play, except there is a load of stuff that’s just next to impossible and, at the least, impractical for one guy to have pulled off alone. You’ve got a dead body that appears to transport across the school yard without anyone noticing, complete control of all lights and plumbing, and the ability to know exactly how every character will react to any given situation for maximum murderous effect. Again, the script was apparently hashed out in three weeks and it’s far from airtight.
So, if I’ve got all these negative things to say, why would I recommend this as a “hidden gem”? It might have a lot to do with the first time I saw it. It was screening as part of the late-great MonsterVision (seriously, TNT if you want to bring horror back to the network…start there), and I was far too young and stayed up far too late past my bedtime. Slaughter High genuinely freaked me out, especially the quiet terror of the finale. Thankfully, I had the hilarious MonsterVision host, Joe Bob Briggs, to lighten the tension between commercial breaks. If it weren’t for him, I may have never finished the damn thing. When the credits rolled I was wary of the idea of cutting out the lights and trying to sleep, but I also had a huge grin on my face.
Unlike many films that we look back upon fondly through the neon-tinged lenses of nostalgia, this one actually holds up! Yes, it’s certifiably cheese-ball with a side of crackers for dipping. Yes, the actors all look like they’re pushing 40 when they’re meant to be teenagers. Yep, the characters are pretty horrendous, and you’re likely to root for each of their deaths. Above all, though, Slaughter High is exactly the type of film we would have devoured in our younger years when discovering a new horror flick was exciting and new. This film is still great for those died in the wool slasher fans who think they’ve seen it all. It’s no Halloween or Black Christmas, but it’s also head and shoulders above the like of Final Exam or Graduation Day. While it might not be the highest caliber horror show, it’s still the perfect film to start off “Through the Cracks”. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, and every time I watch it I’ve forgotten just how it ends. I do in fact mean that as a compliment. When you get burnt out on all the classics and nothing on Netflix is floating your boat, and you just want a mindless dead “teenager” romp to brighten your day – you can do no better than Slaughter High.
SIDE NOTE: The film is available in its uncut form through most VOD platforms. There were a few barebones versions on DVD here in the states and a sweet looking disc from Arrow in the UK. As of yet, Slaughter High is unavailable on Blu-ray. That said, it was originally released by Vestron back in 86′ and Lionsgate apparently still owns the rights. Fingers crossed the newly launched Vestron Video is planning to drag this joker into HD pretty soon.