Slaughter High 1986
aka April Fool’s Day
Directed by: George Dugdale
Starring: Caroline Munro, Carmine Lannaccone, Simon Scuddamore
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Producer Steve Minasian certainly had an extreme flirtation with the slasher genre when it was making fortunes during the peak years. He was involved (albeit minutely) with the production of the original Friday the 13th feature, before forming a partnership with exploitation king Dick Randall, which brought to the table three interesting entries. The Spanish/American produced Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche is a Grindhouse treat and one of my all time favourites. Its follow up, the troubled Don’t Open ’til Christmas, was a mangled beast, which took three directors to finally get to a (barely) passable state and still didn’t make a lick of sense. Slaughter High would be his third and final entry; and fittingly, it plays almost like a tribute to the cycle that he’d been so heavily involved with.
Caroline Munro returns to what she does best – well, gets most work from. Yes, she was the beauty that was stalked by Joe Spinnell in both Maniac and Fanatic; and she also appeared briefly in the aforementioned Don’t Open ’till Christmas. Having discovered a themed-calendar date that had not yet been knifed/slashed/pick-axed, the movie was initially going to be called April Fool’s Day. This was until Frank Manucuso Jnr – the producer most famous for his work with the later Friday the 13ths – beat them to it and secured the title for his 1986 slasher parody. Funnily enough there are copies of Slaughter High in Japan that were released as April Fool’s Day, which only adds to the confusion…
Marty Rantzen is a school nerd that suffers a constant barrage of bullying from a troupe of (middle-aged) students, which includes Carol (Caroline Munro) and the joker of the pack Skip (Carmine Lannaccone). As if you hadn’t already guessed, one April fool’s day the pranks go too far and Marty ends up horrendously disfigured and transferred to an asylum for the rest of his life.
You wanted by the book plotting? Well check this out: Five years later, the culprits are all mysteriously invited to a school reunion on their now abandoned campus, but no one knows who sent the invitations. Almost as soon as they arrive, things take a turn for the sinister as the caretaker is nailed to the door by a psycho in a Jester’s mask! Has Marty returned to seek revenge on those who taunted him? Or is someone else cooking up a reason for mass execution?
For reasons that are hard to fathom, the British crew behind Slaughter High pretend that the film is American, which explains why the accents sound as genuine as a Rolex on a market stall and switch between the UK and the US more times in 85 minutes than British Airways does in a year. Ex-Bond babe Munro slots straight back in perfectly as the scream-a-lot final girl, even if by 1985, she was looking a little too mature to be 21. I’d love to know how she managed to wake up early in the morning with perfect hair and make-up; – but hey, I guess we’re not supposed to ask questions like that. The rest of the cast seem too wrapped up in the bad-ness of their accents to care about acting, but Simon Scuddamore and Carmine Lannaccone kept up the camp spirit quite well. The most obscure thing about Slaughter High is undoubtedly Dick Randall’s brief cameo appearance that has to be seen to be believed. Surrounded by posters from his previous ‘hits’ (hey, there’s Pieces!), and looking exactly how you’d expect him too, he proves that his flair for dramatics was equally as unique as his filmography.
We are treated to a few really inventive murders that include such novelty set-ups as: disembowelment by an engine, exploding intestines and death by drowning in a bog of mud.(?) Perhaps the dumbest of the bunch was when one girl decides to take a bath (in an abandoned school) after the blood from her friend’s ‘bursting guts’ sprays all over her face. She climbs in to the tub and turns on the taps, but the water that’s gushing through the faucet is laden with sulphuric acid. So, does she simply step out of the bath and save herself? Or does she remain seated until she’s melted to a bloodied skeleton? Well, what d’ya reckon…?
Despite being credited only to George Dugdale, the film was co-directed by Mark Ezra, and both handled different parts of the shoot. I don’t think they really did enough with the horror side of the movie though and I felt it could have done with some more stalking set pieces or chase sequences. The efforts at jump-scares were too slowly framed and the film never really builds enough of a rhythm in its flow when the action starts. Harry Manfredini cuts and pastes his Friday the 13th score, which does keep things moving, but at times I got the feeling I was watching a (low budget) sequel instead of a completely different movie.
The saddest thing I learned about Slaughter High, is the fact that actor Simon Scuddamore tragically took his own life shortly before the film hit the shelves for release. It’s a real shame, because he was one of the more motivated performers on display and maybe could’ve developed a career. The reason(s) for his suicide are unknown, but watching him play the role with his tongue stuck firmly in cheek and clearly disguising the problems that he may/may not have been suffering at the time makes his performance look far more credible. It also gives the film a somewhat morbid air of mystery as to why he chose to end his life at a time when he should’ve been celebrating.
Slaughter High lacks the polish of the flicks it emulates, but there’s still a great deal of fun to be had with the tongue-in-cheekness of the whole thing. The unrated versions give some pretty good splatter and I think the Jester mask is one of the cycle’s best. You can’t ask for much more than a hulking killer, an experienced scream queen, some bloody deaths and a plot that doesn’t bore whilst not taking itself too s
seriously. The net result is a movie that succeeds in doing exactly what it set out to. It’s as routine as brushing your teeth, but those are the routines none of us should be without.
Also keep an eye out for Slaughter High that’s currently in production with a targeted release date of September 2013. From what I understand, it is not a direct remake, but it has the same title, so it must be a tribute of some kind… Update from Feb 2013: It looks like that Slaughter High has disappeared or been withdrawn, but a Spanish film that’s currently in the editing suite called ‘Los Innocentes’ has a very similar concept
Final Girl √√