‘Where the student body is going to pieces.’
Slaughter High is a 1986 American-British slasher horror feature film written and directed by George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Litten. The Steve Minasian and Dick Randall production stars Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore and Carmine Iannoccone.
Slaughter High closely follows the tropes of many other slasher films of the period and is most notable for the casting of Caroline Munro in the lead female role and the distinctive jester’s mask worn by the killer. It was originally titled April Fool’s Day.
In an American high school populated by the usual jocks, hot girls and outcasts, Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) is most firmly the latter, the atypical, bespectacled nerd, good at complicated sums, not so good on basic human interaction.
Come April Fool’s Day, Marty can’t believe his luck as he is lured by school sex siren, Carol (Munro) into the girls’ locker room for a baptism of shower-based sex. Alas, this is not the case and whilst disrobed and expectant in the shower, the curtain is pulled to reveal the school jokers armed with video recording equipment and a fire extinguisher to put a dampener on Marty’s dreams and his dignity down the toilet (which is literally where he’s heading, face down, thanks to his tormentors dangling him in).
He is ‘rescued’ by the arrival of the military instructor-like sports coach (played by Marc Smith, best known for his voice acting, of note his redubbing on Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Deep Red) who does little to sympathise with Marty but does insist all the boys’ responsible report for detention that afternoon.
Cleaned up, Marty is given a joint by arch bully Skip (Carmine Iannaccone) as an apology, though it is in fact laced with something less desirable. Sometime later, when Marty is diligently conducting solo chemistry experiments, he tries the joint and immediately rushes to the nearest public convenience to vomit.
In his absence, Skip (even shirking detention, the rotter) enters the lab and rigs the experiment to blow up in Marty’s face. This does indeed have the desired effect but in the mayhem of the detonation, Marty knocks a jar of acid over himself, the net result being a half-destroyed school and a hideously disfigured and broken nerd.
Some years later (anywhere between five and ten), Marty has disappeared from public life, doomed to a lonely existence as a scarred, damaged and apparently insane man. Meanwhile, his school ‘friends’ are enjoying their reunion, which happens to be on April Fool’s Day. Deciding to revisit their now-closed school, though the corridors are still roamed by the old janitor, whose portrayal sets the racial equality movement back several decades.
As the kids get down to drinking, smoking, snorting high jinks, the janitor is lifted off the ground by a jester-masked figure (actually played by co-director Ezra) and impaled on a coat hook. So begins a one-by-one slaying of the gang in occasionally inventive ways (intestinal explosion by tampered-with beer is a highlight) in a school which for reasons which are unclear, houses both a bath and a bed. The jester figure is, of course, Marty, eager to exact his revenge, though he leaves his beloved Carol until the end…
Slaughter High is a prime example of the problems which can arise from transatlantic co-productions. Supposedly set in an American school, all the locations are obviously leafy Britain, the population of students and staff also British but tasked with adopting US accents. The resulting fake accents aren’t awful but are all underpinned by the hopelessly forced insistence that in no way is the wool being pulled over our eyes.
A former Victorian sanitarium was used for filming (therefore, it did indeed have a bath in situ), so the visuals feel very cramped and footage was clearly shot in just a smattering of locations, again giving the impression that something is being kept from us.
The April Fool’s Day setting does leave the audience with that ‘one last gag’ feeling always looming on the horizon, though this could have been even more lumbering, the title had to be changed from April Fool’s Day to Slaughter High due to a genuinely unfortunate timing issue with the better-known film of that title just pipping it to the release post. Some prints retain the original title and have the replacement hastily tagged on as an apparent afterthought – Vestron’s Japanese release didn’t even bother with the afterthought.
There is a certain irony of the film revolving around a date that so fuels the plot, time and continuity being haphazard throughout, from the eye-narrowing anniversary reunion timing to the incredulity-testing age of the students – Caroline Munro clocking in at 36 years-old at the time of filming and many of her co-stars well into their twenties at least.
Dugdale and Ezra combined again on the curious if ultimately beige Living Doll (1990) with only the latter evidently staying in the industry, though with little in the way of breakout hits. Co-director Litten had slightly more lasting influence, his special effects creature work seen in RawHead Rex and more significantly culturally as the co-creator of the non-more-80’s Max Headroom.
Caroline Munro is sadly miscast, still radiant but a sore thumb as a school girl and barely more believable as an airhead actress who is just about savvy enough to avoid the casting couch of leering movie producer, Manny (played by actual film producer Dick Randall of Don’t Open Till Christmas and Pieces frame; never one to miss a trick, a poster for the latter movie hangs behind him in his office). Munro appeared in the film off the back of The Last Horror Show, before 1987’s Faceless and Howl of the Devil signalled her all but withdrawal from the genre until recently.
Scuddamore is far more serviceable in his role, a believable nerd whose character is let down by innate dumbness, belying his academic genius. Given a large school as his lair, it is weakly and unrealistically dressed, leaving him to bookend the film as Ezra, rather meanly, does the jester-masked stomping around. Sadly, aged only 28, Scuddamore took his own life in November 1984 – shortly after filming his parts – through a drugs overdose.
With a masked killer, illegal substances, lithe teens and variable morals, it is fitting that the score is composed and performed by Harry Manfredini, a huge nod to the film’s primary influence, Friday the 13th. Manfredini is one of the luckiest of composers for horror films, his career largely pivoting on his work on the 1980 slasher classic, a score which, in truth, consists of piled-high stingers, pilfered exaggerated strings and the oft-repeated killer’s theme and little else of interest. Here he is rumbled somewhat, a clearly more meagre budget revealing his work to be perfunctory at best, at worst cringe-worthy tripe.
Somehow, despite all this, Slaughter High is strangely rewarding viewing. Perhaps it’s the carefree, glitch-ridden production values; perhaps it’s the contact threat of Munro relieving herself of her flouncy, voluminous dress suit (she doesn’t, instead the main nudity is, surprisingly, male and full-frontal). It’s possibly the fact that it sticks to the slasher rulebook so rigidly, the viewer can put in the least effort imaginable to watch… although the ending will jolt even the most heavy-lidded audience out of its slumber with its ridiculousness.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
” …wonky transatlantic accents and a plot which fuses gimmicks from Terror Train and The Burning to come up with an apparently serious rerun of National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982) […] The murders (featuring poisoned beer, acid baths and electrified bedsteads) tend to reduce victims to semi-comic smoking messes…” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Inspired by many earlier (superior) films, there’s hardly an original device in the entire thing. Credit to the writers for coming up with some gross methods of dying, though. The cast is hardly outstanding and Harry Manfredini provides another highly annoying score.” Jim Harper, Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies
“The mask is amazingly effective […] The setup is perfect as is the location […] The kills are very cool and some are pretty innovative. I particularly liked the lawnmower death. They are quite bloody too. I loved the creepy music! It’s no shock that Harry Manfredini is to thank for this awesome score. The effects are actually quite good.” Ronnie Angel, Slasher Dreams: The Ultimate Guide to Slasher Films
On October 30, 2017, Slaughter High was released as part of Vestron Video Collector’s Series from Lionsgate, uncut for the first time on limited-edition Blu-ray.
- Audio Commentary with Co-Writers/Directors George Dugdale and Peter Litten
- Audio Interview with Composer Harry Manfredini featuring Isolated Music and SFX Selections
- Going to Pieces – Featurette with Co-Writer/Director Mark Ezra
- My Days at Doddsville – Featurette with Actress Caroline Munro
- Alternate Title Sequence
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery
Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.com
Buy DVD: Amazon.com
Buy 4-Film Collection DVD: Amazon.com
Buy 8 Movie Pack DVD: Amazon.com
Former Holloway Sanitarium, Virginia Water, Surrey – also used for Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Bark at the Moon’ video and Jack the Ripper TV mini-series in 1988.
Cast and characters:
- Simon Scudamore as Marty Rantzen (credited as Simon Scuddamore)
- Caroline Munro as Carol Manning
- Carmine Iannaconne as Skip Pollack
- Donna Yeager as Stella
- Gary Martin as Joe
- Billy Hartman as Frank
- Michael Saffran as Ted Harrison
- John Segal as Carl Putney
- Kelly Baker as Nancy
- Sally Cross as Susan
- Josephine Scandi as Shirley
- Marc Smith as Coach
- Dick Randall as Manny
- Jon Clark as Digby
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