Retro movies are all the rage today. People reference classic gems here and there, and even films that are less than spectacular are remembered more fondly than they might deserve. As far as well-known underdogs go, I could list the usual suspects: Predator, Big Trouble in Little China, Bloodsport, etc. Cult classics that never became timeless blockbusters, like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, but that have amassed a large following. Most of you could find innumerable lists online that feature these movies, so I want to focus on a few of the less visible films out there. This is the first of my Forsaken Movie reviews, focusing on those films that never made it into the word-of-mouth canon.
First up is Slaughter High an interesting piece that a friend recommended to me. This movie came out in 1986 and features a primarily British cast pretending, some better than others, to be Americans. On the surface this is a basic revenge slasher flick where just about all of the victims are pretty horrible people. As we all know the ’80s was the golden age of the ‘Noble Nerd’. Much like the earlier Noble Savage, the Noble Nerd is the idea that the object of social contempt is always a misunderstood person of value. Because that idea is so prevalent today, and in the movies that are remembered now, it is strange to see a film that differs from that view. In Slaughter High the nerd d’jour is Marty Rantzen, one of those nerds that likes to pretend that he is cool to the point where he would turn on someone trying to defend him just to fit in with the crowd. Someone who does not fully deserve what he gets, but still kind of brings it on himself. In other words, the opposite of a Noble Nerd.
Marty is the only ‘official’ nerd in this school, considering that we only ever see the main cast of characters around, this is hardly surprising. Somehow they have a fairly large school for, maybe a dozen students and a gym teacher. Naturally one could reasonably assume this is because of a small budget leading to a small cast, but it is so much more fun to envision this as a school for the criminally insane. Which makes a lot of sense when you see the lengths to which the other students go to torment Marty. From the more obvious case of a girl luring him into the locker room for some fake nookie to the Batman Villain-esque burning his face with acid, this is very much a plot-driven narrative. None of the characters are developed beyond the most shallow archetypes, which kind of works. Without the nuances of good acting or interesting characters the audience is left free to make jokes at the movie’s expense.
For those of you who don’t feel like looking it up on Wikipedia, and because my friend Josh loves when I include a plot synopsis, here is the premise: Marty is the school nerd. Everybody hates him to an irrational degree, the girls and the boys. Leading me to believe the boys are angry closeted homosexuals, and the girls are angry that the only straight guy in school is such a dork. After luring him into the locker room, Marty is prodded in the crotch by a javelin and then shocked by an elaborate precognitive trap. Then the guys grab the naked young man and give him a swirly. Yes, they are face to crotch with him, I refer you to my previous comment about angry closeted homosexuals. After this horrible torment the gym teacher/only teacher shows up to punish the group with lots of low-impact exercise.
Let us take a moment here to reflect on the situation and think about what we would do if subjected to this hazing/attempted homosexual rape/electrical play. I feel pretty sure every single one of us would get the hell out of there fast, or at the very least would stay away from the freaks who came after us. Right? Marty being a genius spends his time complaining to the swirly brothers that they interrupted his shot with the girl who lured him there in the first place. They give him a laced joint to say sorry, while the sleazy jokester rigs his chemistry experiment to boil over. All the thrashing around knocks over of a jar of acid that was conveniently left on a precarious shelf, and the disfigured Marty is wheeled away as the students look on in shock.
I can see their confusion, they only wanted to jab his penis, shock him, drug him, and make chemicals explode around him. Turning him into Two-Face was just a step too far. Then we skip years into the future for a high school reunion at the now abandoned school. Can any of us honestly believe that a group of people would go to an abandoned school for a reunion, especially the site of a place where you participated in the maiming of someone who conveniently disappeared afterward? From here the plot is by the numbers, picking each person off. Acid is a recurring theme, but we also have a lawnmower maiming and attempting hanging among others.
Here is the real kicker, we only see two of the four girls topless, and neither one is the main female character. What a crime! For those of you who know older movies, Carol the lead girl was played by Caroline Munro of ’60s and ’70s movie fame. She played hotties in Hammer films, Harryhausen films, and even a Bond film. Considering she was 37 here, Ms. Munro held up pretty well. Go back and look her up in some of those other films I mentioned and be even more impressed. On the subject of the cast, Marty was played by Simon Scuddamore, a real life nerd/victim. Apparently playing this role drove him into a Heath Ledger-like depression and he committed suicide shortly after the production of the film. Even sadder still is that he will probably only be remembered for this movie, reinforcing the idea of him as a hapless nerd, creating a vicious cycle. No one else is of note, although one guy was in Highlander. Not anyone big, but just thought you might want to know.
For being low budget, and I mean really low budget, this movie is still surprisingly watchable. My buddy who recommended it to me liked to point out some sophisticated use of cinematography and a catchy score among other things as redeeming qualities. I sat through the whole movie so there must be something to that. The plot is paint-by-numbers and the characters are empty clothes, but there is something there that pulls it all together. Slaughter High is a great example of how something can become more than the sum of its parts. If you like horror movies, enjoy seeing films that most people missed, and never feel bitter when the one girl you want to see naked keeps it all on, then check this out.
I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse of a lesser known film. Look for upcoming reviews of Harry Potter 8 and Captain America. If any of you have suggestions for future reviews please mention them in the comments section. Happy watching!