Revenge has been a theme of slasher movies since before they were actually called slasher movies. Early revenge horror films such as I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left were graphic and brutal affairs, but the vengeance motif transitioned well into the tongue-in-cheek campy world of the slasher film when the craze hit its stride in the early eighties. Films like Prom Night and Terror Train took the time honored desire to get even and injected it with the clever and imaginative killing power of the slasher genre. In 1986, with the golden age of the slasher at its peak, horror fans were treated to another great story of bloody high school revenge with the release of Slaughter High.
As is the case with most revenge slashers, Slaughter High begins with a prank-gone-wrong. Led by popular girl Carol (Caroline Munro), a group of high school bullies plays a series of mean tricks on the nerdy Marty (Simon Scuddamore, who sadly committed suicide before the film could be released) that goes horribly wrong, leaving the young man burned and disfigured. Five years later, on April Fools’ Day, the gang is summoned back to the school for a reunion. When they arrive, they find the school locked up tight. They break in anyway, figuring they’ll throw their own party. They soon find themselves being stalked by a ruthless killer in a court jester’s outfit. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the killer is Marty, and that it was he who staged the reunion in order to gain his revenge on the tormenters who ruined his life. One by one the members of the group are killed off, and Carol is left to her own devices to try and survive the night.
Slaughter High was written and directed by the trio of Peter Litten, George Dugdale, and Mark Ezra (the same men who made Living Doll) and produced by splatter-schlock impresario Dick Randall (Pieces, The Pod People). Made at the height of the popularity of the slasher movie, it was a fairly obvious attempt to cash in on the craze. The film borrows freely from other classics of the genre; even its original title, April Fool’s Day, had to be changed at the last minute because of a conflict with the better known film of the same name that beat Slaughter High to theaters by six months. The plot of Slaughter High is lifted quite neatly from Prom Night, and the jester-looking killer is a nod to Terror Train. Like these other revenge slashers, the killer’s identity in Slaughter High is never really a mystery, so the fun in the movie is relegated to watching the jester kill. And kill he does.
A slasher movie is generally only as good as its villain and, although he’ll never be as recognizable as Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger, Marty is still a pretty memorable antagonist. He’s a little more tongue in cheek than the run-of-the-mill psycho killer, but is still frightening in the same way as a creepy clown. He’s also not all axes and knives; he kills in plenty of interesting ways, from filling one girls bathtub with acid to electrifying a couple’s bed while they have sex in it (and yes, a girl takes a bath and a couple stops to have sex while all of their friends are dying…it’s an eighties slasher film, remember?). The makeup effects, designed by director Peter Litten, are passable, but the cinematography of Alan Pudney (Don’t Open Till Christmas, Screamtime) is too dark to fully appreciate them. Because of this, Marty the Jester is almost scarier during the daylight scenes, when the audience can see what he’s doing. Still, regardless of whether he strikes during the day or the night, Marty is an underappreciated slasher villain.
The most high profile member of the cast in Slaughter High is easily Caroline Munro. By the time Munro was cast as Carol, she had already played a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me and the wife of Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, had roles in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. She even had slasher movie experience, having played the Final Girl in William Lustig’s influential 1980 film Maniac. Munro exudes a confidence and charisma that is lacking in the rest of the cast, and she understandably stands metaphorically head and shoulders above them all; most of the rest of the cast slipped into obscurity, if they ever even worked again. Luckily, Slaughter High is not a movie that demands a lot of talent from its actors, and is still a fun film despite the cast’s inexperience.
If the music for Slaughter High sounds familiar, it’s because it was composed by none other than Harry Manfredini, the man behind the iconic score for the Friday the 13th movies. Manfredini’s soundtrack is typical of the genre and era, almost sounding like a recycled version of his Friday the 13th work – he even blatantly rips the ki-ki-ki-ha-ha-ha motif off during a scene that pays homage to everyone’s favorite hockey-masked hooligan. As derivative as it is, Manfredini’s compositions work well; he provides a stereotypical score to a stereotypical movie.
When it comes to high school revenge films, the horror genre is loaded with them. A fan who is working their way through the cannon of slasher films will eventually find themselves watching Slaughter High. They will not be disappointed, so long as they don’t hold it up to too high of a standard.