When one contemplates international horror, certain countries immediately come to mind. Perhaps primary among them is Italy, with its love of blood and affinity for the gory and grotesque. Of course, we can't forget the Germans, another nation that doesn't mind spilling a few pints for the creepy cause. The Japanese were responsible for starting an entire fright fad – the ghost driven dynamic of the superstition and tradition fueled J-Horror, and nations like Spain, Mexico and Australia have all become known names in the forging of fear factors. But one place that's rather low on the list – usually somewhere around the Lesser Antilles – is the Netherlands. With its reputation for lax drug laws and available 'love' for sale, this liberal land is not renowned as makers of meaningful macabre. All of that might change, however, if Slaughter Night finds its fanbase. A decent if derivative slasher effort, this is one intriguing import with grue and guts to spare.
When her father dies in a freak auto accident, college student Kristel is devastated. She was fighting with him when the collision occurred, and blames herself for his untimely death. In an effort to tidy up his estate, she heads to Belgium to pick up a book manuscript he was working on. Seems Daddy was researching famed turn of the century serial killer Andries Martiens, a madman who kidnapped and butchered seven children, all in the hopes of gaining an entry to Hell. When he was captured, he was sent down into the coalmines as a fireman – that is, a guinea pig employee used to ignite hidden pools of undetectable methane gas in the shafts. While at the foundry, Kris and her pals are coerced into taking a tour, and before they know it, they are trapped far below the ground. A handy Ouija board indicates some sinister spectral presence is also amongst the living. Soon, people start disappearing, and it's not long before evil demonic spirits possess other members of the party. As all horror breaks loose, bodies begin piling up, many missing their heads. If the rest of the group can't find a way out, it will be a nasty Slaughter Night for all involved.
First off – a couple of clarifications. Slaughter Night, which actually gets its title from the rather clever Dutch abbreviation for Slachtnacht ("Sl8N8") is nothing more than My Bloody Valentine ported over to the more horrifying hinterlands of Holland. We have a haunted mine, a gang of gregarious adolescents, a mysterious murderer, and a wealth of wounds and disgusting decapitations. The narrative is nothing new, unless you consider the whole "fireman/canary in a coal chute" angle being tossed around as inventive or novel. The acting is rather good, and the film has the feel of considered cross-referencing. Directors Edwin Visser and Frank van Geloven have studied their Western terror well, and visually cue off everything from Saw, to Demons to Sam Raimi's old school Evil Dead movies. This makes Slaughter Night a very compelling experience. You are instantly drawn in to the varying fright flick elements, and are curious to see how they will eventually pan out. Sadly, the film seems to stumble in its overall overkill execution. The build-up promises a bloodbath of histrionic proportions, a kind of funk flood we're not used to in our standard MPAA driven domain. But instead of going over the top, Visser and van Geloven stay right at the surface, delivering sequences of shock and sluice, but barely going after said full bore gore.
Still, Slaughter Night begins with a bang. Where else but in a foreign fear-fest would you see a psychotic child killer kidnap and behead a pre-adolescent victim. It's a bold, even brash move, and Visser and van Geloven languish over the mass murderer's hideout with disgusting delight. Indeed, one of the reasons why we expect so much more from this movie is the opening montage where rotting child heads decay and fester, clotted fluids fighting with maggots to eradicate their faces. It is some foul, fetid stuff, and suggests that the modern material will be equally appalling. But aside from a couple of scenes where metal beams bore through human torsos, and shovels shave a demon's head neatly in half, much of Slaughter Night's nastiness is implied or off screen. In fact, a couple of the more effective sequences in the film come when we see the sickening neck stub of a recently killed character. Visser and van Geloven deserve some credit for not being as predicable in their victimology as Western moviemakers. People you expect to die right off the bat live on much longer than anticipated, and individuals we come to care for and respect are picked off almost immediately. Such an 'anything can happen' approach helps Slaughter Night avoid being totally unoriginal or uninvolving.
But this is still a standard slice and dice, your typical splatter-a-thon complete with gratuitous Ouija board and Blair Witch –esque first person POV camerawork. Most of the characterization is flat or slightly less than two dimensional, with only our heroine having the clearest personality. Others are just whores, halfwits, whiners, wusses and psychic wannabes. In addition, Visser and van Geloven do very little with what is a very intriguing set-up. Andries Martiens could easily become a European dread icon, a foreign Freddy Krueger or continental Jason Voorhees. His modus is mean enough and his resolve is repulsive and fierce. Once we get to the 'by the numbers' mine murders, however, there is no more eccentricity in his actions. The kills are random, we never get a feeling they are part of some bigger picture ritual (even though it turns out they are) and there are several indications along the way that Martiens is a spirit easily destroyed. This may give Slaughter Night a more realistic tone – which itself seems like a cinematic oxymoron, obviously – but it does flaunt previous slasher film convention. It's just a shame that Visser and van Geloven didn't do more of this. While their efforts warrant serious consideration, especially from horror fans looking for something new and unusual, it's just too bad it's not more endemic of its heritage. Slaughter Night is not really a Dutch horror film. It's a typical Hollywood horror effort filtered through a decidedly Amsterdam ideal.
Presented in a very clean, very crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Tartan Video has done a great job bringing this obscure foreign import over to our Region 1 DVD shores. The colors are handled expertly, and the balance between light and dark is direct. Even in scenes where we'd expect some pixelating or grain, the transfer is terrific.
On the sound side, there are three different moody mixes to choose from. By far the best is the Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS. Thanks to the film's ambient atmosphere and use of musical bombast, all the channels get a good aural workout. While the standard 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 are wonderful as well (the movie's in Dutch with superb English subtitles), go for the top end presentation. It helps bring the underground terrors inherent in Slaughter Night to excellent sonic life.
Oddly enough Tartan treats this unknown entity with a great deal of added content respect. First off, we get a terrific trailer that really sells the movie's tone and scares. Next up is a series of outtakes – bloopers as well as moments that didn't make it into the final cut. Lastly, there is a half hour Behind the Scene featurette that strives to show us the tricks and the tribulations that come with such a difficult shoot. Visser and van Geloven are there to walk us through many of the production problems, and we get to hear from the cast and crew on just how grueling and exhausting this overall experience was. Thanks to these interesting bonus features, we learn a lot more about Slaughter Night, and tend to appreciate its efforts – and the individuals behind them - even more.
Easily Recommended for its themes and screams, Slaughter Night will not be everyone's cup of creepshow tea. There will be those who look at the standard slasher conventions that make up the majority of this movie and shout "been there, done that!" Others will opt for a more direct rejection, believing that nothing from the Netherlands could top the other horror heroes from around the world. Unfortunately, both opinions are dead wrong. While it may not be a masterpiece, and barely survives even the most casual cinematic scrutiny, there is still enough originality in this earnest effort to warrant consideration. And the next time someone tells you that only the Italians, or the Spanish, or the Japanese understand the nature of fear, feed them this calm caveat: the Dutch may not have all the kinks worked out of their version of motion picture macabre just yet, but they're definitely working on it. Slaughter Night is a perfect example of their well intentioned progress.
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