"My dad said if he ever caught someone going in there,
they'd be dead meat!"
The box cover of Slaughter encourages you to find a good hiding place, appropriate advice for a film you should run away from. As this low-budget DTV effort from the third annual After Dark Horrorfest continued, I started to make a list of annoyances that I couldn't ignore. Let's take a look:
1. The incessant shots of pigs
2. "Inspired by true events."
3. The oinking (see No. 1)
4. The number of times actress Lucy Holt, doing an atrocious southern accent as down-home girl Lola, uses the word "dang"--as in, "He's so dang hot, he drives a Ferrari--a real Ferrari...I ain't never been in a Ferrari before!" (She also says "yee haw!")
5.. Did I mention the pigs?
Can we please retire slaughterhouse slashers? I'm tired, oh so very tired, of the pigs. And that's just the tip of the severed arm in Slaughter, an American-set yet Romanian-shot horror. Another in the endless line of cheapies spawned by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the quality films it inspired, it's filled with awful acting (the mostly European cast isn't so convincing) and obvious imagery (hanging meat, clanging chains, blurry eyes of victims waking up). It's also slow, predictable, suspense-free and light on gore (the only chance it had at redemption).
If you've seen any of the six Leatherface movies (or Slaughterhouse, or Motel Hell, or...), look elsewhere for your thrills. Not only is the box cover reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but Slaughter has enough pigs to fill a dozen TCM sequels (and don't get me started on that signature camera flash sound meant to signal carnage). But wait! The filmmakers also resort to another genre cliché, slapping on classical music in an attempt at artistry: "Look at us! We're playing Carmen over grim images!"
This is writer/director Stewart Hopewell's first feature, and it shows. We all know that men are pigs, but Slaughter is a failed attempt at female empowerment that has nothing new to say and nothing unique to scare us with. Slaughter follows the mousy Faith (Amy Shiels, who fares a little better than Holt in the accent department), who escapes the city--and her stalker boyfriend--by moving into the farmhouse of new friend Lola, a relationship that feels inauthentic from their first meeting at a bar. And two bits of dialogue delivered with the subtlety of a neon sign will clue you in to exactly where this film is headed:
Exhibit A, man in bar: "Anyone ever tell you guys you look like sisters?"
Exhibit B, Lola: "Do you ever wish you were someone else, Faith?"
Poor simpleton Lola longs for escape from her spooky father and brothers, who all linger in the farm's background like Peeping Toms (dad watches from the window, while older brother Arvin likes to hold his hose suggestively). "My father and me, we don't exactly get along. As long as I do my share of the work, he leaves me be and he lets me do my thing," twangs Lola. Her "thing" is slutting it up with local men and bringing Faith along as a third wheel--before ditching her to "get some". But when the men start disappearing, Faith begins to get suspicious--and drawn into the secretive slaughterhouse, where the dim-witted Nancy Drew uncovers a dirty secret.
One of many problems with the film is that you don't care about what happens to Faith. She's a dullard that relishes being a doormat--and she doesn't seem to have any problem with Lola engaging in risky behavior with complete strangers, making you care even less (you'd think having been abused by a violent boyfriend, Faith would have a little more respect for herself). And Holt can't make Lucy a convincing criminal--she's a little too lazy, like most of the victims. There's just no passion in the performances, so you never believe the fear--people run, fight and react with the urgency of a DMV clerk.
But if you want lesbian undertones, you're in luck! Voyeuristic sex scenes--including close dancing and a drunken kiss--account for a few of the film's pandering, awkwardly placed moments (which aren't even sexy enough for Cinemax). There's also a horseback-riding scene and a water fight, but the women are clothed (sorry!).
The script is repetitive; the story is slow and sometimes nonsensical, many of the stalk sequences are clumsy (I laughed when Faith got knocked out) and the film kind of stumbles into its suspense with poorly edited inserts. The carnage is also cheap (shouldn't their mouths be more swollen?!), and the finale features a series of awful decisions--including a silly standoff with absurd dialogue and behavior by Faith's ex-boyfriend (terribly performed by Vance Daniels, his first and probably only role). The weak final confrontation (why didn't either one of them go for the gun?!) is followed by a tepid ending that will have you hating Faith even more.
Hopewell has some talent and offers a few nice shots, but when you can't even cheer for the victims or root for the villains, it's hard to care. This one, my friends, is best left to the pigs.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is on the darker side; colors don't distinguish themselves very well, blacks aren't rich and the picture has plenty of grain, lending to an overall foggy look to the image. It also looks like a few very minor specs pop up briefly.
The 5.1 track is a little uneven; dialogue is sometimes drowned out by the score or background noise, and there isn't much separation with the elements of the track. The rear channels are rarely used (just one effect made me aware of them). English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
The worst part about being a reviewer is not liking a movie, but liking the people who made it. Writer/director Stewart Hopewell seems like a great guy, and talks about the challenge and excitement putting together his first feature in The Making of Slaugher (28:58, full frame). It's an okay feature that talks with the cast and crew (the crew is more enlightening, and it's safe to say it's a good thing that psycho daddy David Sterne stays mostly quiet in the film) about various stages of development, and also looks at a few of the more challenging scenes to film. Hopewell notes he was aiming for a Southern Gothic feel, which was a challenge in Eastern Europe. He also talks about balancing his vision with the financial demands of the producers (some of whom chime in).
Four non-anamorphic deleted scenes (2:47) don't add anything of note, while the Miss Horrorfest Webisodes (57:46) are an excruciating watch, a collection of cheap shorts (and behind-the-scenes clips) by fans for an online contest. Nothing even remotely funny or scary is included--it's basically a T&A showcase, with most of the shorts looking like those bad commercials you see at 3 a.m. on public access television for 900 services. Trailers round out the package.
If you're gonna call your film Slaughter, you better deliver the goods. But the gore here is minimal and cheap, and that's probably the only real chance the film had. First-time feature director Stewart Hopewell seems like a great guy and has some talent, but his debut doesn't have enough excitement or originality to warrant a watch. Part Texas Chain Saw Massacre, part Saw and all boring, it's a rough first try that suffers from laughable acting (dang!), a slow pace and a weak final standoff. Skip It.