Sunday, December 14, 2008

$LASHER$ (2001) d. Maurice Devereaux

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the most important maxims we learn as children is that things aren’t always as bad as we think they will be when a new and thoroughly unproven experience is placed before us. Well do I remember my first youthful exposure to a swordfish dinner. The “aroma” of the grilled meat was not in the least bit enticing, nor was the somewhat gray and oily-looking flesh visually tempting. After some very creative and devious coaxing from my parents, I took a very small bite and realized that the flavor was simply astounding. It wasn’t long before such fare became one of my regular requests for supper. I had learned a powerful lesson that prejudice could have stolen an enjoyable opportunity from me. Such can be the case with films. Many has been the time when I’ve walked into a movie theater or sat down to watch a DVD, fully expecting my time to be wasted in a monumental manner and dreading the “cinematic feast” set before me, only to realize that I was mistaken. SLASHERS is one of those viewing incidents where I will readily admit a deep apprehension going in but a surprising respect after emerging.

SLASHERS is the story of a Japanese game show of the same name, where six contestants vie with three maniacal killers for the prizes of being millions of dollars richer and having the chance to live to see another day. “Host” Miho Taguchi, dressed as a sexy Statue of Liberty, and her six “slasherette” cheerleaders replete with skull pom-poms, welcome a special American panel of contestants, all competing for a jackpot of $12 million. Before they can walk away with that pile of cash, they must enter the “Danger Zone” and kill or be killed by Dr. Ripper, Chainsaw Charlie and The Preacher Man. Meghan, Brenda, Rebecca, Devon, Rick and Michael must navigate a labyrinthine course of “themed” rooms and corridors, dodge tricks and traps, murderers and each other and somehow make it back to the live audience filming set to claim their prizes.

Unlike DEATHROW GAMESHOW (1987), which was meant to be a movie about an insanely scripted TV Show, SLASHERS is crafted to feel as much like the actual taping of a “reality show” as possible. Shot on video and set on a series of stages that look as much like a carnival funhouse mixed with classic horror movie sets as possible, the entire feel and play of the film is surprisingly authentic. The host and her crew have a delightful cheesiness about them recalling Japanese shlock like Mini-Skirt Police. Since the contestants are not “actors” per se, their skill in delivering their lines makes them feel more like average folk put into a far from average situation. None of the actors are seasoned professionals, but they have enough talent and the direction was good enough to create energy that lasted throughout the picture. The contestants of the game show were assembled in such a way that has a distinct “Irwin Allen” casting approach, with the cross section of backgrounds, looks and motivations of the “contestants” helping to create some real dramatic chemistry, which is all to the good. That character interplay was essential, for the story was far more character and dialogue-driven than one would expect going into a film with the title, box cover and opening sequences that SLASHERS has.

SLASHERS’ story and action sequences coupled with its “TV Show” aura are deeply reminiscent of British 70s “shot on video” cheapies like SCREAMER (1974), which may have been low budget, but was still very entertaining. Unlike SCREAMER, which promised salaciousness but like most of its relatives of that time period rarely delivered, SLASHERS has an impressive mix of elements. There is character-spawned conflict akin to “Major Don West and Dr. Smith” skirmishes on Lost in Space, but there are also many gory scenes made better by the use of fairly well constructed props and effectively utilized makeup as opposed to CGI. Two of the three female contestants are rendered topless during their struggles with the Slashers, one of the girls gets her top torn off a second time, making it “twice as nice” as she is a buxom lass to boot. SLASHERS is one of the few super low-budget films that I’ve ever seen that tries to create some interesting visuals with sets, props and costumes, has actual stories for the characters and tries to interweave them into a degree of dynamic interplay, has an actual screenplay that evidences a structure and direction and then works hard at being a little scary, a little shocking and titillating, a little dramatic, a little sarcastic (politics, religion and societal mores are gently mocked at times) and even a little genuine, as the show ends with some “sponsorship” ads after the credit roll. Most “exploitation” flicks had all the right marketing but little of what it took to be a good film. Just ask Harry Novak, Dick Randall and Al Adamson about that. While not the AFRICAN QUEEN of horror films, SLASHERS is entertaining on a variety of levels and I did not expect that in the least. I expected something related to “torture porn” and instead got a depraved version of Truth or Consequences. My only criticism is that it could have been even a bit more debauched and gone for broke a bit more here and there.

SLASHERS has a startlingly sizable extras menu that includes a 12 minute “Making of SLASHERS” featurette which is a mix of behind the scenes footage, anecdotal moments and premiere footage. Next there is a 13 minute “Extra Gore and Japanese Scenes” segment which is really a series of extended or deleted scenes, but it is still quite interesting. There is a 4 minute, “Chainsaw Charlie interview”. I’ll say no more. Finally, there is a Stills Gallery and a series of Redemption USA trailers. For a slightly older, not too well known Canadian production, this is a relatively deep set of bonus features. The enjoyable nature of the film already warmed my heart, but to get a bag-load of extras in addition left me suitably impressed with this DVD.

As we get older, we supposedly get wiser, but we also get a bit calcified when it comes to our tastes and inclinations. The astute film-lover fights like a demon against this fossilization process for when petrification sets in, growth ends and decline begins and accelerates. SLASHERS reminded me that I can’t judge a book by its cover and that I need to be willing to give any movie a chance. My pal Mark and I have a standing rule that we call “the 20 minute test” when watching a film. Usually if a film still is swimming through the sludge after 20 minutes, it is time to take it out for it is nearly certain that it will NOT improve. The essence of that rule is “go in with an open mind” and let the film do its own talking. I am glad that I was disposed to apply that patience to SLASHERS for it proved the old saw that low-budget doesn’t always mean Bad.

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