Saturday, 22 October 2016


Director: Dan Martin
Writer: Dan Martin
Producers: Dan Martin, Scott Castle
Starring: Scott Castle, JA Chittenden, Kayleigh Young
Country: UK
Year of release: 2009
Reviewed from: DVD

I really, genuinely expected Slaughter to be awful. It was self-released with a pictureless sleeve bearing the bold proclamation ‘Banned in the UK!’ which is, of course, utter bollocks. A film can only legitimately claim to be banned in this country if it has been submitted to the BBFC and rejected (and we all know they hardly ever reject stuff nowadays). Just being ’not released’ in the UK is not the same as being banned. The video of my son’s school play hasn’t been released, but that’s not been banned. Although, having said all that, read on…

That sort of approach, coupled with the self-penned IMDB synopsis which promises that Slaughter “takes horror back to its nasty, gritty and often tongue in cheek roots of the 1970's and 80's” suggested to me that Dan Martin’s hour-long feature would be, to use the technical term, crapola.

The fact that it’s not crapola came as a great surprise to me. In fact, although the movie as a whole is a tad ramshackle, some parts are very, very good indeed.

A sequence of opening captions tell us about a serial killer named David Ward who filmed all his murders, and that what we are about to see is a dramatisation based on police evidence. Some of the film is indeed shot on Hi-8 as found footage, but some of it is more conventionally shot and the two formats integrate well together.

Ward is played quite magnificently by Scott Castle as a floppy-haired, masturbating loner, living in a caravan decorated with explicit photos cut from porn mags. In a clever touch, all of these pictures have noticeably had the woman’s head removed. In the commentary Castle claims this was to avoid any legal issues but actually what it does is emphasise Ward’s view of sexually available women as simply faceless pieces of meat for his own use.

Ward provides underground videos to a shady gangster known only as Mr X and seen only as a cigar-clenching hand, whom we first meet being serviced by a 14-year-old girl. The hand/shoulder is Dan Martin while the voice is Shaun Kimber, an academic authority on horror films who recently co-edited a book about snuff movies with my mate (and fellow British horror revival expert) Johnny Walker. Mr X offers Ward a thousand quid to kill – and film the death of – a whore whose recent pregnancy has made her surplus to requirements. A second young man (also played by Martin) brings the girl (Emma Wetherill) round to Ward’s caravan where the three sit down, swig some vodka and mess about a little before the two men start abusing, assaulting and torturing the woman.

This is one of several seriously impressive and disconcerting horror sequences. It’s all filmed in black and white on Ward’s Hi-8 camera, initially as a locked-off shot, later handheld but with disguised edits to give the impression of a single, uninterrupted take. It’s brutal, nasty, realistic and uncompromising. But what really makes this – and other scenes – work is the soundtrack. In lieu of diegetic screams and punches the whole sequence is filmed silent, ‘scored’ only by a repetitive, atonal sound that I can only describe as musique concrete. Credited to Adam Nelson, it’s a disturbing, even upsetting soundtrack, that like the headless porn images, stresses the inhumanity of what’s on screen. An appalling (and appallingly realistic) sexual attack and murder, which culminates in Ward raping the girl with a knifeblade, is reduced to the level of mechanical actions by a soundtrack that could be the pulsing blood inside his (or your) head. As horror film techniques go, it’s immensely successful and something that other film-makers could certainly learn from. (Nelson’s own subsequent directorial credits include feature-length drama Little Pieces and award-wining sci-fi short Emotional Motor Unit.)

We have already seen Ward attack a girl (Ella Mackintosh) in the woods, and stalk a man in a brief but very frightening home invasion scene. In the next sequence he brings two young women (Robynne Calvert – now a jobbing busker – and Alice Worsfold) into his caravan with the intention of filming a scuzzy, low-rent lesbian porno. This is shot conventionally, allowing the edit to jump swiftly to the point where - Ward having lost control - both victims are bloodied, bruised, tied up and terrified.

Intercut with these scenes are sequences of a detective named Jason King who is hunting Ward. This is Dan Martin’s father, credited as JA Chittenden, who picked the name himself so it is presumably an homage to Peter Wyngarde. Martin and Castle, who were both teenagers when they made this, are certainly too young to remember Department S. There are also a few clips of Ward, in an orange prison outfit, describing his crimes, including the sexual assault and murder of a child outside her parents’ house. This is dark, dark stuff. But it’s not presented salaciously or in a cheapjack attempt to shock.

Much of the second half of the film is a sequence before and after a Halloween party. Three friends (Martin, Aaron Grant and Lewis Powney) have decorated their house, got some booze in and are watching Night of the Living Dead on telly. We cut away just as the first unseen guests arrive and pick up the next morning when the trio discover one person has stayed over, unknown to them. This is Ward, whom they don’t recognise and didn’t invite. With him is a gleefully sadistic young woman, Sandra (an absolutely belting performance from Kayleigh Young). Ward and Sandra beat up and tie up the terrified lads then Ward anally rapes one of them while Sandra forces the young man to go down on her. Ward then produces a gun, shoots the boy in the head and forces the other two to carry the body out to the garage in a sheet.

This whole party sequence, none of which is found footage, has a feel of Last House on the Left to it, which Martin acknowledges as a major inspiration. In the film's penultimate sequence a final victim (Chloe De Salis) manages to escape from Ward after he rapes her in some woodland and pours petrol over her. This slip-up leads Detective King to Ward’s caravan and a final confrontation.

I have now watched Slaughter twice in succession, once with the regular soundtrack, once with the commentary by Martin and Castle. I am hugely impressed with what I’ve seen, and fascinated by the story behind the film. It transpires that the caravan sequence that moves from vodka to knife rape was a short film called The Last House on Straw Lane. The party sequence was also a short, billed as a sequel to the previous one but narratively unconnected. Slaughter was created by bolting the two together (with some nips and tucks) to give the impression that Castle is playing the same character, then filming enough extra material to bring the whole thing up to just about feature length. (Among the new footage was an interstitial shot of someone, presumably Castle, in a devil mask raping a young woman which appears occasionally, cluing us into the character’s unstable mental condition.)

The two shorts were shot in early and late 2007 while Castle and Martin were both studying at college in Gosport. Two of their lecturers appear in the film: Steve Launay as a TV news reporter and Bob Taylor as a vicar who is attacked by Ward in a churchyard. The rest of the footage was shot in 2008, with the DVD released in May 2009. Martin says on the commentary that the film had a few screenings but that some attempts were kaiboshed by local councils, which could well be true and, being fair, does give him some legitimacy for claiming that Slaughter was ‘banned in the UK’. (Would it actually pass the BBFC if submitted? I suspect so. It has artistic merit, it’s not prurient or sadistic, but it is a powerful study of psychotic amorality. Although there is some blood, there are no real prosthetics on show. Everything is framed so that we never see a blade actually entering. Far worse has been passed uncut 18.)

For a first feature by a couple of teenagers, cobbled together from existing and new material, Slaughter is extraordinarily accomplished. It has some random bits and some loose ends but that’s part of its accomplishment and its appeal. This is a true horror film: serious, disturbing, a journey into the darkest recesses of the human soul. There are references noted in the commentary (I wouldn’t have spotted them myself) to Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family and Gus Van Sant’s Last Days. This is a cine-literate film made by a cine-literate director.

Martin mostly DPed himself but a few bits, including the murder of the vicar, were photographed by Robert F White (who I’m guessing may have been the respected photographic retailer who passed away last year). Several of the credits are also Martin under such telling pseudonyms as ‘Dante Matheson’ and ‘Michael Deodato’.

Since making Slaughter, Dan Martin has adopted the screen name Juno Jakob and had made three more features: romantic drama No Direction Home; a very personal mental health documentary entitled They Call Me Crazy; and most recently Fox: A Documentary, a look inside a wildlife rescue charity. He has been trying for some time to find a way of making another horror film, Season of the Scarecrow. The IMDB credits him with something called Woodcote: Evidence of a Haunting (starring and co-written by Castle) but there is no evidence that this ever got made.

So that’s Slaughter, another forgotten gem of the British Horror Revival. It’s not perfect, in the same way that a Sex Pistols record isn’t perfect. It has the passion of youth, the fire of ambition, and the excitement and immediacy of let’s-do-the-show-right-here. Through a combination of design, accident and adaptation, Dan Martin and Scott Castle somehow created a film that, despite my initial misgivings, actually does “take horror back to its nasty, gritty and often tongue in cheek roots of the 1970's and 80’s”. They captured something that neither they nor anyone else could intentionally recreate. For fans of uncompromising, heart-of-darkness, human horror that knowingly nods towards early Wes Craven territory, Slaughter is a must-see. Tracking down a copy after all these years might be difficult, but keep an eye on eBay. I did, and I’m glad I did.

MJS rating: A-

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review! Means alot. Glad you enjoyed the film!