Writer: Dan Martin
Producers: Dan Martin, Scott Castle
Starring: Scott Castle, JA Chittenden, Kayleigh Young
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
MJS rating: A-