THE FILM 3.5/5
“I get you a new bone butcher cleaver for your birthday and this is how you repay me?”
Lester Bacon’s slaughterhouse has run into financial problems. Faced with the town lawyer, the sheriff, and the rival slaughterhouse owner trying to purchase his land, Lester decides to take matters into his own hands. After discovering the type of violence his hulking and mentally deranged son, Buddy, is capable of, Lester orders him to permanently dispose of anyone who “conspires” against them…
For all of the ‘80s and slightly into the ‘90s, John Carpenter’s Halloween was the basis/inspiration for many imitator slasher films. Every holiday not yet exploited at that time soon became so. Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Day, Christmas (again and again), exam time, graduation time, spring break time, leprechaun time. If it had a date on the calendar, something horrific would take place and so many heads would bounce down the stairs.
However, what makes 1987’s Slaughterhouse a somewhat refreshing take on the teens-in-peril craze was its willingness to look to Tobe Hooper’s sole good film (sorry, no — he gets no credit for Poltergeist), the Ed-Gein-inspired tale of murder and macabre The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for its inspiration. (Going a bit full circle, Slaughterhouse also seems to have directly inspired the ending for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). Hitting much of the same beats, a mentally rattled slaughterhouse owner and his mongoloid psychotic and mute son prone to wearing masks take their revenge on what they perceive to be the bureaucrats of their town who forcefully evict them from their home following their failing business’s inability to pay their taxes.
Naturally, this leads to violent murder and smashed heads.
Slaughterhouse bills itself as a comedy first and horror next, but except for a handful of characters’ none-too-subtle names (the murderers are surnamed Bacon, while the heroine is named Lizzy Borden), and one bizarre scene where the murderous Buddy plays dress-up and goes joyriding in a police car, there’s nothing on screen that’s played for obvious comedy — the teens mostly die bloody without much irony. (Going a bit full circle, Slaughterhouse also seems to have directly inspired the ending for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). However, had Slaughterhouse been a throwback experiment made in modern times which was a satire on ‘80s culture, including the horror film, than it would be unfettered brilliance. Slaughterhouse is as a ‘80s as you can get, from the pop music, to the open-top jeep, and to the montage of smiling teens shopping in a drug store trying on gigantic sunglasses and smiling at themselves in the mirror.
Lots of slasher films, in part, come together as a whole to represent what one’s perception of an ‘80s horror film should be. Slaughterhouse takes care of that all by itself. It’s got: not-great acting, frisky teens dying gory deaths, a maniacal murder with a slight back story, hilarious fashions, a slight dependence on winking/nudging humor, terrible pop tunes, a kick-ass synth score, and just the tiniest bit of ingenuity (having teens be the ones to wear masks only to die bloodily was a nice touch). The only segment of the film where it’s entirely unwatchable would be the opening credits, during which cameras were allowed inside a functioning slaughterhouse to film a swine of pigs being slaughtered for real. Unfortunately the end of this chapter stop doesn’t coincide with the end of this sequence, so fast-forwarding (as I did) is your only recuse. It’s a shame that Vinegar Syndrome didn’t opt for a move similar to Grindhouse Releasing’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust, which offered an animal-friendly version of the film that, in its original form, wasn’t that friendly to animals.
Considering its obvious lineage, it’s something of an honor that Slaughterhouse manages to outdo pretty much every film in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre series not including the original and its remake, but definitely including Hooper’s oddly celebrated sequel. If you’re a fan of the ‘80s slasher, Slaughterhouse is a slice of dumb, easily watchable fun. Blood flies, limbs roll, and Buddy Bacon enjoys every minute. I know I did.
THE PICTURE 4.5/5
As usual, the video presentation for Slaughterhouse, as presented by Vinegar Syndrome in a new 2k scan from the film’s original interpositive, looks staggering. Time and time again I’m amazed we now live in a time, even in the face of a sadly dying physical media movement, that the most obscure title not only gets resurrected in a new format, but that something so ridiculous can look so good. Something I often bring up is the notion that big studios with big money often put out big titles from their catalog, and yet something like Slaughterhouse, or Vinegar Syndrome’s earlier release of Evils of the Night – films some may argue don’t deserve to be resurrected – can come along and look so much better. Slaughterhouse boasts a clean and bright image, with no signs of print damage or marring. The original grain field is kept intact, and except for a handful of scenes with shutter flickering, never comes off unattractive. Clarity is also very good. Like it or not, you will experience every inch of Buddy Bacon.
THE SOUND 4.5/5
Same goes with the audio, presented in 5.1 and 2.0 options, which throws the oops!-hilarious dialogue into the front and center position in a mostly clean presentation. Some minor issues arise every so often with sibilant dialogue, leaving behind hiss, but nothing of huge concern. Joseph Garrison’s synth-driven score also sounds very fine, setting the tone for the horror portions of the film (while bad pop tunes are used for the “lighter” moments).
THE SUPPLEMENTS 4/5
Echoing my thoughts from the video portion of the review, something like Slaughterhouse now has a Blu-ray release more substantial than even the newest 4k release of Goodfellas. Chew on that for a bit.
During her interview, actress Sherry Bendorf Leigh, who plays Lizzy Bordon (LOL), shares a lot of her recollections of the shoot, the fun she and her fellow cast maters experienced, and one particular scene where she dredged of a genuine tragedy from her life in order to react appropriately upon finding something rather unfortunate in the Bacon slaughterhouse during the film’s finale.
The interview with director Rick Roessler finds him still obviously enthusiastic about Slaughterhouse all these years later, as he details how the film came together, his excellent working relationship with the producer, and working with the cast. He seems a bit too eager to elevate Slaughterhouse above what it really is, claiming the film “actually had a plot,” which is definitely up for debate, but I’ll allow it because regardless of how “good” it is, Slaughterhouse is just a hoot.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Commentary track with Director Rick Roessler, Producer Jerry Encoe & Production Designer Michael Scaglione
- New video interview with Lead Actress Sherry Bendorf Leigh
- “Making a Low Budget Indie” – Featurette with Rick Roessler
- “Producing Slaughterhouse” – Interview with Jerry Encoe
- Archival interviews with Rick Roessler & Jerry Encoe
- “Epilogue: 30 Years After the Slaughter”
- Radio interview featurette from 1987
- Local news coverage from the theatrical premiere
- Behind the scenes featurette
- “No Smoking” SLAUGHTERHOUSE snipe
- Mutiple theatrical trailers, tv & radio spots
- Shooting script gallery
- Reversible cover artwork
Slaughterhouse is what it is, which is fun, bloody, none-too-serious, and somewhat unoriginal. However, its palpable ‘80s construction and it’s engaging-enough plot make it an easier watch to come out of the slasher craze. Buddy Bacon never earned the franchise that director Roessler had been hoping for, but his one-off is at least entertaining enough that Vinegar Syndrome has given him new life all these years later, and in a release with tremendous PQ, AQ, and a meaty dose of special features. Don’t miss it, or Buddy Bacon will have an axe to grind haw haw!
(Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome for the screen grabs.)
Vinegar Syndrome is an exploitation film focused distribution company and film archive located in Bridgeport, CT. Founded by genre-film lovers for genre-film lovers, Vinegar Syndrome’s mission is to preserve, restore and release the massive number of exploitation titles in our archive.