And now we move fully into the horror films with an ‘80s supernatural horror slasher film – Slaughterhouse Rock, with a bunch of college students being terrorized by a supernatural terror. Also, it’s scored by Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo, so it’s gotta be good – right? Right?
So, Slaughterhouse Rock has a lot of potential but doesn’t quite pull it off. It’s a film that mashes together some light elements that I’d describe not as inspired by Lovecraft, but more inspired by the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game. It’s a horror film which has as a core part of the premise the characters having to hit the books to have to discover what the weakness of their supernatural opponent is so they can beat them. Honestly, it’s not a bad concept and can be executed well. This is something that Supernatural did week after week in a half hour. So, this movie should be able to do it.
So, why doesn’t it? Well, I think ultimately the problem with the film is with how the cast is written. There’s a reluctance in the characters to buy into the concept that they are threatened by a supernatural force, and that slows the film down. Supernatural and other films that engage with the supernatural in this way – and even the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game – starts from the standpoint where you have at least some characters in a position to drive the narrative and actively direct the plot who are aware of the existence of the supernatural, with the other characters willing to follow that lead. Nobody is digging in their heels, refusing to acknowledge the existence of the supernatural, and bemoaning their insanity. Even Call of Cthulhu, which has mechanics for loss of sanity, doesn’t have a character’s loss of sanity manifest by claiming the supernatural doesn’t exist followed by the character acknowledging their own loss of control over their psyche.
Is a refusal to believe in the supernatural a realistic thing for an ordinary real-world person to do? Yes, absolutely. If you told me a house was haunted, I likely wouldn’t believe you, and I’d suspect “ghost hunters” of being something of a group of frauds. That doesn’t mean it makes for a good story for a character or group of characters to be so overly skeptical. If Bram Stoker’s Dracula had Van Helsing have to repeatedly persuade everyone that no, there was a vampire attacking their friend Lucy, the story would have ground to a halt and while it might have gotten some headway, it wouldn’t have grabbed people the sway that the actual novel did.
Also, the involvement of Toni Basil as a significant supporting character is remarkably odd. She’s fine in this, but it’s odd having such a tremendously established and acclaimed dance choreographer in a gory, slasher horror film.
As far as the horror goes – it is borrowing a lot of bits from other films. We have nightmares impacting the real world from Nightmare on Elm Street, visual flourishes on the final antagonist that feel like they’re paying homage to the deadites (particularly the Evil Dead 2 version) – the ghosts of murdered people taunting their friends who failed to save them while also reflecting their gruesome wounds like in An American Werewolf in London. This isn’t to say the lack of originality is bad – indeed, it executes the intersection of these concepts moderately well. The problem is all of this coupled with our protagonists (especially the main lead’s) skepticism related to the involvement of the supernatural in the plot, basically existing to drag out the trip to the fireworks factory.
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