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Slaughterhouse Rock
(1988)
 

Director: Dimitri Logothetis                        
Cast:
Nicholas Celozzi, Tom Reilly, Donna Denton


One thing you can't accuse Slaughterhouse Rock of is a lack of an attempt to deliver the goods. There's fires, explosions, dismemberment, gore, nightmare sequences, levitation, demons, possession, psychic powers, a living-dead heavy metal band, cannibalism, Native Americans, ghosts, nudity, attempted rape, astral projection, ancient manuscripts, archeology, location shooting, black humor, and smooth steadicam work - all to the tune of music performed by Devo. So it can't possibly miss, right? Actually, it does.

Nice college boy Alex is suffering from constant nightmares of being tortured in various ways, such as attacks by zombies, whippings (though we don't hear Devo's Whip It), or being roasted over fires, all shown to us in detail. These dreams are bad enough for Alex, but when his dreams suddenly start doing things in real life like burning his bed instead of wetting it, he knows something is seriously wrong. His friend Carolyn pulls out an ancient manuscript out of nowhere that was buried on Alcatraz island, where many of Alex's dreams happen to be taking place. Hmm, maybe there's some connection! So that same night, the two of them, plus their sex-obsessed college buddies, take a boat out to the prison island and....oh dammit, is it really that necessary for me to reveal what happens next?

I guess I'm being a little too hard on this movie. Unquestionably, the basic story is extremely predictable. But along the way, we are treated to a number of things that make the movie interesting to watch at times. The gore level is acceptable, and the quality of these scenes is usually convincing. And we are treated to some unusual gore scenes, such as someone's guts getting ripped out, or someone's fist traveling straight through someone's head. The nightmare sequences are actually among the best I've seen in a movie; Logothetis remembers that people frequently dream unclear visions, and both fogs the sequences and shoots them slightly out of focus. He also starts many of these nightmares with how many start in real life - when we feel helpless, and know that some danger is coming at us. He also extends this dreamy mood somewhat into the horror sequences where the protagonists are awake, and it's surprisingly effective. And the occasional bizarre twists in the story - as when the dead members of the heavy metal band "Body Bag" return from the dead to help Alex - are so nutso, we sit there wondering what the makers of the movie will cook up next.

The problem is that there's not enough of that stuff. The pattern of this movie is constant: throw something cool or bizarre at the audience, then spend several minutes with the usual bullshit. In the beginning of the movie, that means cutting to stupid stuff concerning the bimbos and bozos on campus, and their bed-hoppings and drinking. Sometimes Logothetis uses these humdrum scenes to test out his steadicam; at the beginning of the movie, there is an endless steadicam shot with Alex and two of his friends walking across campus. Not only is the shot absolutely boring, but we have to sit through the frat boy chat of Alex's friends. Later, Logothetis weaves his steadicam all around the tables of a bar before (finally) settling at the table Alex and his friends are sitting at. Logothetis' problems with making a non-dream sequence look good also extend to the Alcatraz parts. Though the movie actually filmed these sequences at the prison, they might as well have shot at your local corner jail; we never get a wide shot of the outside (or inside) of the prison, and what we see looks just like any old prison. One visual problem that isn't Logothetis' fault is that Sony Video screwed up with the video transfer, resulting in a "soft" look and faded colors, and a headache for this reviewer.

Oh yes, Devo fans, what about their music, which is prominently advertised on the front of the video box? Well, the fact that there never seems to have been a release of a soundtrack album should tell you something. The amount of Devo listed in the end credits lists only four songs, two of which seem to be instrumentals. Actually, these instrumentals are not bad at all, though bits of them are constantly repeated over the course of the movie, since the filmmakers only have two instrumentals to exploit. The other two songs, where the band actually gets to sing, are played in the background in noisy crowd scenes, such as a bar. Since they are hard to listen to, I can't give a fair judgment as to how good they are. I bet Devo, when seeing the finished movie, had an Uncontrollable Urge to call it Sloppy.

They had the ingredients for a good movie here, but they came up with an occasionally diverting misfire. Though I'm normally opposed to remakes, this is a movie that I would like to see be remade, under different hands. Ditch the Porky's-like antics, quicken the pace, use the entire prison, and we might have something here. I think Devo would Shout about this, thinking Now It Can Be Told.

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See also: Destroyer, The Takeover, Nail Gun Massacre

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