The concept of adding critical blurbs to a movie poster, or DVD case is fascinating to me. PR people are able to take heated, loathing and scathing reviews, pluck out one or two words (out of context) and make the worst movie sound like the greatest thing to ever hit the cinemas.
It was with this thought in my mind that I came to Slaughter Night, a movie so glorious that the only blurb they could find for its DVD cover is “A Whole Lot of Gore.” That’s it. Nothing about how amazing the director is, or how the story is new, fresh, or superb.
Gore. A whole lot of gore. I knew I was in for a treat then.
Hoping that maybe it was mainstream cinema that was finding this little Dutch slasher film a touch too nasty, I went to IMBD in search of fan-boy reviews. The summaries there were a little better. No one was raving about it, but the opinion was that the slashing was good and the story above par.
I should have listened to the cover.
Slaughter Night starts out with a bang. We’re treated to a flashback where some unseen psycho-killer has several kids trapped in an old house. Outside we see what must be police officers sneaking up to the house to save the day. But the killer continues on and before the kids can be rescued he slices off their heads and puts them on pikes. Save but one. Not exactly something to watch with mom, but a pretty exciting way to start a horror flick.
Flash forward and we find Kristel (Victoria Koblenko)arguing with her father about dropping out of school to travel the world. Father figures she’s a smart kid and ought to stick it out, but before we can conclude the argument we’re treated to a pretty harrowing accident that made me think this was one of those new, terrible car commercials.
Kristel and her gang travel to Belgium to pick up a few of her father’s things. Seems he was working on a book that involved a local mining operation. He was especially interested in Andries Martiens (Robert Eleveld), the killer from the beginning of the flick. You see back in olden times, psycho-killers were given the opportunity to free themselves by taking on insanely dangerous missions underground. They were to detect explosive gasses in the mines, ignite them, and if they survived the explosion they were free to go. Apparently, Martiens was given such a deal, and it ended poorly. Dead underground, he now supposedly haunts the abandoned mines. At least this is what the mine tour guides like to say to scare the tourists with.
Of course, being a horror movie, the ghost is real, and he’s mad as hell.
Of course, our heroes take a tour underground.
Of course, bad things happen.
Slaughter Night is pretty by the books in terms of plot. From the opening murder, we know that baddie is going to be back. Once the cave comes into view, we know our characters are going down, and most of them will be whacked. In the end, we know the killer will be killed. That’s not even a spoiler for this type of film. In slasher films, the plot is usually irrelevant anyway. It’s the style that counts.
While Slaughter Night tries to give us plenty of style, it mostly falls flat. During the scary scenes, the director chooses to use hand-held cameras that shake and move all over the place. This type of shaky cam seems to be in vogue these days with nearly everyone using it to create “mood.” Sometimes it’s effective as in films like Saving Private Ryan or United 93. Here it just distracts. It is especially annoying because the camera shakes most violently during the death scenes, obscuring most of the gore. And what’s the point of watching a slasher flick if you can’t see all the slashing?
The lighting is also so murky you can hardly see the characters. Yes, it is in a cave so it should be dark. Yes, darkness can often be used to great effect in a horror film. But instead of adding tension and excitement to the film, it only caused me to be confused as to what was going on.
It’s not all bad. There are a couple of interesting murders (one involving partial decapitation by a shovel that’s pretty cool) and there are one or two scenes that made me jump and squirm.
I was happy to see the Dutch venturing into slasher territory. I’d even be excited to see another one, even if this one failed to ignite my fan-boy sensibilities. Gore-hounds and horror fanatics will find some interesting violence in this film, anybody else should stick with the Descent for their scary movie-in-a-cave fix.