HIDDEN GEM: Slashers (2001) – Review

Slashers – Review

When some people are asked to consider a ‘hidden gem’ within the horror genre, some may turn to an offshoot franchise that never made the cut in order to break into a mainstream hit such as ‘Gingerdead Man’, or a slew of already established franchises who had direct to DVD entries such as ‘Leprechaun 4: In Space’. Most of us who are familiar with the genre would have most likely heard of these picks in one form or another, hell, we may have even seen them at one point in our lives but cannot for the sake of Krueger remember the title of said film. Well, hopefully the following film that I’m going to review for you all truly encapsulates the title, ‘hidden gem’ by truly presenting itself as a complete enigma of a film.
Reality television. We’ve all seen it in one form or another. To some it’s a guilty pleasure and to others, watching it is a fate worse than death. A duality that even the cenobites of Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ would be envious of. That being said, the concept of reality television hasn’t been heavily explored (or shall we say, exploited) within the horror genre to a great extent. Sure we have the ‘reality’ based universes of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ which use found footage in order to further immerse us within this suspension of disbelief when it comes to the dark side of our own reality. These films however, were completely immersed within the idea of horror, rather than using the opportunity to poke fun at certain aspects within our culture.
Enter Maurice Devereaux’s 2001 horror film ‘Slashers’, or ‘$la$her$’ as the box art proudly displays (sorry Ke$ha, you were a little too late with that one). This film a b-movie in every conceivable way; the acting is horrid, the effects are clearly apparent and the entire feel of the film has a campy fun to it reminiscent of horror films from the late 80’s, hell, you can see tinfoil wrapped around a knife blade at one point. However, all of this seems to mix together to creative a widely unknown gem of a film with social satire that reminds me of Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. As well as being a horror film, it is also a dark comedy. It would be useless in naming the cast members within this film as every single one is unknown, but the main focal point of the picture is Sarah Joslyn Crowder’s Megan who gives a familiar but tried and true final girl character arc; weak at the beginning but fighting back by the end. She does the job and is the most likeable character outside of the villains.
Right, onto the plot, I’m sure you’re all dying to know, to use the term loosely. We are in modern day Japan and reality television is at its peak. Within our own culture, we pretty much torture people in shows such as ‘Survivor’, but Japan have a trick up their sleeves which guarantees them high ratings and big profits. The name of the show is ‘Slashers’ (or again, $la$her$), the premise is quite simple, in order to win you have to do one simple thing. Survive. Yes, the Japanese have somehow found a way to loophole the legal system and make real life murder for your entertainment a reality, for lack of a better term. Several contestants are picked, introduced to the audience and led into the ‘danger zone’, which is essentially our game area consisting of many different settings ranging from a clown room to a horror museum. The show is celebrating its first American special featuring contestants from the United States who are introduced to us with some exposition. About five minutes after these contestants are let loose into the game field; the Slashers are released, not before they are displayed to the audience in an array of cheers, banners and fanboys/fangirls.
Now, the Slashers. These guys are the true stars of this film. Following from their distant relatives from the late 70’s and early 80’s, they encompass gimmicks to their characters and are solely identified through these. Although promotional material available on the DVD and online sites marketing the film showcase past Slashers within the shows history, we shall focus on the ones that appear within this particular ‘episode’.
First up we have the newbie, ‘Preacher Man’, a white faced ghoul who seems like the demented love child of Fred Phelps and Henry Kane. The ‘redemption’ of your soul lies in the razor sharp end of his crucifix and religious related puns. Second we have a crowd favourite, ‘Chainsaw Charlie’, who I can best describe as a mix of Leatherface’s southern roots, his affinity for power tools, merged with the charisma and campiness of Freddy Krueger in the later ‘Nightmare’ sequels. He may just let you female contestants live for the meantime for a “Lil ol’ kiss on the cheek”. Finally, the reigning champion of the show returns for the ‘All American Special’. ‘Dr. Ripper’, who can best be described as a mix of both Hannibal Lecter and your favourite villains from the Adam West Batman show.
All three of these guys keep the pace going throughout the course of the film, and even though it’s clear that Devereaux wanted to use the likes of Jason and Freddy but couldn’t due to obvious reasons (however, these characters do make badly costumed cameos at one point in the film in the museum section.). An interesting aspect about this film however, is that there is an omnipresent force that is the producers of the show, who manipulate the areas in which the game takes place. Taking a leaf out of ‘Battle Royale’s book, both the contestants and Slashers wear collars that administer pain if they disobey the rules set out by the creators. So when we reflect on this, even the antagonists have an antagonist forcing them to follow their ideals.
However, for all the fun I’ve poked at the film, it is impressive what was created with the limited budget at hand. Devereaux was quite brave and chose to emulate Hitchcock by presenting the film as one long continuous shot with invisible cuts which is quite odd for an exploitation film that entices you to suspend your disbelief. This is achieved through the use of a camera man character who follows the contestants and is immune to attacks from either the protagonists or antagonists through the enforced use of the collar device.
Although being pure campy horror, it is a satirical reflection of our society and how far we are willing to exploit individuals in order to provide entertainment for the masses. The Slashers themselves aren’t one dimensional, they are people taking on a role and trying to coax good ‘performances’ out of the contestants much in the same way that ‘Big Brother’ would purposely mistreat and abuse housemates at the expense of our entertainment, hell, I would argue that they are better developed than some of the contestants. I think this kind of idea is quite interesting and works particularly well within the horror genre in order to create a satire flick, which, if we again link to Tobe Hooper’s ‘Chainsaw’, presents a warped view of our contemporary morals and values when it comes to human exploitation and separating real human beings with on-screen personalities.

All in all, I think it’s definitely worth a check. You can find the whole thing on YouTube as well as getting your hands on a DVD release, which admittedly, might be a bit overpriced due to its rarity. If you plan on having the guys or gals around for a night of B-movie goodness, this is top of the pile for when you pull out the vodka and want to take a shot every time a political statement is made or an actor is replaced with a dismembered mannequin. 

-Jozef Hamilton

Follow Jozef on Twitter: @TheEvilBread

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