"The film you are about to see is based on police reports and genuine evidence. Several names and locations have been changed to protect those still living. In March 2003, police raided a caravan belonging to serial killer David Ward. They seized several handwritten journals and Hi8 and VHS video cassettes. Ward was arrested and taken into custody while more evidence was discovered in surrounding woodlands. The evidence was taken to be sorted and labeled. The evidence linked Ward to twenty-three murders. The journals contained detailed photographs and retellings of his crimes. The video cassettes showed the crimes. The following film is a fictionalized retelling of David Ward's crimes from 1999 to 2003 based on his journals and edited footage from his tapes."
|Reviewer: Jeremy |
Review Date: April 22, 2010
Released by: Celebrity Video Distribution
Release date: 5/5/2009
Region 0, NTSC
David Ward (Scott Castle
) is a dejected young man in suburban England. He lives alone in a trailer that is decorated with nudie magazine cut-outs. He’s also a vicious killer who occasionally works for a mysterious pornographer whose customers like to order snuff films, which David is more than willing to produce. But even when he’s not working for said pornographer, David is all too happy to kill on his own, and videotape it as it happens. We follow David through a non-linear, four-year odyssey as he kills repeatedly, both for money and for his own sick pleasure. But when a girl he was about to murder escapes from his clutches and gets away, a local police detective (J.A. Chittenden
) is able to catch up with Ward, leading to a showdown that will finally bring this crazed youth to justice.
The front cover of Slaughter
proclaims in big bold letters that it was "BANNED IN THE UK". So I decided to check the BBFC website and found no mention of the film. Then I listened to the commentary and heard the director explain that it had only been banned in several counties by local censorship boards. Which may be true or may just be a publicity story, but in either case there is no doubt that the movie is a grotesque piece of work. It may not have been banned by anyone in the UK, but the filmmakers clearly knew the type of content that would be offensive to the censors in their home country. There is a considerable amount of sexual violence, including both anal and vaginal rape, plus a rather vivid verbal description of child murder and a scene where a priest is tied to a tree and killed. Listing the acts of violence and the way they are shown reads like a prosecutor's indictment from the Video Nasties scandal.
The director of Slaughter
, Dan Martin, says that he was only seventeen when he finished editing the movie, and this I do believe. It certainly seems like a movie made by a teenager, and not simply because it is amateurishly made, or even because words like “committed” and “pedophilia” are spelled wrong by the filmmakers. The entire movie comes across as incredibly cynical, seemingly designed with the intention of provoking the moral outrage of certain viewers, while of course giving its teenage auteur a needed chance to rebel against societal norms. For that reason alone I would normally give a movie like this an 'F' quicker than you could say Sick Girl
. But in this particular case I'm going to let it slip by with a barely passing grade. My generosity is due to the fact that these filmmakers, amateurish as they often are, seem to understand two things about low budget, shot-on-video filmmaking which most of their contemporaries don't realize, which makes Slaughter
a slightly more watchable and more interesting movie than it would have been in the hands of most other micro-budget filmmakers.
The first thing that the filmmakers understand is that they cannot let their movie wear out its welcome. With a running time of just fifty-nine minutes, Slaughter
never lasts so long that watching it becomes a form of torture, and certain parts are surprisingly engaging. Dan Martin could have easily stretched this thing out to seventy or eighty minutes or more. Many filmmakers of his type would have in an attempt to bring it up to feature length. Knowing when to quit is even more important in a micro-budget film than it is in a big budget production. It's bad enough when an expensive Hollywood movie goes on for too long, but at least those films are properly lit and professionally sound mixed. An ultra low budget movie, usually with bad videography and sound recording, becomes unbearable if it goes on too long.
What's more, the filmmakers show some appreciation for the problems that come with shooting a movie on video, as opposed to film. This is a topic I've written about before, but I'll repeat it here. Well shot film, the kind you can still find in a big Hollywood production, is a convincingly manipulated form of reality. We're so used to watching those slick movies that we hardly notice some of the tricks that are used, such as the fact that when actors are in close-up the background behind them is almost always out of focus. That technique, partly the result of the fact that film needs a lot of light for a deep focus image, is also a subtle way of drawing the viewer's attention towards the actor and away from anything else in the frame. With video it's possible to create the same effect, but most low budget filmmakers don't know to, and because video can create a deep focus image with much more ease that's usually the way they go. What happens often is that a micro-budget filmmaker will shoot a movie in the style of a conventional Hollywood narrative without any of the technical polish, which results in a movie that looks extremely amateurish because it's impossible even for an open-minded viewer to avoid comparing it to the standards of the majors.
The trick for a micro-budget filmmaker is to either learn how to make video look more like film (which is achievable if you have a decent camera that you know how to use, and a grasp of how color correction works) or to shoot in a narrative style that is different from the way Hollywood does things. This is something that the youths behind Slaughter
seem to realize at some level, because large chunks of the movie are told unconventionally, through the lens of David Ward's personal video camera as he goes about his crimes. Presented in black and white, without dialogue (but with music overlaid) and with a time code perpetually counting up as it records, these segments have a certain uncomfortable voyeurism to them. They are not perfectly done, but they are more chilling that the production’s conventionally shot segments, which are badly staged and remind us that these filmmakers are still amateurs.
This is a film which, while not quite a home movie, by most standards shouldn’t be available to buy on DVD. But it is available, and while I can’t consider it a classic by any standards, Slaughter
shows a group of filmmakers who have a legitimate chance of going on to bigger and better things someday. Keep an eye out for them in ten years.
is presented full-frame 1.33:1, its correct aspect ratio due to its video origins. Quality on a film like this is a little hard to judge due to the fact that it was shot with different types of cameras and because some parts of it are deliberately made to look rough. Sharpness, color saturation, flesh tones and shadow detail all look like you would expect for something shot on an analog camcorder. There's plenty of video noise and black levels are highly inconsistent. Colors bleed and edge halos are visible anywhere in the image where there’s too much contrast.
Two other things should be noted as well. The movie was shot using interlaced formats, and this disc is not flagged for progressive scan displays. Also, there are two separate sets of .VOB movie files on this disc, one for the movie with its regular audio track, and one for the movie with commentary. I’m going to assume that whoever authored this release didn’t have access to software that allowed multiple audio tracks. The movie is presented on a single layered disc, and as a result of this the bit rate on the feature itself is much lower than it should be, and there are noticeable compression artifacts.
The only audio option is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track, and it is adequate. It sounds like much of the audio was recorded using the onboard microphone on the camera, so even clearly recorded dialogue has a slightly tinny quality to it. Dialogue and sound effects are generally understandable, but have a fairly low fidelity to them. There is some noticeable background noise and distortion, probably caused by the cheap audio circuitry that consumer video cameras usually have.
The primary extra here is a running commentary track with director Dan Martin and star Scott Castle. The two youths have a lively chat about the making of the movie, revealing, for example, that it was compiled by editing together two of their short films and then shooting new footage to bring it up to an hour running time. The two commentators do come off as slightly immature, although they reveal that several years have passed between the filming of the movie and the recording of the track. Actually the two of them are able to talk fairly intelligently about the making of Slaughter
, a nice surprise. I was not surprised however to learn though that they were most heavily influenced by movies like Last House on the Left
The only other extra is a short trailer.
This disc has a good commentary track and an attractive low price, although I feel that better, more professional authoring would have improved its video and audio quality and led to a more satisfying release.
is the product of teenage filmmakers, but they are (or were) teenagers who show a surprising amount of competence for their age and experience level. I could rip into the movie much more than I have, but I’m not going to. Dan Martin and Scott Castle made a movie for almost no money when they were seventeen, and now it’s available on DVD from a professional distribution company. Clearly the joke here is on someone else.
Movie – D-
Image Quality – D+
Sound – C-
Supplements – B-
- Running Time – 59 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Audio commentary with director Dan Martin and actor Scott Castle