As slashers declined in popularity by the late 1980s, horror went into something of a temporary recession. The decline coincided with a growth in the VHS market. As a result, many horror movies saw brief or no theatrical runs and instead went straight to videostore shelves. Plenty of obscure horror movies languished in Blockbuster in the late 80s and early 90s. Sometimes all it would take is some eye-catching cover art to score a rental. One of those movies, Slaughterhouse Rock, had that kind of VHS box covering and the kind of title likely to lure teens. Yet the supernatural slasher never caught on and, 25 years later, it’s still languishing in obscurity.
College student Alex Gardner suffers recurrent nightmares about Alcatraz prison. Each night it’s a similar nightmare – a vicious killer and a heavy metal band that died filming a music video on the deserted Alcatraz Island. Soon these nightmares begin to cross into Alex’s own reality. Desperate for a cure, Alex and his friends travel to Alcatraz to confront the killer’s ghost. But when they arrive the friends quickly become stranded. And the same killer’s ghost possesses Alex’s brother, Richard. Now only the ghost of heavy metal singer Sammy Mitchell can help Alex save his friends.
Slaughterhouse Rock Lacks Any Sort of Coherent Internal Logic
Did you get all that? If Slaughterhouse Rock’s synopsis confuses you there’s a very good reason – this 80s B-movie is absolutely incoherent. Writer and director Dimitri Logothetis (along with two co-writers) was clearly cribbing from two classic horror movie sources. Nightmares bleeding into reality – that’s Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. And the possession plot borrows from The Exorcist. Slaughterhouse Rock even goes so far as to have a scene where Alex floats over the top of his bed. If there’s a silver lining to the movie, it’s that Logothetis never assembles these parts into something that feels derivative. No, this isn’t a good movie. On the contrary, Slaughterhouse Rock is pretty bad. It just sort of benefits from its own weirdness at least enough to watch it to the end.
No, this isn’t a good movie. On the contrary, Slaughterhouse Rock is pretty bad. It just sort of benefits
Sadly, Slaughterhouse Rock can’t even harness its own bizarro narrative to latch on to cult status. Somehow three writers couldn’t map out a clear story from all these bits and pieces. It’s neither scary nor funny when intended and Logothetis struggles to settle on a consistent tone. Whenever Slaughterhouse Rock embraces its silliness the B-movie inexplicably does a wild U-turn into uncomfortable territory. Most notably, Logothetis includes a scene of sexual violence that’s casually glossed over … even for the 1980s. By the time the climax rolls around, Logothetis et al abandon any rules they may have established resulting in a finale that’s more confusing than the convoluted story that proceeded it.
Slaughterhouse Rock Gets a Few Things Right
Music star appearances in horror movies weren’t uncommon in the 80s – and it’s a tradition that’s continued. David Bowie did it in the erotic vampire flick The Hunger. Both Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne turned up in Trick or Treat. There was Debbie Harry in David Cronenberg classic, Videodrome. For a brief time, Sting fancied himself as a thespian and took time to star in The Bride. Unfortunately, the genre hasn’t been as kind to music stars who cut their teeth in the early 80s. Poor Adam Ant may have been the best part of the forgettable Nomads. And one-hit wonder Toni Basil of “Mickey” fame found herself in the odd supporting role as dead heavy metal singer Sammy Mitchell.
Not everything here, however, is a complete write-off. Some of the gore effects come off quite well considering the low budget.
As a performer, Basil is just fine with the material in front of her. It’s just that the material is poor and odd. As mentioned above, Slaughterhouse Rock is tonally jarring and the movie’s sudden incorporation of ghosts feels like it belongs in another movie. Like Toni Basil, the rest of the cast is better than expected. In particular, Nicholas Celozzi comes off as rather likable in the lead role despite the flat dialogue. Not everything here, however, is a complete write-off. Some of the gore effects come off quite well considering the low budget. And a music soundtrack that includes Devo can’t be all bad.
Slaughterhouse Rock a Campy, Incoherent Mess
Good luck trying to make sense of Slaughterhouse Rock. Though it’s not incorrect to say that this B-movie mixes bits of A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist, the end result never comes close to either of these classics. The plot is an incoherent mess anchored by a finale that just throws out the rulebook. And Logothetis’ tonal mix of horror, comedy, and ‘Midnight Movie‘ never meshes. What Slaughterhouse Rock ultimately delivers is a dog’s breakfast of a movie that’s appeal is limited to its oddness.