On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, I’ll Spend a Decade Plotting to Kill You and Everyone You Love

Few holidays had their reputations altered more severely by the advent of the internet than April Fool’s Day. What was once a niche holiday devoted to optional pranks on your friends devolved into a 24-hour salute to disinformation in which everyone begrudgingly agrees not to believe anything they read for a day while brands amuse themselves with unfunny online gags. 

But anyone daydreaming about a simpler era of prank calls and whoopee cushions might want to watch “Slaughter High” before waxing nostalgic. Written and directed by the trifecta of Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, and George Dugdale (you just KNOW it’s gonna be good when three cooks are in the kitchen), this 1986 British slasher film turns a brutal April Fool’s Day prank into a catalyst for a quintessential high school revenge saga.

When gawky nerd Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) receives romantic overtures from the most popular girl in school, he neglects to remember that it’s the cruelest day of the year. What begins as a standard-issue case of high school cruelty quickly spirals out of hand until the poor lad is left permanently disfigured. With his dating and career prospects even more irreparably fucked than they already were, he has no choice but to spend the next decade plotting his revenge. From there, the film skips forward a decade to find Marty’s tormentors returning for what they believe to be their ten-year reunion. But when a slasher-fied Marty lures them into a trap of his own, the tables turn and the pranksters become the grotesquely pranked.

“Slaughter High” would be worth watching for no other reason than its bonkers opening prank sequence and the brilliant tagline “Marty Majored in Cutting Classmates.” But the film also provides a hilariously offbeat link to midnight movie history. Few films loom larger in the IndieWire After Dark canon than “Pieces,” the must-be-seen-to-be-believed Spanish slasher flick that blends grindhouse gore with hilariously incompetent policing and a “kung-fu professor” in what’s almost certainly the greatest “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” knockoff ever made. “Slaughter High” hails from the same producers, who shamelessly insert a “Pieces” poster into the background of a key scene. “Slaughter High” comes close to matching its predecessor in terms of gruesome weirdness, but the craziest twist of all might be its implication that the characters live in a world where “Pieces” was a massive hit.

April Fool’s Day 2024 has mercifully come and gone, but that makes this weekend an even more appropriate time to fire up “Slaughter High.” Because if there’s one thing that Marty’s downfall teaches us, it’s that pranks can have ripple effects that last long after you yell “surprise!” —CZ

The Aftermath: Don’t Fuck with a Sex Machine

When asked which Batman villain most closely resembles Marty “The Sex Machine” Rantzen, you’d be forgiven for picking The Joker. You’d be wrong. But I’d forgive you.

Yes, Marty spends the majority of “Slaughter High” running around in a jester costume, battling a case of the giggles, and murdering the pretty people who hurt him. And yes, both the late Heath Ledger and the late Simon Scuddamore — who died shortly after production on this, his only film — are neck-and-neck in a race for Cinema’s Craftiest Terrorist to Dress Up Like a Nurse. (Do any healthcare workers wear the knee highs anymore? I’m just wondering.)

Still, for my funny money, the start of “Slaughter High” is more Two-Face than Clown Prince. And that’s not just because a chemical fire damn-near burns his scalp off.

Marty’s Harvey Dent energy — a self-actualized cool that says, “You’re right, I should have sex in this locker room!” — presents itself almost immediately in this unsettling spasm of a film. Cuddling the bodacious Carol (Caroline Munro) as he unknowingly walks into a survivable but still profoundly brutal prank, our unflappable anti-hero declares he is both “game for anything” and “a sex machine.” Three words: Hell yeah, brother.

Like a student government politician running for his school’s unofficial sex mayor, Marty talks a big game that’s hard believe at first. It’s particularly suspect when the sweater-wearer almost chickens out on boning Carol because he’s afraid “to get in trouble.” But after some coaxing… and an hour and 35 minutes spent in Marty’s remarkably well-justified revenge fantasy… I can confirm, virgin or not, this kid absolutely fucks.

Unlike most teen outcast characters (think Carrie in “Carrie” or Brad in “Breakfast Club”), Marty knows his worth way before getting the piss kicked out of him. Strutting down the hallways in his thick lenses and necktie, with aspirations for the science fair as big as his dick, this starring stud muffin quietly rules the school before his accident in the lab. Sure, Marty ticks all the visual boxes for weakest link in an ‘80s slasher cast. But he’s largely unbothered by his bullies’ torments and only engineers his extra awesome retribution when that abuse takes on permanent, post-grad consequences.

With a brain as big as his bite, Marty is rarely restrained by his filmmakers, who are more than willing to give the nerdy burn victim his day out of court. A shotgun beer turned to exploding guts? A bathtub filled with blood then electrified? If “Pieces” and “Dude Bro Party Massacre III” had a gifted-in-STEM baby, then it would be Marty and his spectacularly theatrical means of dispatching dickhead classmates. (Seriously, I couldn’t get a poster to stay on my bedroom wall and this guy had a whole-ass corpse hanging by a coat hook?)

Parts of “Slaughter High” take on an almost Riddler-like level of ingenuity, and portions of Scuddamore’s physical performance have elements of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in them. But it was the last-act reveal — that the entire movie was in Marty’s head (???) — that solidified my Two-Face comparison.

To paraphrase Gotham’s would-be district attorney, “You either die a good villain in a bad movie, or you live long enough to see that good villain become the bad movie.” I believe in Harvey Dent, and I still believe in Marty Rantzen. But chop the last ten minutes off this bad boy and you’ve got an antagonist good enough to franchise, no joke. —AF

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Slaughter High” for free on Tubi and The Roku Channel and rent it on VOD platforms. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

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