Review: 'Slaughterhouse Rulez'
A Modern Day Cornetto Flavour
It's a strange one, this. The first film to come from Stolen Picture, the new production company created by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Slaughterhouse Rulez is very much channelling the spirit of the Cornetto Trilogy. Shaun of the Dead came out a whole fourteen years ago and the belated third movie The World's End was back in 2013, and so a relaunch of the skewed universe of Pegg and Frost is perhaps overdue.
Except this isn't quite the same thing as the Cornetto films. Edgar Wright is not involved; Slaughterhouse Rulez is directed by Crispian Mills, formerly of Kula Shaker, who also co-wrote the script with Henry Fitzherbert. There are multiple shots that seem to deliberately reference well-remembered moments from the trilogy, but while Mills is a skilled director, he hasn't the sketchy flair of Wright. Credited as executive producers, Pegg and Frost's fingerprints are all over the script, but this no two-man adventure for the best buds. In fact, they barely interact during the run of the film.
No, this film belongs to the youngsters (I won't say kids, since the cast are mostly in their twenties, as is traditional for films set in schools). Set in the fictional country school of Slaughterhouse, named for its legendary founding by the slaughterer of a monstrous beast, this is a merciless send-up of the nightmare world of the British public school system, where children are sent by parents who either desperately want to better their standing, or simply have more money than familial love. It's a time honoured institution, where children are separated from their families and bullied mercilessly by their elders, earning the right to eventually bully the newbies should they survive into the Upper Sixth. At least Slaughterhouse admits girls, which is better than Eton College (although fagging officially no longer exists in modern public schools, and Eton employs a lot of female staff—Slaughterhouse only manages to have two women on its staff, one of whom has already quit and the other, the terrifying matron played by Jane Stanness, barely seems to qualify as human).
Young Don Wallace, played with considerable charm by Peaky Blinders' Finn Cole, is the unfortunate kid who gets drafted into Slaughterhouse by his well meaning mum (Jo Hartley). On the plus side, he shares a room with a decent chap named Willoughby Blake, played by the excellent Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), and takes about ten minutes to fall madly in love with queen of the school Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield, terribly posh and all that). On the downside, he's sleeping in the bed of a boy who committed suicide, Willoughby insists on calling him Duckie, Clemsie is the definition of unattainable and the school corridors are stalked by the psychotic House God Clegg (Tim Rhys Harries—extremely posh, kind of sexy, utterly terrifying). Clegg wastes no time in making Don and Willoughby's lives a living hell. Don is the wrong sort of boy to be allowed into Slaughterhouse, while Willoughby dirties the school by being gay (public school life being at once intensely homoerotic and deeply homophobic, because only good straight boys can wank each other off).
Pegg plays Meredith Houseman, the terribly proper housemaster of Sparta, the specific prison of Don, Willoughby and Clegg, ageing cricketer and heart-broken ex-lover of former school nurse Audrey (appearing only on videophone and played by screen goddess Margot Robbie, a bit of a coup for Stolen Picture but chums with Pegg since Terminal). Martin Sheen is the school's headmaster, known by the boys as the Bat, for his florid swirling of his cape. Slaughterhouse Rulez could have been a perfectly good examination of the horrors of public school life, but is also a horror film and the most unsubtle environmentalist parable since Fern Gully. It's an outspoken anti-fracking script, which is absolutely correct of course, but god this is in your face. The Bat's connections and lust for extra cash and champagne lead him to inviting TerraFrack onto school grounds, led by an old Slaughterer played by Alex MacQueen (is it a coincidence that one of the actors to play the Master for Doctor Who is always accompanied by a theme involving four steady drumbeats?) A commune sets up camp in the woods in protest, led by Nick Frosts' aging, drugged-up Slaughterhouse drop-out Woody, has little effect on operations, and before long, the lake is one fire and a gigantic sinkhole has opened up.
It's about halfway through the film that events lurch into horror mode, as demonic creatures living in caverns beneath the school escape to the overworld and begin noshing on students and teachers alike. The story becomes a race for survival, in which quite a lot of characters bite it, and while the focus is now on fear and desperation, these are actually the funniest scenes of the film. To be honest, the film as a whole isn't that strong as a comedy; there were no moments in the cinema when the audience broke out into a big laugh. It's more a film of little chuckles and sniggers than big belly laughs, but when hell breaks loose, the over-the-top massacre strikes a fine balance of horror and comedy. It's gory, but not too gory, so it stays on the right side of it. The monsters themselves are pretty well designed, although they'll never make it into the horror hall of fame: hairless hellhounds with huge, vicious teeth, sensibly kept mostly in the dark for maximum effect.
The romance between Don and Clemsy is nicely told, and once the horror begins, both their characters really come into their own: Don gets to be properly heroic, and Clemsy gets to be ballsy as hell. (It's always fun to hear a posh girl swearing, although Don can keep Clemsy; genius kickass chessmaster Kay (Isabella Laughland) is the girl for me.) It's Willoughby who's the heart of the story though, living with guilt and heartbreak and almost giving in.
Altogether, Slaughterhouse Rulez is a belting horror adventure, but a qualified success as a comedy. It might have benefited from being less obviously a descendant of the Cornetto films, but without the visibility of Pegg and Frost, would it have got the attention it deserves?
About the Creator
I'm a terrible geek living in sunny Brighton on the Sussex coast in England. I enjoy writing about TV, comics, movies, LGBTQ issues and science.
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