SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1987) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Rick Roessler
Vinegar Syndrome

"Buddy has an axe to grind" and turns teenagers into bacon bits in Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo restoration of the eighties slasher SLAUGHTERHOUSE.

When the county is about to foreclose on the defunct Lester Bacon's (Don Barrett, HOBGOBLINS) slaughterhouse, ex-employee Tom Sanford (Bill Brinsfield, DEATH HOUSE) colludes with Bacon's former legal advisor Harold Murdock (Lee Robinson) to try to buy the land for a new plant before it is sold at auction. Unfortunately, old Lester - who prefers good old-fashioned knives to mechanization (and thirty-percent fat) - refuses to sell, and hulking son Buddy's (Joe B. Barton, BLOOD DINER) penchant for slaughtering trespassers soon comes in handy. Although two of their friends (PUMPKINHEAD's Joel Hoffman and NIGHT RIPPER's Courtney Lercara) have disappeared in the vicinity of the slaughterhouse, troublemakers Skip (Erich Schwarz), Buzz (Jeff Grossi), and Buzz's girlfriend Annie (Jane Higginson, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER) decide it would be the ideal location to shoot for Skip's girlfriend Liz (Sherry Leigh, DEMON WIND) to shoot her horror video. They get in and out without a scratch (much to Buddy's disappointment) but decide to return on the dark and stormy night when the big K-FAT party turns out to be a dud. A string of disappearances – including Deputy Dave (Jeff Wright, HIGH SCHOOL HIGH) and waitress Sally Jean (Donna Stevens, SHADOW FORCE) – leads Annie's father Sheriff Borden (William Houck, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL) to the slaughterhouse that night as well, providing more charnel fodder for the "hog wild" Buddy and his batty dad.

The San Diego-lensed "regional" slasher pic SLAUGHTERHOUSE was one of the few from the dwindling genre in the late eighties that received theatrical play when most of the entries went direct to video or were shot on video for the rental market. The MTV-on-the-cheap photographing and editing aesthetic along with the New Wave rock stereo surround soundtrack (with vocals by Vantage Point) and sub-TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE production design are well supported by likable characters and standout performances from Barrett and Barton (whose snorting Buddy is more of an iconic slasher figure from the film's poster, video cover, and standee display rather than much of what he does in the film. The gore is fairly restrained, with little of it seemingly lost to MPAA cutting (outtakes reveal some lingering shots of offal when a character is shoved into a meat grinder while the commentary reveals that some deaths were achieved with a swing of the weapon and a squirt of a blood-filled turkey baster) while the director voluntarily cut down the opening pig slaughtering footage, yet the film manages to entertain because it feels as though all the familiar trappings were approached enthusiastically and without derision by the filmmakers.

Released theatrically by American Artists and on cassette by Charter Entertainment, SLAUGHTERHOUSE made its digital debut as part of Program Power's "Lucky 13" series of DVDs which paired an impressive amount of supplements including commentaries, DVD-ROM scripts, and video featurettes with old analogue transfers of the films (including BLOODSUCKING PHARAOHS FROM PITTSBURGH, EVIL LAUGH, and THE BONEYARD). The first Blu-ray release came in 2015 from the UK company 88 Films featuring a new commentary with writer/director Rick Roessler and producer Jerry Encoe, but the HD transfer was overly dark with harsh contrasts. Vinegar Syndrome's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode comes from a new 2K scan of the original interpositive which reveals a considerably slicker-looking film (considering it was shot on a mix of new Kodak raw stock and short ends) that is brighter without affecting the DP's use of light and shadow in the slaughterhouse interiors. The UltraStereo soundtrack is presented in both lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo option, reportedly for the first time as the surround channel of the previous matrixed track was of poor quality and Vinegar Syndrome was able to do a discrete multi-channel mix from the original dialogue, music, and effects stems. The 5.1 of course does not compare with modern tracks but presumably they did left the mono surround channel sounds centered rather than steering around elements that had already been mixed down. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included but only available via the remote.

Carried over from the DVD is the audio commentary with Roessler, Encoe, and production designer Michael Scaglione (THE ARRIVAL). In discussing the casting process, Roessler recalls the luck of finding Barton who had the look but was much shorter than the character was conceived so they resorted to creative framing as well as the casting of actors not much taller than he. They discuss the Lakeside filming location and recall their luck finding the slaughterhouse location near the border which had much of its atmosphere already from its disuse before it was decorated with seven bags of pig parts by Scaglione (the interior was a combination of three separate locations). Roessler emphasizes the intent of black comedy on more than one occasion suggesting he still has doubts about whether he succeeded.

Among the new extras is an interview with actress/stunt woman Sherry Bendorf Leigh (10:40) who auditioned for the role of Sally Jean and was elated when Roessler gave her the lead, bonding with her castmates, taking her first role seriously and applying her acting exercises, and the physical travails of shooting in the rain and her scenes with Buddy. "Making a Low Budget Indie" (28:16) is a new interview with Roessler that provides a more compact overview of the conception, production, and reception of the film as well as the reasons he and Encoe did not go on to another film (although we do see vintage artwork for SLAUGTHERHOUSE II). He also reveals the identity of editor Sergio Uribe. "Producing SLAUGHTERHOUSE" (5:37) is a new interview with Encoe who recalls being navy buddies with Roessler, shooting much of the film before they had to go back to the navy, and getting some of the actors back three months later to shoot the ending. The behind the scenes featurette (20:48) is composed of the footage actually shot through Annie's video camera, outtakes from the barn dance, and the outtakes from Tom's death scene included in the previous DVD edition's "dead scenes" section. The "Epilogue: 30 Years after the Slaughter" (1:13) reveals the fate of one of the characters.

Also included are "The Making of Slaughterhouse" (15:16) and "Financing and Distribution of Independent Horror Films" (10:45), the original DVD's interviews with Roessler and Encoe which cover the same ground, a shorter outtakes section (3:08) which consists of extensions of the liquor store scene and an entire deleted scene in which the sheriff comes back from the crapper to find the service station attendant on the radio with his dispatcher. The theatrical trailer (2:04) from the DVD is include along with another variant (1:12), as well as four TV Spots (0:48 + 0:55 + 0:53 + 0:54), the "No Smoking" promotional trailer (0:28), radio spots (0:45), a 1987 Radio Interview with Barton (4:50) – illustrated with stills from the appearance – a compilation of local news coverage (3:59) of the film's premiere (which also includes snippets from one of Roesller's earlier short films), and the shooting script is presented in a 141-page slideshow (the DVD edition featured a PDF file of the script). Not included on the disc are two video featurettes of Buddy's promotional appearances at Georgetown University and Washington D.C. (SLAUGHTERHOUSE fans may want to hold onto the older DVD but they are no great loss for owners of the Blu-ray). The cover is reversible. (Eric Cotenas)