Slaughterhouse Rulez review: A wildly scattergun British horror comedy
Dir: Crispian Mills; Starring: Simon Pegg, Michael Sheen, Asa Butterfield, Nick Frost, Kit Connor, Hermione Corfield. Cert 15, 104 mins
Slaughterhouse Rulez is a wildly scattergun affair, a British horror comedy which chews up and regurgitates elements from such different sources as Jurassic Park, The Lair of the White Worm and Lindsay Anderson’s If. It has eco credentials too as one of British cinema’s first anti-fracking movies. Bits are good, bits are bad and quite a lot is plain baffling but the overall effect is invigorating.
“You’re going to school in a bloody palace,” Don Wallace (Finn Cole) is told when his mum (Jo Hartley) signs him up for the sixth form at Slaughterhouse, one of Britain’s most prestigious public schools. Don is a working class teenager and is predictably baffled by the arcane world of privilege, snobbery and rampant bullying that he encounters.
Slaughterhouse is situated in a huge country house in rolling countryside. However, there is now a “no go” area in the woods. The eccentric and strangely furtive headmaster, Mr P Chapman “the Bat” (Michael Sheen), has sold off large swathes of the school grounds to a fracking company in order to pay for a dry ski slope and new spa facilities for the prefects. As the fracking company drills underground, strange, subterranean creatures are lured to the surface with predictably devastating results. (“They just ate half the upper sixth!”)
Director Crispian Mills is the son of revered British filmmaker Roy Boulting who, with his brother, John, once made a film called The Guinea Pig (1948), in which Richard Attenborough played the boy from a humble background in 1940s Britain given a scholarship to a top private school. It’s a depressing indictment of how little has changed socially since the Attlee era that a similar story seems current today. The snobbery is as hideous as it ever was.
One of the pleasures of Slaughterhouse Rulez, though, is its very old-fashioned approach to comedy. Don’s roommate Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) may have a picture of a rebellious Malcolm McDowell on his wall, but many of the characters here are as eccentric as those found in ancient Will Hay or Alastair Sim farces about anarchy on the playing fields of St Swithin’s.
The boys (and the small scattering of female pupils) are tended to by a hideous old matron, who salivates and rolls her eyeballs in ghoulish fashion at every opportunity. The cricket-obsessed Mr Houseman (Simon Pegg) is distraught that his ex-girlfriend (Margot Robbie in a cameo played entirely on Skype) has run off to work with sickly kids in Sudan. Headmaster Chapman has some mysterious link with environmental protester/drug dealer Woody (Nick Frost), who is living in an encampment in the woods.
By a distance, the least pleasant character is the school’s resident Flashman-type, Clegg (Tom Rhys-Harries), a blond-haired sadist who is harbouring a guilty secret about his part in the death of Willoughby’s previous roommate.
Some of the language here is very archaic indeed. Sixth form prefects (“gods”) openly call those who are lower down the food chain “fucking plebians”. The film is full of puns and double entendres, some of them pretty feeble. One unfortunate boy who can never pass his house exam keeps on mistaking the “path to immortality” with the “path to immorality”. (It’s not very funny the first time but that doesn’t stop the joke being repeated.)
Characters are never sure if they’re smelling methane released because of the irresponsible fracking or if someone has just broken wind in the common room. The sixth form boys all go into paroxysms of excitement whenever the lissom and beautiful Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) sashays by.
In one especially bizarre scene seemingly partially inspired by Tinto Brass’s Caligula, the upper sixth have their very own full blown and very decadent Roman-style orgy in the school grounds, complete with wine, togas and torture. One of the teachers has a dog called Mr Chips. Predictably, someone soon finds an excuse to say goodbye to it.
The film’s attitude towards Slaughterhouse (and private education in general) is ambivalent. On the one hand, the school is portrayed as corrupt, decadent and basking in reprehensible old ideas about class and privilege. On the other hand, it’s quite a lark to be there. Even Don begins to enjoy himself as he manages to spend more and more time with Clemsie.
The subterranean creatures, when they do finally emerge above ground, are surprisingly vicious. As they munch off limbs, the filmmakers struggle to maintain quite the same jaunty mood that has prevailed throughout the earlier half of the film. The horror gets in the way of the comedy – and vice versa. The storytelling becomes increasingly bloody and muddled. At least some decent gags are thrown into the mix and there is something appealing about the sheer, goofy inanity of the whole enterprise.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is released in UK cinemas on 2 November