A young lad (writer-director Johnny Dickie) breaks into a neighbour’s yard sale and makes off down the street with a video cassette.

Later that evening, the lad prepares to settle down to watch the tape in the comfort of his own bedroom, when he’s visited by a zombie-like apparition in the bathroom. The creature tells him of the evil contained within the tape, and warns him not to watch it.

Of course, he does the exact opposite, putting the cassette in his VCR and pressing play.

Following a few trailers advertising imaginary horror films (FROSTY SCREAM, anyone?) the main feature begins – SLAUGHTER TALES – and unrolls as short stories presented in episodic anthology-style. Their viewer gradually begins to realise the terror he has unleashed …

The vignettes are of course what make SLAUGHTER TALES. In the first, a young man (again, played by Dickie) finds a strange liquid and imbibes it without question. This results in him melting before our very eyes (well, with the aid of some extremely rudimentary editing skills).

Next up, a couple of lags pay a dear price following their thieving spree. Then we get masked killers, killer slugs, house explosions, demonic possession …

SLAUGHTER TALES marks the feature directorial debut of Johnny Dickie. Bearing in mind that the film was shot on video for around $65 (!), and that Dickie – whose roles include writer, director, editor, actor, FX artist – was only 14 when he completed it, it should go without saying that expectations need to be realistic here.

Superficially, the plot may recall that of another recent flick, the infinitely more high profile V/H/S. But, aside from the loose theme and an obvious love of all things relating to shot-on-video horrors, that’s where the similarities end.

Dickie’s film is far more authentic in its harking back to the not-so-Golden Age of video-shot genre offerings. If you’ve ever sat through something like CLUB DEAD, or perhaps even Alex Chandon’s debut BAD KARMA … then you’ll have a rough idea where I’m coming from. It’s the type of thing that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Screen Edge video label in the early 1990s.

However, Dickie’s film was completed in 2012. You’d never know that from the constantly under-lit cinematography, handheld camerawork and bargain basement FX work. Even the soundtrack – dodgy electronica, courtesy of the enigmatically named C.H.U.D. – is a throwback to the dodgiest of cheapo 80s horror efforts.

Of course, the appeal of such a film in 2012 is going to be niche. But if you’re into faux nostalgia of the cheesiest, trashiest kind, then SLAUGHTER TALES will definitely raise a smile. Dickie injects each and every scene with snappy editing and energetic, amateur acting (he assumes several roles, as does his best mate Joey Davalos). There is copious swearing and gleefully oblivious inconsistencies throughout, making this one film that truly lives up to its tagline: "More than just a bad movie".

Still, SLAUGHTER TALES is more than simply a decent DVD cover. The unflagging pace and cheap aesthetics do count for something. As do the Z-grade effects, which incorporate all manner of unconvincing but enjoyable gore: decapitations, melting faces, dismemberment, eye-gouging and more. Even more pleasurable are the stop-motion monster slugs that are employed during one of the best vignettes: it’s like BASKET CASE all over again.

Dickie may or may not be a fledgling Steven Spielberg. Somehow I doubt it. But he had the audacity and endurance to make a feature-length horror film, on VHS, for practically no money. At the age of 14, remember. It’s an entertaining, agreeably crappy gore fest that would play well during any drunken boys’ night in.

Oh, and what micro-budget horror film would be complete without a cameo from Lloyd Kaufman …?

Briarwood Entertainment’s region-free DVD presents SLAUGHTER TALES uncut in a window-boxed presentation which preserves its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

As you’d imagine from a film shot on VHS, it looks pretty horrible. Blacks are blocky, noise can be seen frequently, colours are often muted and detail is mostly soft. We even get the odd vertical line running down the screen. In a bizarre way, this lo-fi look soon becomes acceptable and suits the film.

English 2.0 audio is decent throughout, although there are obvious drawbacks in some scenes (muffled dialogue, due to the limitations of the way the sound was recorded).

The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a static scene-selection menu allows access to SLAUGHTER TALES via 23 chapters.

Extras begin with a jovial commentary track from Dickie and two moderators, Dan and Tim from VHShitfest. This is a fast-moving and often funny track, although you do get the impression that the moderators are taking things a lot more light-heartedly than the more earnest Dickie.

Still, we get some insight into the primitive filmmaking techniques, and Dickie is honest enough to point out the many aspects of the film he’s not happy with. But all the things he bemoans are the things Dan and Tim laughingly love the film for …

Dickie reveals a lot of the not-so-special effects’ secrets, and at one point attempts to explain the amount of profane language in the film. We learn that most of the action is shot in his mother’s house, and that a faux trailer ripping off DEADBEAT AT DAWN was cut from the film because it didn’t fit in. Meanwhile his knowledge of low-budget horrors shines through as he points out homages to the likes of STREET TRASH, GOREMET ZOMBIE CHEF, SLIME CITY and BLOOD CULT.

Two trailers are brief but fun, focusing on a lot of the Z-grade gore that’s contained within the film. The first trailer even comes with a deep narration by fellow filmmaker Tim Ritter (KILLING SPREE).

A Behind-The-Scenes featurette is criminally short at under three minutes in length, but does include some cringe-inducing footage of Dickie directing his own mother in a minor role.

An eleven-minute FX featurette is essentially the director in his mum’s basement, talking to her (she’s behind the camera) as he points out a lot of the props used in his film. These include plastic body parts that were bought in from the local dollar store …

There’s a great bit, right at the start of this featurette, where ‘John’ (presumably Dickie’s dad/stepdad) comes home and interrupts proceedings by shouting down into the basement. Rather than stop filming and start again, Dickie and his mother explain what they’re doing and carry on. Priceless.

SLAUGHTER TALES is as cheap, trashy and crappy as they come. It’s also hugely endearing almost despite itself. Almost impossible to recommend, I can’t help but like the film for what it is … and hopefully you’ll know from this review whether it’s something you could fall for too.

Review by Stuart Willis

Region 1
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review