Slaughterhouse (1987)

The owner of a slaughterhouse facing foreclosure instructs his obese and mentally disabled son to go on a killing spree against the people who want to buy his property.

VHS release pictured: 1988 Charter Entertainment.

Starring: Joe B. Barton, Don Barrett, Sherry Leigh | Director: Rick Roessler

Slaughterhouse: VHS Review

by Sam Rakestraw

It always has to come back to meat, doesn't it? Coming out in 1987 from the post-production studio of Rick Roessler's house it's Slaughterhouse. This deceptively bloody little slasher spatter combo probably found the largest audience out of all the flicks we're looking at this year. Still, that didn't stop Buddy Bacon and his dad Lester from falling into obscurity for most. But who can forget someone who runs around with a cleaver that looks like a mystical weapon a goblin chef would use in battle?

Slaughterhouse is a story of just how far a father and son will go to protect their livelihood, but more so asks the question of what if George and Lenny from Of Mice And Men were psycho murders? Lester (Don Barrett) and his son Buddy (Joe Barton) run a traditional hog farm at a time when machines are fully automating the process. Rather than retire comfortably, Lester wants to remain in the meat game. But local attorneys Harold (Lee Robinson) and Tom (Bill Brinsfield) and Sheriff Fred (William Houck) are keen on turning over his property to the town and foreclosing it. With nowhere to go and his purpose in life compromised, old crazy Lester wants blood and Buddy is just the guy seeing how he already has a habit of killing people who come too close to their slaughterhouse.

That's just the A plot. The B plot is a group of teenagers, all gloriously played by adults well into their 30s, playing hooky from school in order to shoot a low-budget monster movie of their own using the Bacon & Sons slaughterhouse to film on location. There's Skip (Erich Schwarz), Buzz (Jeff Grossi), Annie (Jane Higginson), and Liz (Sherry Leigh) –Liz is Sheriff Fred's daughter. There's a stay-in-school message somewhere in there. This VHS is all about giving good advice, there was even an anti-smoking ad on it which everyone who owns the tape is all too familiar with. I'm sure their movie will turn out great and absolutely nothing can compromise their filmmaking as teenagers sneaking out in the woods…oh wait, there's Buddy.

Paint Buddy green and give him fangs and you will have an orc, he's already got that blade. When he's not spending his time in the pig pen with only the swine as friends (I think he even speaks their language), he's out chopping trespassers to pieces. Who's to say that couple he killed in the obligatory intro kill scene wasn't his first? Lester is just as messed up in the head as he is, he just presents himself better. Seeing them really makes you wonder what woman was crazy enough to actually start a family with a coot like Lester. She most likely died giving birth to Buddy.

But with a title like Slaughterhouse, you don't want to know much about the characters, you want to know all about the slaughter. Was it where Roessler sunk the bulk of the microbudget of no more than $110,000? Does it all truly live up to the slaughterhouse name? It truly seems like the whole point of having a formulaic slasher movie is to see just how gory you can make it. It's almost an unspoken art form. And would you know it, Slaughterhouse does a good job with it. So much so that when it aired in the UK, nearly three minutes of kill scenes were cut for being too graphic. Well done, Roessler and company!

Roessler wasn't the only member of the production team taking their work home with them. Joseph Garrison's recording studio for the score was also his own house. The jazz orchestra sound over the opening footage of a real slaughterhouse is like an experimental music video. You actually get to see a lot of the prep that goes into pork after it's been slaughtered. It's a shame the rest of the movie is so quiet compared to it. Slaughterhouse also has some of the best cinematography for a movie of this quality. It's light when it needs to be light and dark when it needs to be dark and we have no difficulty seeing anything due to too little light or a shaky camera. This is one of the few low-budget nearly unheard-of movies that you could see playing on the big screen. Even the acting seems like a little more than you would expect and no one comes across as hammy.

The only thing that Slaughterhouse could really use improvement on is its pacing. You'll feel like you'll be waiting for the next kill or conflict for hours until it happens in the span of a couple of minutes. Things truly don't pick up until after the 30-minute mark. Liz and her friends of aspiring filmmakers aren't the most interesting group of teen victims and some scenes feel shoehorned or filler in like the mixer they go to. They always seem to be in some social space and never actually shoot their movie. It would have been nice to see it tangibly come together at least. It's never a dull moment with Lester and Buddy though, even when they are just sitting around waiting for the next public official who closed down their meat operation to show up.

Slaughterhouse is a classic case of what you see is what you get when you look at the VHS cover. And when you look at a picture like that you can only hope the movie is a gory one. The goofy personality and tone are welcome as we've seen the serious tale of a butcher gone bad done several times over. When your killer has the build of a beach ball and a smooth brain, then you can really have some fun. It's a shame that Roessler never got to work on the sequel he proposed. You just know it only would've gotten more gruesome from there.

Roessler wouldn't write or direct after Slaughterhouse while several of the cast and crew would work small roles in tv, which weren't a lot of people. In fact, some of the names you see in the credits are people who don't exist at all. Roessler just made names up so it seemed like he had a larger production company working on it. Sherry Leigh did all her own stunts and would continue to do so all the way to the production crew of Breaking Bad.

Today the legacy of Buddy Bacon is a nostalgia-based one as people remember the round, mentally handicapped, piggish man, with his medieval cleaver. Barton enjoyed the role as well despite having to stand on ramps to look bigger in some scenes because he was only 5'9". He even did all the radio and press interviews for it as Buddy, which of course means he just answered the questions in grunts and pig noises.