Slayground (1983)

Back in the 80s, the British horror film was in radical decline. After the overkill of the 70s, the lifting of the Eady Levy stopped people wanting to film in this country, and films became more and more American, simply through economic necessity. There are a number of films that are pretty much American apart from the location (American Werewolf In London is a prime example), but Slayground is a bizarre amalgam of American and British sensibilities that actually meets squarely in the middle of the film. The first half is so American it might as well be eating a burger and waving the Stars and Stripes, and the second half is so British it might as well be eating a burger and waving the Stars and Stripes (whoops, little bit of politics, there).

The film begins in middle America - all V8 engines, radios playing "Bad To The Bone" and women in yellow ankle warmers. After picking up the aforementioned ankle warmer wearer, a bloke finds that he's got more than he's bargained for.

"I bet you're all action…" she drawls.

"Why don't you lay back and find out?" he wittily counters, before she shoots him dead.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he was the getaway driver for a planned robbery, and his gang now has to find a replacement. They decide on a young, inexperienced punk (as I believe they are called in the American vernacular) - but after robbing a security van (which seems to be meandering along an out-of-the-way track for no reason at all) they crash into another car, killing the occupants. Suddenly the seemingly unconnected separate storyline involving a pig-ugly young girl ice skater becomes clear. "There's a kid in the car and now she's dead!" wails the gang leader Stone (Peter Coyote), showing an awful lot of remorse for someone who's just brutally assaulted an innocent security guard to steal the money.

Obviously, and with good reason, the dad's not happy. He meets with a shadowy hitman, who promises vengeance, and it's not long before the getaway driver is dead - chucked downstairs and put through a car wash. (The headlines the next day read "Grizzly murder stuns cop", sadly they fail to show the bear the hitman obviously used as a back-up weapon).

Next up Stone is seen fixing his car when someone drives past and lobs a grenade at him. Luckily he survives, his friend telling him: "Word is, you're walking dog meat. You're not in his league… there's only one chance - bury yourself."

The last member of the gang gets tarred and feathered in his own chicken coop, and Stone frets: "This guy kills people and enjoys it. I'm just a thief, what can I do?"

After surviving a drive-by machine-gunning, Stone decides to cut his losses and go and see Terry, a friend in London who owes him for saving his life.

40 minutes into the 90 minute running time, we arrive in London to pictures of Tower Bridge (of course) and funky music.

Terry, it appears, is dead (according to his girlfriend), and for some reason the local hoodlums take a dislike to Stone. "My colleague is a very violent man," one of them warns him prior to a particularly nasty working-over. "One wrong move and we are going to collect your face in a bucket."

Stone summarily gets the shit kicked out of him, and somehow ends up with an enormous scar up his back. Convinced Terry is still alive, he staggers back to see the girlfriend. Meanwhile the spooky hitman is still on his tail…

Slayground is a very strange film. A boring American thriller for the first half of its running time, it only lurches into vague horror territory on the arrival of the hitman, who is a weird kind of proto Hannibal Lecter, never seen out of shadow, always wearing a hat and speaking in a creepy southern drawl ("Welcome… to your funeral, Mr Stone. I'm the shadow man, Mr Stone… I'm all around you…"). His supernatural presence gives the film a slight edge, as he becomes more and more of an unstoppable force in Stone's life.

Sadly, there is very little else to recommend it, and it's not surprising that the distributors gave it very limited cinema release. Terry, as played by a foul mouthed Mel Smith, is okay, and horror stalwart Billie Whitelaw lends the proceedings a touch of class. You can also enjoy the spooky finale in Southport (yes, the one near Liverpool) Pleasure Beach, but it's very uninvolving. The bloodless deaths are too vague, and the only way you know someone has been killed is by the introduction of a red filter on the lens. And I still don't know how Stone came by that enormous wound on his back…

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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