"Are you game?"
Slashers, Japan's biggest extreme reality TV show, is having an American special where six American contestants play for the chance to win $12 million. All they have to do is survive until the end of the show as three masked psychopaths stalk them around the set and try to kill them. There are no rules and anything goes.
With the 00s obsession with reality TV shows like Survivor, Big Brother and any number of low brow ‘fly on the wall of a famous person’ documentaries, it was only a matter of time before the film world would began to tap into the trend. My Little Eye was one of the first to hit the cinemas but with it came a slew of imitators and spins on the reality TV meets horror genre. Perhaps the most interesting and obscure is Slashers, a low budget offering from Canada, which plays out like a slasher version of Schwarzenegger’s 80s classic, The Running Man. I managed to source it back when I worked for Blockbuster and its now out-of-print as far as I’m aware so good luck in trying to track down a copy if this review makes you a tiny bit curious. Looking back in 2020, Slashers seems so far ahead of it’s time, it’s uncanny: reality TV is literally everywhere. How many people watch absolute trash like TOWIE, Geordie Shore, Love Island, etc? Or keep up to date with the Kardashians? Society has become obsessed with ‘real’ people in real situations on TV, despite the irony that these people featured are anything but ‘real’ or ‘normal’ everyday citizens. The recent smash hit Squid Game proved that there was life to the linking of reality TV and our voyeuristic and nihilistic tendencies as a race - if Slashers was an actual show, it would be a worldwide phenomenon.
Slashers introduces its silly, campy tone right off the bat with the Japanese gameshow format, allowing the filmmakers to goof off plenty without fear of hurting the film. The opening scenes are cringe-inducing with their depictions of wacky Japanese game shows but funnily enough, they work to instil the sense of reality – as bonkers as everything looks, this is the sort of thing you could imagine the Japanese doing and we’ve all seen some of their crazy game show ideas. The killers are introduced in true 80s professional wrestling style, complete with goofy gimmicks and theme music: Dr Ripper, Chainsaw Charlie and The Preacherman. I’m sure you’re already imagining what they look and sound like and you’d probably guess about right. These are simply employees working for the producer though, dressed up to take part in the show and to murder people. The contestants are fully aware of their surroundings, breaking the fourth wall on many occasions, as they point out the cameraman or how the music suddenly starts to increase in intensity, signalling the arrival of a killer. It’s very clever and very effective, towing the line between serious and parody without going too much either way.
Despite initially being shocked at the look of Slashers, another of those low budget ‘home movie’ style films which had plagued my DVD player during that time period (Camp Blood, Killjoy, Hell Asylum, etc. to name a few), I found myself intrigued by it all. The production values are very low-rent and the sets look sparse and almost empty. It’s like being let loose inside a cheap homemade haunted house, where a few cardboard boxes have been painted, daubed with some cobwebs or flashing lights and erected with minimal expense. So whilst the low budget makes everything look amateurish, that’s exactly the vibe that the film is going for – this looks like a cheap reality TV show rather than a feature film. It’s one bold idea that the $200,000 budget doesn’t actually impede but improve.
The acting is extremely amateurish, and I mean amateurish - these people look to have been pulled off the street and told run around in front of the camera for a few days of filming. The actors make no attempt to even make themselves sound professional because they're constantly moaning, whining or talking trash to each other. Now in any other low budget film, I’d be ripping them apart for their lack of talent but, like a lot of stuff in Slashers, the poor quality of the performances actually makes the whole thing look real, as if they were pulled off the streets, told someone was going to kill them and had a camera crew chasing them around for a few days. Just like a lot of reality TV shows feature people who are not trained actors and have become famous by being terrible on camera, Slashers makes sure its cast isn’t ‘too good’ for the film. However, Neil Napier is a hoot in both the roles of Chainsaw Charlie and Preacherman and hams it up massively underneath plenty of prosthetics and make-up. He’s that good that I didn’t realise it was the same guy until I’ve come to do the review.
Of course, what film would be called Slashers without a bit of slashing? There are some kills here (not everyone survives the gameshow) and they do have their fair share of red to be splashed about. But they look cartoony and this is one area where the low budget doesn’t feel quite right, working against the ‘realistic’ approach and takes you out of the action somewhat. The ’live’ nature of the film means that whenever there is a commercial break, everyone involved has to stop what they’re doing and wait for the show to recommence. This leads to some wonderfully dark moments as the killers, in the middle of attacking their next victim, are forced to stand and wait for the camera to come back on them, allowing the survivors the chance to taunt, plead or simply develop a plan of escape.
This almost goes against everything I’ve ever reviewed but the premise of Slashers necessitated a low budget, reality TV-like approach and that’s exactly what it delivers. In some alternate, ‘not-too-dissimilar to our current society’ dystopian vision of the future that easily would find a home in The Running Man or Robocop, we may all be settling down to watch Slashers rather than X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent on a Saturday night. A really underrated hidden gem if you can ever find it.
Director(s): Maurice Devereaux
Writer(s): Maurice Devereaux
Actor(s): Sarah Joslyn Crowder, Tony Curtis Blondell, Kieran Keller, Jerry Sprio, Carolina Pla, Sofia de Medeiros
Duration: 99 mins