[Director Mark Ezra recollects making SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)]

  Arrow Films' 2011 DVD release of SLAUGHTER HIGH is the definitive version of the film - and I don't just say that because I'm on it!

In July 2011, I had the pleasure of moderating Arrow Film and High Rising Productions' audio commentary for SLAUGHTER HIGH with the film's director Mark Ezra. Before the commentary was confirmed, Mark was kind enough to respond to my questions about the film. You can now read his highly entertaining and revealing answers below.

Q: How did you get involved with SLAUGHTER HIGH?

In 1983 Peter Litten, George Dugdale and John Humphreys were asked by producer Dick Randall to create the special effects for DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, directed by and starring Edmund Purdom. The film was disappointing, but Dick was impressed by the effort put into the effects on a near zero budget.

The following Spring Peter convinced Dick that he and George, together with myself (a film school graduate) could make a better movie for him. Dick’s partner, Steve Minasian, based in Boston, had been involved in the original FRIDAY 13th movie and they were keen to produce a horror movie again after their success with ‘Pieces’. I was called in for a meeting with Dick. Ever the salesman, he impressed on me the importance of a catchy title, like SPRING BREAK, by FRIDAY 13th’s director Sean Cunningham, which had opened to good box office in the US. To Dick, the title was more important than the quality of the movie. (The POSEIDON EXPLOSION being a good example)

I went home and thought about a title and came up with APRIL FOOL’S DAY. That clicked with Dick and Steve – April 1st would fall within the following school Spring break and find an audience. Dick asked for a short synopsis – on the spot. I banged something out about a bunch of young Americans who are picked off one by one in the vein of Agatha Christie’s ‘AND THEN THERE WERE NONE’. Later, in order to give the vengeful character some motivation, I made him a high school nerd who was remorselessly bullied by his fellow pupils and loses his mind. As a public schoolboy (in the English sense of private education) I had witnessed that kind of bullying and was familiar with fellow pupils who had cracked under the strain, so I had plenty of material to go on.

  Not much of a stretch: Dick Randall played a showbiz agent in SLAUGHTER HIGH

How the Film came to be

Dick gave my revised revenge story the green light. We had three weeks to: write the movie, cast it, do all necessary pre-production and start shooting. This seemed a tall order, but Dick had a history of getting movies shot in ten days. His technique for raising funds, when he was based in Rome, was to book a big party in an expensive restaurant and pay in advance with his credit card. He wouldn’t actually throw the party. The restaurant would advance him most of the money, less a healthy commission. With that cash Dick would finance a ten-day quickie and sell it before the credit card bill came due. It was risky business, but he managed to get away with it more than once.

Dick gave us a budget of $100,000 to shoot on 35mm. At the then exchange rate of 2.5:1 this gave us a working budget of £40,000 that felt horribly tight.

Since this was going to be a first film for all of us (I had made award-winning shorts at film school) there was a bit of a struggle to decide which of us would direct. Eventually we settled on the compromise of all three of us taking both the writing and directing credits. In actuality, I wrote the script while George, who had lived in America, sat in and checked some of the dialogue. Peter devised the special effects with sculptor John Humphreys, which he could only do as the pages came in. At the same time Peter set about casting. I completed the script in a little over a week, delivering 9-10 pages a day. I had fun devising the outlandish murders – the death by motor-mower being my favourite, and Peter felt he could create a convincing electrocution.

When it came to shooting the film, George directed the actors (in my view, he got some pretty weak performances), while Peter directed most of the special effects scenes. He and I worked out a shot list for the motor-mower, while he devised and shot the electrocution pretty much on his own. George suffered from hayfever and often turned up late. On those days I would establish the mise-en-scene and get the first shots of the day in the can.

  Whoops!: Skip gets it in the face in SLAUGHTER HIGH

Dick wanted us to use a director of photography he had used before, but whose work did not impress us. This DP brought along a competent camera operator who came up with good ideas that got us out of trouble a couple of times. With such a tight budget and schedule (three weeks) there were inevitable mistakes. Sometimes we would test the effects before shooting, and they would get damaged. An example of this was character Ted’s ‘exploding’ stomach. He had several air tubes leading into condoms set under his prosthetic belly. During the test, most of the condoms burst and we didn’t have time for a reset, so we had to make do. After that, we tended to shoot the rehearsal, something I still do today.

During the shoot we realized we would be running short at around 80 minutes, so I devised a steady-cam chase around the school. John cast and painted the head of Carmine, playing the character Skip, so we could slice into it with an axe.

After the shoot we still were not happy with the end, so I wrote a new scene where the whole film turned out to be Marty’s ‘dream’. This prompts Marty to escape from mental hospital and, by implication, frees him to carry out the deeds we have already witnessed.

Dick insisted we use an old-timer, Jim Connock, to edit the film as he thought it would be a bad idea for me to write, co-direct and edit the film myself. Jim was a lovely old boy but suffered from low blood sugar. I, as an experienced editor with a couple of credits to my name, volunteered to assist Jim in the cutting room. He would always go home around 6.00 p.m. I would stay late, unpicking his splices and re-editing the scenes – in particular the motor-mower death. Jim would come back in the morning and suggest we look at the scene again. We’d watch it and he’d turn to me and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re complaining about. That doesn’t look so bad now, does it?’ and we’d get on with the next scene.

After editing Dick and Steve were delighted with what we had achieved on their tiny budget (nowadays you could achieve better with HD) so they decided to spend some money on a composer. I went over with the movie to L.A. and worked with Harry Manfredini, a talented composer who had scored FRIDAY 13th. Harry played me themes on his piano that would later be performed on other instruments. After spotting the music cues I returned to London and let him get on with the job. When he sent the music over, we were not that impressed, and probably some of that is my fault. In the event, we used his music, but not always in the places he intended.

  Although set in the United States, SLAUGHTER HIGH was actually filmed in London and in Surrey in England


George and Peter were living a short walk away from St Marylebone Grammar School which was about to be demolished. George discovered it and got permission to film there. The old gothic bit still stands on Marylebone Road, as it is a listed building. The original building faced onto Lisson Grove.

The exterior location was the Holloway Sanatorium near Virginia Water in Surrey. We only had permission to film the exterior of the building, but George and I got inside. The interior was decorated with gargoyles which would have driven any sane person crazy, so maybe we should have shot the interiors scenes here as well.

Our big mistake was not shooting here earlier. We scheduled it for the 21st June when it would be a little warmer at night. In the event it was freezing and, of course, it only gets really dark around 10.30 at night. Before that there is a definite purple in the night sky. So we were limited to shooting between 10.30 and 1.30 in the morning. Two nights of this was enough.

  Despite its similarities, Mark Ezra says that THE REDEEMER (aka CLASS REUNION MASSACRE) was not an influence

U.S. vs U.K.

Dick was American – it was alleged he was unable to return to the U.S. because there was a warrant out for his arrest. Both he and Minasian wanted a film that would compete in the U.S. market. It was a plan that worked ok and one I have followed many times since. Going to work on another film project I used to pass the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts near the Earl’s Court Road. They had an intake of American students for the summer. We cast from there and from a pool of English actors, some of whom were friends of Peter Litten. The only time we were called out on the accents was in the case of Donna Yeager, playing Stella. She’s from Texas, but even Americans took her accent to be phony.


I never saw this movie or even heard of it before this set of questions, so the film was not an influence.


We made the film under the title APRIL FOOL’S DAY. However, Paramount were developing a project of the same name. I believe that Steve Minasian had registered our title already and that Paramount wanted it and he let them have it for $250,000 so he was already in profit.

  SLAUGHTER HIGH's elderly teenage cast were made up of some American but mostly British cast


After the first couple of day’s shoot Dick and Steve realized the film was turning out better than Dick’s previous films (not a difficult feat). They suddenly wanted a ‘name’ actor in the cast. The only adult character was the gym coach.

After an all-day shoot I had to go to Dick’s office in Soho where he surprised me by saying he was going to get Telly Savalas on the line. He put the call through and told me to secure Telly’s services, but he was only willing to pay a max of $25,000.

Telly answered and asked me what the part was. Then he asked for some sample lines of dialogue. I made up a few on the spur of the moment, building up the part and telling him it would be two days work. Telly said he wanted $50,000. Dick was silently going crazy in front of me, gesturing that he refusing to pay any more, so I told Telly we could shoot his scenes in one day for $25K. Telly explained, ‘you don’t understand. It’s my name you’re using.’ As Dick was gesturing for me to forget it, I suggested to Telly that we could bill him as ‘mystery guest star’ for $25K. At which point the line went dead. Dick told me he was going to get Peter Lawford (of Rat Pack fame) on the line. I spoke to Lawford, who sounded the worse for wear. He only wanted $10,000, but he also wanted $25K of expenses and a free shopping session at Harrods. Dick snatched the phone from my hand and yelled a few choice expletives into the receiver. We eventually cast Marc Smith, a friend of Dick’s, who played the part for £500.

Caroline Munro, though older than the rest of the cast, was George Dugdale’s girlfriend and previously had been married to an American. She had also starred in STARCRASH that had done remarkably well, mainly because it came out the same time as STAR WARS and naïve audiences thought there was some connection. She was a real sweetheart and worked hard.

  Caroline Munro does Final Girl duties in SLAUGHTER HIGH


I don’t recall any, but then I had my head down trying to get the film finished. The director(s) are usually the last to know what’s going on (especially the scandals and who is sleeping with whom). It’s normally Makeup that gets all the gossip.


While it’s true that I have a tendency to write some tongue in cheek stuff, the film was supposed to be scary. The tight budget allowed us only one take of most shots. This isn’t the perfect way to shoot. Some of the SPFX looked very weak – the melting torso in the acid bath being the worst, and Marty was supposed to have an exploding cigarette that gave him the shits. The ‘explosion’ looked so weak and we couldn’t re-shoot. Some of Peter’s SPFX ideas were great but we didn’t have the facilities to realize them properly.

The poor lighting on some scenes – such as the knife thrust through the back of the car seat - didn’t help. On the other hand, the unintentional low key lighting at times gave the film a kind of credibility that helped sell some ideas - just.

  Simon Scuddamore played Marty in SLAUGHTER HIGH. He tragically committed suicide shortly after the film wrapped


I was informed that Simon had a heroin problem, which gave me cause for concern. However he behaved very well and I believe he kept clean throughout the shoot. The only problem we had was in scheduling his scenes, in particular the reshoot of the end, as he refused to cancel or postpone those sessions he had working with children. We reorganized that part of the schedule to accommodate him. His later death came as a shock to us all.


I watched the film (mostly on fast forward) a few years back when I was involved in helping Dick’s widow sell his library. A few sequences still work. It’s not a way I would ever work again, but I think the three of us did a reasonable job under very difficult circumstances.


I’ve included most of these in the above. One problem was that Dick would surrounded himself with sycophants and hangers on who were always running us down and trying to get the film stopped for reasons of their own. This continued right through shooting and did not lead to a particularly happy atmosphere.

Cannes 1985. I attended with the company who had developed my next project: a kid’s action-adventure film that Thorn-EMI was going to make with Robert Watts (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) producing. Dick Randall was selling SLAUGHTER HIGH, as it later became named, in the Cannes market. He arranged a screening in a 60-seater. Within five minutes the whole theatre emptied. My heart sank. ‘Better luck next time,’ my companions said to cheer me. They insisted on sitting through the film, one either side of me. They quite enjoyed it: ‘the scary bits are scary, the funny bits funny and the horror quite horrible,’ was their verdict. But I still felt mortified. On the way out I bumped into Dick. ‘That was a f***-up,’ I said. ‘Whaddya mean?’ he replied, chewing on a cigar. ‘Didn’t you see everyone run out to be first to buy the movie?’ He licensed it to Vestron for $960,000.

  SLAUGHTER HIGH's director Mark Ezra and myself at the audio commentary recording for Arrow's DVD release of the film


I’ve made a living writing action thrillers – some of which got made. I also initiated the production of WAKING NED that has earned some $90 million.

Watch youtube.com ‘The Opening of Riders’ for a sample of more recent work.

HOUSE SWAP does not have a confirmed release date as yet, but I’ll be happy to talk about it when it does. It recently won at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood.

Relevant Links

Buy Arrow's (region free) SLAUGHTER HIGH disc (link right) to listen to the commentary and also read my revealing interview with Josephine Scandi, who played Shirley in the film.

Check out High Rising Productions - the lovely people behind many of Arrow's special features.

Arrow Films are putting out some of today's best genre discs.