Comedy-horror is a notoriously tricky beast to master and few have had better results in this genre than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both Shaun of the Dead and World’s End fall squarely into this category and even Hot Fuzz (their very best film) sports a handful of horror elements expertly woven into the action. For this first release from their production company, Stolen Picture, they content themselves with supporting roles, but their handprints are all over Slaughterhouse Rulez, even if they are missing Edgar Wright’s sure-footed directorial skills.
After the death of his father, working class lad Don Wallace (Finn Cole) is sent off by his well-meaning mum to the imposing Slaughterhouse Public School, where she hopes he will have the benefit of a superior education. Once there, he finds himself sharing a dorm room with Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield), a louche, moody character who seems to be housing a whole clutch of secrets.
Don’s acquisitive eye soon falls on posh girl Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield), but she seems to have eyes for somebody else – and besides, most of Don’s time is spent coping with the predations of the school bullies, chief amongst them the sadistic Clegg (Tom Rhys Harris). Meanwhile, the preening headmaster, known to the pupils only as ‘The Bat’ (Michael Sheen), has given permission for a fracking rig to operate in the forest that borders the school playing fields, a move that dismays troubled teacher, Meredith Houseman (Pegg), and which leads a band of anti-fracking protesters, led by Woody (Frost), to set up camp in the woods.
As the drill descends into the ancient stones beneath the school, it releases something darker and even more dangerous than shale gas…
The set up here is nicely handled and captures the cruel and venal world of the boarding school all too well (trust me, I speak from personal experience). The large cast of characters are well drawn and engaging and, for the most part, the punch lines land pretty much where they should. It’s only when the film moves into its final third that things start to feel a little too protracted, too teased-out by attempts to tie the plot back to earlier events in the school’s history.
A more direct approach would have paid dividends here and kept the pace from flagging, which it undoubtedly does in places; but this is nonetheless a decent entertainment with some gloriously visceral carnage that’s never allowed to be so icky that it overpowers the humour. Those hoping for a Pegg-Frost reunion will have to be content with the one brief scene they share – but, for their first offering as producers, this really isn’t a bad start.