Slaughter Night, a Tartan DVD horror import from Holland, has its roots in a fascinating slice of European history. Before the death penalty was abolished in the Netherlands, convicted murderers were sentenced to work in the mines as "firemen," whose only job was to work as human canaries, deliberately setting off methane gas leaks to clear the way for the miners. If they survived the explosion, the sentenced murderer was pardoned and allowed to go free, though none of these firemen, we're told, ever made it out alive.
In Frank van Geloven and Edwin Visser's slasher ghost flick, one of these convicted firemen comes back. A 19th century child murderer named Andries Martiens (his specialty is beheading his young victims) is haunting Legny Mine in the Province of Limburg, where he reportedly met his explosive end. A practitioner of voodoo, Martiens has been inadvertently called up from Hell, returning to abuse the bodies of the usual crew of comely young tourists: slutty blond, smart-mouthed drugee, tarot card-reading black chick, nondescript black boyfriend, a pair of "troubled teens" accompanied by their counselor, and our unattached nice girl heroine, Kristel (Victoria Koblenku).
Our gang of future body parts has been brought to Legny Mine by Kristel, whose recently deceased father turns out to have been writing a book about Martiens. Taking a tour of the spooky mine shafts, the octet –- along with a garrulous geezer guide who you know is gonna get it first –- gets stranded 200 feet underground with the murderous spirit when the cranky elevator refuses to take them topside.
Two of these young dopes have taken ecstasy in the shaft, of course, and it isn't long before one of 'em is possessed by Martiens' evil spirit, foaming at the mouth and hacking at the rest. Shocked by the sight of a beheaded torso, our troupe does all the dumb stuff you expect: quarreling, separating and wandering down tunnels to get picked off, in particular. Two-thirds of Night is set in the dimly lit mine, so this is probably not a DVD you wanna watch at home in the early morning with the sun shining on your teevee screen.
Martiens' motives for possessing and beheading are purportedly connected to a gold treasure hidden in the mine – but really are mainly about the fact that bloody neck stumps and heads-on-a-pike can be entertainingly upsetting provided you don't hold the camera on 'em too long. Co-directors van Geloven and Visser work to keep things grisly without showing too much, and to my admittedly bloodshot eyes they succeed, even if they overdo the shaky cam at times.
In one particularly memorable moment, a possessed tourist repeatedly chomps down on one of her peers, and we get a glimpse of something fleshy dangling between her teeth – just enough info to let our imaginations run riot without reminding us that we're gazing at a makeup effect.
Gotta admit, though, that a couple of times the shadowy obfuscation feels like the directors are trying to get away with something. At one point in the action, for instance, nice guy counselor Mark (Kurt Rogiers) gets slashed with a blade as he's still holding onto a wrought iron fence. From the blood, you think the guy's maybe lost the ability to flip the bird, but when we see him in the light, both hands appear to be intact. In a week where the biggest gore release features an amputated Rose MacGowan, this can't help coming off pretty paltry.
Still, by the admittedly stunted standards of slasherdom, Slaughter Night is a reasonably brisk example of the form, even if the movie doesn't take full advantage of its own anybody-can-turn-on-you rules. The acting is decent and the directors use their claustrophobic setting effectively. There's even a subplot revolving on young Kristel's guilt over the death of her father – with the latter's ghost giving advice to his daughter through an antique fold-up ouiji board that she's happily brought with her into the mine: more than a little hokey, perhaps, but how often you do see sentimentality in a slasher flick? Apart from Pam Voorhees' love for her young boy Jason, I mean . . .