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Slasher  (2004)

 

Rating: NR

Distributor: New Video Group

Release Date: July 13, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

John Landis, best known for some key 1970s and '80s comedies (Animal House, Trading Places), directs this warts-and-all look at the life and trade of Michael "the Slasher" Bennett, a California freelance salesman who travels the country mounting garish campaigns to clear car lots of old inventory. The film focuses on one weekend in which Bennett and his team of "mercenaries" descend on a lot in Memphis, attempting to unload 60 automobiles in 48 hours. Motormouth Bennett and his allies pull out all the stops (raffles, pretty hostesses, music) and keep intense pressure on themselves, revealing a few unscrupulous practices in the course of things.

 

CRITIQUE

 

My job as a slasher, being a used car salesperson, liquidator, doing these auction sales...people automatically assume whatever I say, whatever comes out of my mouth is a lie.

 

So begins Slasher, the latest film from director John Landis.  Michael Bennett, based in southern California, travels the country emptying auto lots of their stale inventory.  When you have a mass of automobiles that you want to unload in a hurry, Bennett is the man for the job.  He has an infectious, nervous energy.  The man literally cannot stop moving.  From drinking beer for breakfast to smoking two cigarettes at a time (seemingly without being aware that he is doing it), Bennett is a born salesman.  He is charismatic, and he knows the sales game back and forth, up and down.  After a short introductory scene with Bennett, Landis cuts to a montage of former presidents – Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II – casually spouting off their most famous lies.  (The original concept for the film was to be a parallel look at politicians and used car salesmen, but this is the closest we come to that.)  But as Bennett, after having drunk untold number of beers the night before the sale is to start, dances around a parking lot, hyping himself up, he looks into the camera, dead into our eyes, and boldly states, “if you have to lie to sell cars, get a new fuckin’ job.”  He shows that for all of the tricks, and despite the reputation of his business, a reputation he is fully aware of, Bennett is not without integrity.  Integrity is what he is all about.  The best salesmen don’t need to lie.

 

Landis captures all of this in great detail, showing not only the sale, but also giving us a look inside the lives of these men.  There is Bennett, his rather glum D.J., who travels with him to get the party going and keep it going, and then there is Mud, Bennett’s “mercenary salesman” from Seattle.  If Bennett is the optimistic side of this duo, Mud is undoubtedly the cynical half.  He has a cocky, arrogant salesman’s swagger, and he seems to look down on the people who come onto the lot, and on consumers in general.  “If someone drives past a pile of shit on the side of the road every day,” he says, “and it’s priced at a million dollars, and then they drive by one day and its marked down to a dollar, somebody’s going to buy that pile of shit.”  Indelicate though it may be, Mud is not without insights of his own, and he has nothing but respect for Bennett, whom he considers the master of the game.  There is clearly a respect they have for each other, even though we see little of them actually interacting.

 

Slasher also shows how the salesman can only do so much.  The three day sale we follow Bennett and his team to in the film takes place in Memphis, which in addition to being the home of Elvis Presley, is also the bankruptcy capitol of the world.  Looking at some of the people he is dealing with, it also seems to be the penny pinching capitol of the world (perhaps the two go hand in hand).  Bennett makes some incredible offers to the people who walk on the lot, and many of them simply walk away, as though their only reason for coming to the sale was to prove that they could not be sold.  When a prospect does show some interest in buying, they still have to go through the credit process, which most of them cannot.  Time and again we see Bennett “slash it!!!… slash it!!!” until the buyer takes the deal, only to follow them inside and find out that they could not finance a piece of chewing gum with twenty dollars down.  Then there is the last day of the sale, when no one shows up at all.  Bennett bends over backwards to make the sale work, and nothing seems to work.  We quickly see why this particular dealership is failing to begin with.

 

Bennett is an interesting character.  The salesman persona is one that he puts on while he is on the road, but watching him at home, we see that he is really a family man – as much as someone who is home six days a month can be – concerned with his two daughters and his wife.  Landis did not just follow Bennett during the sale, he and his crew shadowed the man for six days, filming almost around the clock, until they had 128 hours of footage for what was planned as a ninety minute movie.  What we end up with is an endearing portrait of an aspect of American life that we rarely see in anything other than the most satirical light.  The truly breathtaking part of the film comes in knowing that in the end, after the long three days of the sale, after Bennett returns home for some time with the family, he’ll be back out in a few days doing it all over again.

 

THE VIDEO

 

Slasher is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture looks great. Slasher was shot on high definition digital video, but it does not have a video look to it. The transfer is sharp, and the colors come though nicely.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This film is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo sound. The overall presentation is decent, but there are times when some of the dialogue seems a bit muddled.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

The bonus material on Slasher gives us an interesting look behind the scenes of this documentary.

 

Commentary by director John Landis and crew: Landis and his collaborators (including one of the film’s producers, himself a former slasher) talk about the making of this documentary, and how they set out to make one film and ended up with something else entirely. This track is interesting and funny.

 

Deleted Scenes: These are fun to watch, but it also clear why they were cut from the film. Much of the material is covered elsewhere in the film.

 

IFC "Making of" Featurette: A behind-the-scenes look at the film and how it all came together.

 

This DVD also features crew biographies of the principal people who worked on the film. Overall we get a great sense of how the film evolved, and some interesting anecdotes about the people involved.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Slasher is an interesting look inside the world of the used car salesman. Bennett is an interesting character, and his energy is infectious. The film is insightful and funny, and the bonus material gives us some nice background details.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

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:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

9

THE AUDIO

7

THE EXTRAS

9

OVERALL

9

 

:: Merchandise