New Video Group
Date: July 13, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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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