Color, 1993,103 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Starring Scott Glenn, Jesse Cameron-Glickenhaus, Sheila Tousey, Darlanne Fluegel, Kevin Sorbo, Zakes Mokae
Synapse Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), NSM (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A minor cottage industry in gimmicky serial killer thrillers erupted in the wake of the Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs in 1992, and one of the very first came from an unlikely source. Originally produced under the title The Ark, Slaughter of the Innocents went straight to HBO in 1993 and got a very high-profile home video release on VHS and laserdisc from Universal. Essentially a trashy airport paperback at heart but loaded with weird touches that keep you on your toes, it's a '90s thriller right to the core and a solid example of the kind of mid-level filmmaking that was populating video shelves from coast to coast.
On a dark and stormy night, a woman driving home is startled to see a cloaked figure standing in the road by her house. When she gets inside, she finds her young daughters brutally and bloodily murdered in the living room. Known as the Provo Canyon massacre, the crime becomes local legend and ignites the imagination of Jesse (Cameron-Glickenhaus), the young computer whiz kid son of the FBI's most skilled Cleveland expert on serial killers, Stephen Broderick (Glenn). Their happy home life with mom Susan (To Live and Die in L.A.'s Fluegel in the textbook definition of a thankless role) contrasts with Stephen's life at work, which he sometimes shares with Jesse by bringing him along to crime scenes when they aren't at baseball games. Because that's how they do things in Utah. Jesse sets his dad on a path connecting the crime to another one, with a man on death row about to be executed in Utah because, as a tactful line of dialogue reveals, "His pubic hair was found in the nine-year-old's mouth." After several queasy lines of dialogue with his son about that evidence, Broderick teams up with local Utah agent Lemar (Ravenous' Tousey) just in time to see the convict executed via lethal injection. From there it's a twisty path to finding the sandal-wearing killer, who harbors some insane religious ideas and has kidnapped another young girl for his own insane purposes.
Action and suspense fans have mainly discovered this one over the years due to its status as the penultimate feature film from James Glickenhaus, the director of a string of favorites like The Exterminator, The Soldier, The Protector, Shakedown, and McBain. (Unfortunately his nutty debut film, The Astrologer, remains very difficult to see outside of rare theatrical screenings.) This is easily one of his most mainstream and flattened-out productions, but that trademark Glickenhaus flavor still manages to seep through especially in the last 20 minutes, which dives into full-on gothic horror territory. It's also a rare chance to see Scott Glenn get above-the-title star status in a feature from the era, and he seems to be having a blast even when the story doesn't quite make perfect sense. The casting of Glickenhaus' son in one of the main roles smacks of nepotism, of course, though he insists Glenn approved the choice without knowing their relation. The li'l Glickenhaus' performance has been a bone of contention among viewers for years due to his unrealistic deductive abilities, but as a '90s spin on the whole boy detective formula, he's an interesting change of pace and thankfully doesn't make the part insufferable.
After an essentially bare bones DVD release from Fox in 2004, Slaughter of the Innocents made its Blu-ray debut in 2013 in a variety of limited editions from German label NSM (some under the alternate title In Cold Blood), featuring a new HD transfer complete with English and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo tracks with optional German subtitles. Extras include the trailer, 90 seconds of TV spots, a semi-raw reel of cast and crew interviews from the set (17m56s) focusing heavily on the serial killer angle and Utah locations, a promotional featurette (16m12s) using some of that same footage, an alternate open matte version of the helicopter assault sequence (3m10s) with a different perpetrator and theme (as well as a very young Aaron Eckhart), a 55s image gallery, talent filmographies, and a ton of bonus trailers including Black Roses, Snake Eater, Warlock, Human Centipede, and Maniac Cop.
In 2019, Synapse Films brought the film to Blu-ray with an expanded and alternate slate of extras including the alternate shootout (in this case the 2m11s non-Nazi version versus the German release print), a different EPK featurette (9m12s), American and international trailers, one TV spot, an HBO promo spot, and the slimmed-down versions of the raw interviews, this time split up with Glickenhaus (4m9s), Glenn (3m11s), and Cameron-Glickenhaus (53s). Also included are a Cameron-Glickenhaus screen test (2m10s), coverage from Dylan Dog Horror Fest 4 in Italy (5m30s) with Glickenhaus father and son, plus a reel of deleted scenes (12m45s) from a work print that could more accurately be called scene extensions including some extra office banter and a little more context for the killer's background. Ported over from the original laserdisc is a solid Glickenhaus audio commentary in which he goes into the production process, the fairy tale aspects of the story, the use of real FBI agents in the film and a genuine death row for some shots, and the process of directing his own son. New and exclusive to this release is a featurette with makeup artist Gabe Bartalos, "Murders of Mordecai" ( (10m42s), going into the creation of the film's realistic forensic effects (influenced by butcher shops), his hiring based on his work for Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment on films like Frankenhooker, and the way they determined how far they could go with the depictions of child murders. Also new is an interview with veteran cinematographer Mark Irwin (Scanners, The Fly), "A Killer Look" (9m45s), chatting about his rapport with Glickenhaus, the clearance of all the Ohio and Utah locations, and the execution of that utterly insane climax. Image-wise it looks extremely close to the German one albeit just a tiny click darker, and it looks great given that fairly bland early '90s film stock look. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds great with some extremely manipulative separation effects as well as solid support for the synth-heavy score by Joe Renzetti.
Reviewed on June 29, 2019.