Slayground may sound like a great title for some dodgy early-eighties American psycho-slasher – perhaps some hideously charred knuckle-rapping former headmaster stalking his ex-pupils with a wooden ruler - but it’s actually a pretty damn good Anglo-American gangster thriller about a professional thief, Stone (Peter Coyote) and two buddies cracking an armoured truck and high-tailing it with the loot, managing to knock someone’s car off the road in the process. That “someone” happens to be the nasty owner of a local ice-rink who is none too pleased to hear that his young daughter has been mashed in an auto wreck and hires a shadowy hitman (usually referred too as “The Shadowman”) to bump off the culprits. After two off his buddies are taken out; Stone’s driver’s bloody corpse is left in a car-wash, his partner, redneck Joey tarred (in shit), feathered and left holding his dog, Stone decides to hightail it to London, England to seek the help of his old buddy Terry Abbat (Mel Smith). Abbat has problems of his own though – his Pleasure Beach in some run-down Northern seaside town (unnamed, but actually filmed in Blackpool and Southport) is, quite frankly, going down the shitter (so it will reappear on Blackpool beach sooner or later) and a couple of Scottish heavies are putting the hard word on him – and that’s forgetting those thugs in London who Terry could be, or could be not, running from!
The best performance – an absolutely wonderful performance, in fact – is from Philip Sayer as the Shadowman, the dark assassin stalking Stone. Coldly good-natured, always hanging happily on the edge of schizophrenia, the watching this truly evil, foul and slimy character is like reminiscing the time you tongued that dead, half-defrosted jellyfish. But Sayer manipulates the part well; even glimpses of his shoes, shadow and silhouette send shivers down your spine.
And most surprising is the appearance here of former Not The Nine O Clock News-er Mel Smith. The heavyweight half of Alas Smith And Jones (never quite as entertaining as its wild-west namesake) could really – should really - have become a straight actor, excellently playing his rock-hard tough-guy-gone-good part – and managing to keep a straight-as-a-die face against the humour that comes with his character sporting Smith’s trademark Nutkins haircut and a cut-off brown (BROWN for fuck’s sake!) leather jacket!
There are, however, a couple of small problems with Slayground, the main one being major plot trails that lead absolutely nowhere – the opening scene is never adequately resolved; only slightly less annoying is that those Scottish gangsters hassling Terry just disappear without trace. While we’re at it, what about those guys in London – what’s the score with them? And maybe I’m just being childish but the Shadowman shouldn’t have been so easy to kill. After a fabulous, edge-of-your-seat chase through the amusement park (acid casualties here should perhaps find something else to do), Stone pumps a couple of bullets in him and that’s it! I don’t want my Shadowman to die like that! I want him to get back up and kill again, kill! And before the credits roll, I want to hear him laughing from beyond the fucking grave!!! (Calm down Wayne; remember it’s not that slasher film you wanted!)
But still, Slayground is a decent film from a time when British cinema was on the brink of drying up for a few years. The patchy script is saved by some genuinely tense (keep a pair of clean trousers with you, just in case!) moments and some great performances. Well worth a look, at least.