College student Alex (Nicholas Celozzi) suffers seriously bad dreams in which he is bound captive inside a slimy, rat-ridden, corpse-infested sewer where a hideous monster mauls him to death. At first none of Alex's roommates, including his big brother Richard (Tom Reilly) take his nightmares seriously. Then glamorous parapsychology lecturer Carolyn (Donna Denton) takes an interest after Alex freaks out in class during a particularly vivid hallucination. Later she and Alex's wannabe girlfriend Jan (Tammy Hyler) find him in the midst of a nightmare when his bedroom catches fire. Realising Alex is dreaming about an incident at Alcatraz where members of the heavy metal band Bodybag died in mysterious circumstances, Carolyn convinces him, Richard, Jan, Richard's sexy blonde girlfriend Krista (Playboy Playmate Hope Marie Carlton providing nudity so you know she is going to die – yawn!) and wisecracking buddies Jack (Steven Brian Smith) and Marty (Ty Miller) to visit the now-derelict prison island at night and find out what is going on. Inevitably this proves a terrible idea as the gang inadvertently unleash an ancient evil that embarks on an orgy of rape, violence and terror. However Alex finds an unlikely otherworldly ally in Bodybag's deceased lead singer, Sammy Mitchell (Toni Basil) who knows how to send the demon back to hell.
Barely released at the time and still pretty obscure to this day, Slaughterhouse Rock combines two popular trends in late Eighties horror: haunted prisons (see also: Prison (1988) and The Chair (1988)) and MTV (witness the hair-metal horror stylings of Trick or Treat (1986), Black Roses (1988) and Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987) while the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels also increasingly resembled music videos at this point). However, for all the heavy metal allusions the film was actually scored by electro-punk pioneers Devo, marking the first of many such soundtrack assignments for composer Mark Mothersbaugh. Five years before this film Devo collaborated with star Toni Basil on her album 'Word of Mouth.' Actor-turned-director Dimitri Logothetis, a mercurial talent circling the mainstream for decades but never quite breaking through, styles the film very much like a music video with flashy editing and floaty camerawork as self-indulgent and meandering as the plot. Nevertheless the goth rock visuals are quite atmospheric thanks to cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Hollywood legend Josef von Sternberg, who previously lensed such vivid nightmares as cult horror gem Tourist Trap (1979) and Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law (1978), a horror comedy outing for blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore.
Logothetis lifts a lot from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), specifically the concept of dreams serving as a two-way gateway into the netherworld and the 'rubber reality' effects set-pieces. There are some impressive images (e.g. worms wriggling from a wound on Alex's face) but after an epic build-up the monster disappoints being little more than one possessed character with demon eyes and plastic fangs, strangely resembling Javier Bardem. Logothetis, who conceived the story, and his screenwriters Sandra Willard (who went on to script children's cartoons like Arthur and Curious George), Nora Goodman and Ted Landon also ape a ghoulish gag from An American Werewolf in London (1981) as victims return as decomposing zombies to crack wise with hapless hero Alex. However the team flub their attempt at an emotional core via the brotherly bond between Alex and Richard. A strange and quite off-putting theme of self-preservation runs through the plot. Whiny Alex's self-interest gets most of his friends killed and equally whiny and dull love interest Jan abandons not one but two characters to a grisly fate. Given the ending the film comes close to an allegorical statement justifying an artist sacrificing their friends for the sake of success. Or maybe not.
Aside from an unpleasant demonic rape scene it is a goofy teens-versus-monsters scenario, heavy on gloopy gore, light on suspense and actual scares. None of the lead characters are especially engaging (save for the intriguing Carolyn, though it is unclear why her character is here and suffers so much) which makes the early scenes of inane chatter and florid, over-written dialogue kind of a chore. Where Slaughterhouse Rock scores some points is with the stunt casting of pop star Toni Basil, she of worldwide number one hit 'Mickey' ("Hey Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind. Hey Mickey!") Of course, Toni had been in films before. While she is a long way away from Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) she is a vivacious presence as sassy rock diva Sammi Mitchell, vamping it up in outrageous Eighties attire, teaching Alex how to project his soul from his body via a voodoo dance routine that becomes a rapidly edited MTV style montage. She also snags a priceless line after admitting to dabbling in Satanism: "At least I didn't do drugs. That shit will kill you."