An attempt to answer the perennial question, ‘Is the horror movie dead?’, Abattoir! represented a bold riposte to the seemingly endless instalments of tired old franchises like Saw, being served up to horror enthusiasts in the early noughties. Intended as the starting point of a new franchise which, rather than just repeat the original in minor variations, would establish a ‘high concept’, around which further, original, instalments could be spun, Abattoir! sought to marry the gross out shock sequences of US slasher flicks with the plot, suspense and characterisation of classic British gothic horror movies. The ‘high concept’ underpinning Abattoir is simple: ‘Meat is Murder’.

The premise is simple – a block of luxury flats are built on the site of an old abattoir and, here’s the first ‘twist’, the occupants are all vegetarians! Obviously, pretty soon the residents are experiencing weird shit – disembodied mooings in the night, the bleating of phantom sheep and the agonised squeals of pigs as they’re slaughtered. Naturally, investigations show that strange things had gone on at the abattoir before it was demolished – animal cruelty, perhaps. Or, was it that the villainous owner had been passing off regularly slaughtered meat to the local Muslim community as halal meat. Or, could he have been passing off non-Kosher meat as Kosher to the local Jewish community. Or, was it that he had been slaughtering local down and outs and selling the meat to local butchers?

All of these avenues are explored by the residents as they try to get to the bottom of the sinister phenomena assailing them, before it transpires that the abattoir owner had been doing all of these things, leaving the site drenched in an evil psychic aura. With this discovery, the terror is then notched up a gear, with animal blood pouring out of taps and shower heads, nut cutlets mysteriously turning into real cutlets, sides of beef hanging in wardrobes, and herds of demonic pigs chasing people down corridors. Finally, the ghostly abattoir owner turns up in person, (or maybe he isn’t dead, he’s just been hiding in the cellars, where he’s set up a new secret slaughter house, this point is never made clear), and starts hanging people from meat hooks before killing them with a captive bolt gun and slicing up their bodies.

A frantic climax sees him force feeding the surviving veggies with meat. Not just any meat, but the remains of their friends and neighbours! Finally, and just in the nick of time, the ghosts of his previous animal victims turn up and apparently trample the slaughterman to death, before dragging his soul back to Hell.

Reasonably popular on its original release, Abattoir! looked set to be the first of a long-running franchise. Indeed, Abattoir 2 quickly followed it into cinemas. Eschewing the former abattoir setting of the original, this time there are a series of horrible murders (naturally) in a London suburb, all performed in the manner of a slaughter house. Victims are variously electrocuted, have their throats cut and blood drained out, shot by captive bolt guns and smacked over the head with a sledge hammer. The killings are all carried out by someone dressed as a slaughter man and, all of the victims are people involved in the meat trade: butchers and the like. The twist is that the perpetrator, far from being the demonic abattoir owner of Part One, is actually one of the surviving veggies from the first film, driven mad by their experiences and now exacting their revenge on the meat trade!

This approach had the advantage of both being a direct sequel in that involves at least one of the original characters, and is thematically linked by developing the ‘meat is murder’ concept from the first, thereby avoiding the problems besetting most horror sequels: either they are simply a re-run of the first film, but cheaper, or they are merely a sequel in name only, an arbitrarily re-titled direct-to-DVD release which is vaguely similar to the original. However, the paying public it seemed, did want to see something more similar to the original: the sequel bombed at the box office.

Whilst Abattoir 3, a direct-to-DVD sequel, limped out a couple of years later, (this time concerning a health food store which had been built on the site of the now demolished flats from the first film), the series was effectively dead. But what went wrong? Certainly, the films were superior than, say, the Saw or Hostel movies, but, it seems, they were too clever for their own good, attempting to deliver a genuine horror experience whilst simultaneously deconstructing the genre and presenting a critique of it to the audience. Perhaps gallons of gore and bare breasts really are what horror fans want, after all.  With the first two films now released together in a double DVD set, you can judge for yourselves whether the Abattoir  series were a worthwhile experiment.