Friday, June 4, 2010

Movie vs. Book: Slayground


I have nobody to blame for this month’s choice but myself. Bill and I try to keep our eyes open for various book/movie contenders. One day at the video store I spotted Slayground, knowing nothing about it other than it was based on a Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark) novel. The cover looked corny as all hell. The synopsis looked worse. Other than it being “based on a novel” I had no reason to hope for quality. And yet I still carried the DVD to him and asked, “You want to do a Westlake this month?”
We waited until he read the book then we settled down to watch the flick together. From what he tells me, this bears NO resemblance to the book. This is a good thing, because Westlake wrote some damn fine stories. The story of Slayground was not fine. Possibly damned, but far from fine.
Three criminals hold up an armed car, killing the driver and wounding the second guard. They take off with the cash, and while speeding away, sideswipe another car, causing it to flip over five or six times. Turns out the accident killed an adorable six year old daughter of a very rich man. The one halfway intelligent criminal, Stone (the stand-in for Parker*) feels horrible regret, stating, “I’ve never killed anyone before”…um, yeah, except for that armored car driver five minutes ago. But on with the story….
Rich dad hires the world’s greatest hit man to take out whoever was responsible for his daughter’s death. Never mind the fact that nobody saw the accident, let alone got the license plate or information about the criminals in their car. Within hours he has found the first guy, taken him out, found the second, killed him, and almost got Stone, except for a stroke of dumb luck.
Therein lies my first problem with the movie. Forget the character it was based on, but even as his own character, he’s not very good at what he does. He makes stupid choices, and seems to get out of every sticky situation with pure dumb luck. And somehow the dialogue is constantly referencing what a great criminal he is. In this alternate reality, either most people lie or the other criminals are just that crappy. But I digress….
Through his dumb luc—er, I mean, cunning skill, Stone manages to get away from the nameless, faceless, asthmatic (whenever he is on the scene, you can hear this strained, forced breathing) murderer and escape to London, where he tracks down an old buddy with an amusement park. Lucky for them, it’s the off season so there’s nobody there but them, the mobsters who want to buy the place, and Mr. Asthma Man. Makes it easier when there’s a climactic end scene where Stone is chased around the park by Mr. Asthma Man.
I have no problem with mindless action flicks. But to qualify there has to be “action”. This had very little other than “Something bad is going to happen. There, something bad happened. Next scene”. No tension, no suspense. As a horror, stalked by conscience-less killer flick, it fails epically. There is no reason to fear this killer, or even give half a damn if any of the characters make it out alive. The only thing remotely entertaining about this flick is watching it with a hardcore Donald Westlake/Parker fan, and watching them react to the miserable portrayal he gets in this flick. Mind you, if it’s somebody you actually like, you’ll feel really guilty by the end for ever wanting to put them through that in the first place (I speak from experience here).
I can only think of one group of people to recommend this movie for: people who do a lot of LSD. There is one sequence during the amusement park chase that looked like a disco remix of the worst scenes of Zardoz. Although I’ve never done acid myself, I can imagine that bit would be a hoot while stoned. Otherwise, forget you ever heard of it.
In closing, I would like to make a public apology. Bill, I am so sorry for making you sit through Slayground. I promise to never make you sit through it again.

(Sorry, but no trailer for 1984's SLAYGROUND exists.)


*According to, Westlake never allowed a character in one of his adaptations to be named “Parker” unless the producers agreed to make a series out of it.


What a great book. It’s a shame nobody ever turned it into a movie.

The story is simple enough: following a heist gone wrong, Parker, Donald E. Westlake’s violent, thieving antihero hops over a gate into an off-season amusement park in an effort to avoid police detection. Unfortunately, as he clambers into the closed park he is seen by two police officers and the two gangsters who are paying them off. Deciding to grab the loot for themselves the foursome temporarily split, with the police giving false information about the third thief getting away and the gangsters getting backup before entering the park to search for Parker.

Realizing that they can’t let him live if they intend to keep the money, Parker uses what time he has to familiarize himself with the park, setting traps and hiding weapons. When they finally enter the park to deal with Parker, Parker is ready to take them on under his own terms.

At this point, the book seems like it will be an attrition story: hero removes villains one by one, often getting wounded in the process. It’s been done dozens of times, sometimes famously well (many of the best-loved action movies follow this plotline.)

Not satisfied with that, Westlake plays to reality. After the thugs start losing numbers, they simply retreat and contact the local mob leaders for more men, so they can perform a more efficient operation. The tension increases, but the actions taken by each of the characters makes perfect sense within that character’s viewpoint. Simply put, it’s a masterful cross between a thriller and a crime novel.

You don’t need to have read the earlier Parker books. All of the stories are designed to be self-contained, and although there are often references to earlier books they are merely there to add additional pleasure for the series reader.

Five stars out of five.