By on May 12, 2015

Slasher Courtesy docurama.com

Movie director John Landis is probably best known for his 1978 comedy classic Animal House. I am such a fan of it that I recently made a pilgrimage to the Dexter Lake Club, the Oregon roadhouse used in the film where the frat boys partied during their road trip in a black suicide-door 1964 Lincoln Continental. (“Do you mind if we dance wif yo dates?”)

To folks in the retail automobile business Landis is better known for his lesser-known 2004 Independent Film Channel documentary Slasher, a movie that represents the most authentic cinematic depiction ever about selling cars. In the world of fictional flicks about the car business, there have been few hits but several great individual scenes. The 1980 movie Used Cars immortalized the line,”50 bucks never killed anybody!” Who can forget Robert De Niro tossing a couple out of the Audi showroom in the 2002 film, Analyze That? Even though it was about swamp land salesmen, the 1992 picture Glengarry Glen Ross could have been about car salespeople and their sales managers; its highlight: Alec Baldwin’s dead-on sales meeting speech (NSFW).

Slasher betters all these as it is 100% non-scripted reality. I was reminded of the doc after reading Bark M.’s piece about the dealership who would run customers’ credit and then hand them a color-coded balloon so salespeople would know their level of creditworthiness. You will see a real-life variation of that tactic in this brilliant and often hilarious documentary.

The film follows Michael Bennett, a traveling used car sales specialist who sells his “slasher sale” services to desperate dealers for $4,000 per day. Bennett is a mixture of Cal Worthington, Cooter Brown, and Professor Harold Hill. Rarely without a beer or cigarette in his hand, he may be the most hyper on-screen presence in history.

We tag along with Bennett to a Toyota store on the wrong side of Memphis in need of moving fifty aged used cars in one weekend. Bennett’s shtick embraces every stereotype of car dealer sales events: double the number of balloons on the lot, hire sexy girls (“Slashettes”) as greeters, give away prizes, bury the airwaves with what the dealer’s sales manager called “the single most obnoxious radio commercial,” and – most importantly – offer autos for as low as $88. That is the total price, not a payment, on two chosen turds.

Dressed in a cheap tuxedo, the wiry Bennett bounces from car to car slashing prices previously marked up 100% or so, easy to do with 5 to 10-year-old used cars. One lucky couple chose a green 1995 Hyundai Accent marked at $888 and Bennett cut it to the magic $88. The car spewed blue smoke as the happy customers sputtered off the lot.

Many moments of this picture are painfully accurate. The look on the salespeople’s faces as Bennett held the kickoff sales meeting said, “Why was our owner such a sucker to hire this guy?” The film puts a clock on one couple as they go through the promised “fast, no negotiation” process and we learn it took 2 hours and 12 minutes to close their deal.

Slasher 2 Courtesy docurama.com

On the second day of the sale, the $88 cars are gone and the floor traffic literally stopped. Bennett and the “Slashettes” head out into the street to flag down motorists. I do not know if Landis planned this but the movie nearly slows to a halt at this point, which is exactly the feeling you get as a car salesperson when nobody is coming through the door.

Bennett’s energy is what drives this movie. We follow him at night as he crawls through the pubs and strip clubs of Memphis. The picture becomes a character study of this flawed man, an individual with too many years in the car business but with nowhere else to go.

Landis has always had a fine touch with the music he chooses for his movies. In Slasher, the soundtrack is entirely from artists of Stax, the legendary Memphis recording studio. When Otis Redding sang “Shake” as Bennett closed deals or wailed “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” as it became apparent the sale was a flop, the songs fit the scenes perfectly.

The documentary was filmed in 2004 and one would think  these type of sales events would be in the past as manufacturers crack down on dealers with low customer satisfaction scores and ones hurting their hollowed “brand.” A quick search of youtube will show you otherwise.

Slasher is available through amazon.com or just watch this eight-minute “Making Of” feature and you will get the drift.

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13 Comments on “TTAC At The Movies: “Slasher”...”


  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Can’t remember where I read a survey about trusted (or untrusted) occupations and professions, and used car salesmen rated dead last.

  • avatar
    ciscokidinsf

    Agreed! This movie is amazing. WIsh you could stream it but you cant. Hard to find.

    ” Slasher ” really shows you a real side of car sales. The guy is amazing, goes through 6 packs like I through coffee. His knowledge of the biz is great. The hooks, the $88 car, The color coded badges. A Marketing MBA in a documentary.

    It also has a double meaning to me, I used to live in Memphis, about a mile down where that Toyota dealership is. So I know the neighborhood very well. (Its the only car franchise in a street full of trailers and strip clubs next to the airport) so it brings a lot of memories

    It also goes through what looks like a 3 hours negotiation to get a car sold. Its very funny & heartbreaking to see the deals come undone in the office. You feel the pressure and yes, the slow down in the middle is scary but real.

    You have to see the ending – you get what you pay for on a $88 car, although some folks do love their deal.

    Anyway, not enough praise. If you can find this movie – Watch it!

    • 0 avatar

      I found a DVD of it on Amazon; however I haven’t had a DVD player in three or four years. It’d be nice if it were on iTunes…

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I saw it on Amazon as well but like you would prefer to be able to download or stream it. Tried to find it on other parts of the Internet and all I can find is horror movies. Looks like Netflix has it on DVD but I’m on a streaming only plan at the moment.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    First thought: “F*** YOU, BALTIMORE!”

  • avatar
    sproc

    Definitely need to check this one out. I also highly recommend the This American Life episode “129 Cars”. Even if you generally don’t like the show, this one spends a month behind the scenes, uncensored, at a Jeep dealer trying desperately to make quotas. It’s terrific.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I second the 129 cars episode of This American Life. Especially if you’ve never sold cars or anything else before. I tried my hand at it for a week and realized I wasn’t a salesman.

  • avatar
    rdodger

    There is another movie out there about car salespeople called ‘Suckers’. Some of it was taken out of real situations that have happened at dealerships, but it is very entertaining. Dean Benzali is the GM of a dealership. Looks like it was made in 2001. Sales people will indentify with it to a degree.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’ve driven past the Dexter Lake Club dozens of times, never realized it was the Animal House roadhouse. I’ll have to stop in next time.

  • avatar

    Otis Redding may have been the best R&B singer ever and Hard To Handle may be the funkiest song ever. I still can’t figure out what he says at the end of the verses. The lyrics that I can find online say “Get around” but it sounds to me more like he’s singing “Yes I am”.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    “Movie director John Landis is probably best known for his 1978 comedy classic Animal House.”

    In a just world, movie director John Landis would be best remembered for his responsibility for the deaths of Vic Morrow and two small children on the set of his segment of Twilight Zone the Movie, in 1982.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    This looks great.

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