TTAC At The Movies: "Slasher"

Steve Lynch
by Steve Lynch

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.

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.

Steve Lynch
Steve Lynch

More by Steve Lynch

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 13 comments
  • Gottacook Gottacook on May 12, 2015

    "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.

  • Crabspirits Crabspirits on May 12, 2015

    This looks great.

  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is delaying an oil change for my Highlander by a couple of weeks, as it prevented me from getting an appointment before a business trip out of town. Oh well, much worse things have happened.I also just got a dealership oil change for my BMW (thanks, loss-leader prepaid plans!) and this didn't seem to affect them at all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Gonna need more EV fuel.
Next