Bird Watching – “The Slumber Party Massacre” series
This week, I’m continuing my quest to fill in some of the holes in my track record as a horror lover, as a part of Women in Horror month. Last week I finally watched Pet Sematary, and this week I’m visiting the Slumber Party Massacre series for the first time. I was eager to finally dive into this series, because all three films were both written and directed by women. The series was recently released for (I believe) the first time on DVD by Shout! Factory, a company that will always be beloved by me because of their unspeakably kick-ass special edition of Freaks and Geeks, which is among the first things I would grab if my house was on fire.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and its two sequels (1987 and 1990) were produced by the legendary Roger Corman. I watched all three films in one day, and the first is far superior to parts two and three (not shocking, of course). The original, directed by Amy Holden Jones, is a bit scattered in tone, but has a script and acting that rise above a lot of basic slashers. The plot is very basic: Trish (Michelle Michaels) is throwing an old-fashioned slumber party for her girlfriends while her parents are away, no boys allowed (yeah, right). She invites the new girl, Valerie (Robin Stille), who declines, having overhead Trish’s friends saying mean things about her. But Valerie lives right across the street, and she and her little sister will eventually come to the rescue, as crazed lunatic and escaped convict Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) descends upon Trish’s house, murdering every girl or party-crasher boyfriend who wanders away from the group for a second, and also a poor pizza guy who never stood a chance.
Thorn’s murder weapon of choice is a giant drill, which is among the least subtle phallic symbols in the history of film and literature. Russ himself looks pretty much like a regular guy, wandering around in a red t-shirt, jeans and denim jacket. He’s shown full-on and close up almost from the beginning of his rampage, which is rare among this type of slasher film. Russ has none of the mystery of a Michael Myers, or supernatural creepiness of a Jason or a Freddy Kreuger. But honestly, as giggle-inducing as it is, that drill is also a very frightening weapon that imbues the kill scenes with an extra sense of sickening dread, its sound filling the atmosphere in a way that is more urgent than even the most iconic music theme can accomplish.
The film was written by Rita Mae Brown, a respected writer and feminist activist. Brown is perhaps best known for her novel Rubyfruit Jungle, which deals with lesbian themes among young characters in a frank way that was a bit unusual for mainstream literature at the time of its publication, in 1973 (yes, I’ve read it). I’ve read from a few sources that her script was meant to be a parody or satire of the slasher genre, and beyond that giant penis that serves as the murder weapon, there are definitely other aspects that speak to that. Characters keep ignoring or switching off radios warning of the escaped psychopath; there are multiple scenes that serve only to provide an opportunity for the girls to be naked—and no group of girls has ever been more comfortable being naked in front of each other than this group; and even after the pizza guy’s grisly demise, the ladies eat the pizza (hilarious).
Still, despite some awesome ingredients, in execution the film is a little all over the place, and that weakens it. Some kill scenes are over-the-top to the point of being funny, while others are legitimately tense and suspenseful. The film doesn’t go far enough to be a true satire, and it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be on par with something like, say, Halloween. But there are many details here that had me appreciating the film overall, most especially the great dialogue and the focus on several of the girls as individual characters, particularly Valerie and her sister, Courtney. (A conversation between the two of them about a Playgirl magazine has won a special place in my heart.) And, in the end, we get to have not one, not two, but THREE final girls, and they all get to kick a little ass, which I thought to be quite satisfying.
Following the good times of movie number one, the less said about Slumber Party Masscare II, the better. Written and directed by Deborah Brock, it’s a complete disaster. (It pains me to admit this, but—women can make terrible films, too!) One of our final girls from the original film has somehow developed the power to channel forth a serial killer from her dreams, and he sings the world’s worst rock and roll songs while slaughtering them. The massacre doesn’t even begin until we’ve been subjected to 50 minutes of absolute idiocy from a group of characters that don’t have a clever line of dialogue between them. But they do sing their own terrible songs…and have a champagne-fueled pillow fight…which I think is supposed to be funny (I think). After this horrid, inexplicable mess, the mere typical badness of Slumber Party Massacre III was a welcome relief. The third adventure, written by Catherine Cyran and directed by Sally Mattison, has nothing to do with the first two, except that the killer uses a drill. The one reason I would recommend watching this third film is if you are doing research on what slashers have the very stupidest pool of victims. This one is definitely in the running.
After this marathon, I believe I’m slashered-out for a bit. Next week: zombies!