Another day, another slasher film. Such is the life working on the Nightmare Shift. Tonight’s feature is The Slumber Party Massacre. This film was released in 1982, smackdab in the golden age of the subgenre. That same year, Friday the 13th and Halloween received their second sequels, and A Nightmare on Elm Street was only a short ways away. Directed by Amy Holden Jones (not often you see a female director’s name attached to slasher film), The Slumber Party Massacre is a film I’ve known about and ignored for ages. And, I’ll be honest, – it was the “Slumber Party Massacre” name that made me so apprehensive. What are the odds this is a decent film? Like many of you, I’m smart enough to read between the lines. This is not the type of film you approach anticipating a breakthrough in filmmaking, but, a film you check your brain at the door with.
Written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown (huh), The Slumber Party Massacre’s concept is straightforward. It follows a high school senior who attends a slumber party, only to have a madman run rampant with a power drill. Curiously, the film was originally conceived as a parody of the slasher genre, but was shot as a straightforward horror film instead. This was much to the chagrin of writer Rita Mae Brown, and, ultimately, results in a more comedic finished product, where it sometimes feels intentional and sometimes doesn’t.
Calling The Slumber Party Massacre a thematic mishmash is an understatement. The tone is never clear, and sometimes, even, feels like it is clashing with itself. Sometimes the humor feels parodic, as I imagine it was originally perceived, like one of our slashers’ targets propping up a pizza box over a person’s corpse, and having a snack, and other times, it feels like it is trying to grip my attention.
The sexual component is prevalent as we’ve come to expect with the subgenre. By the opening scene, we’re met with full-frontal nudity, and it will be far from the last, ahem, set of full-frontal nudity we’re met with. I don’t care about that, of course, – sex sells, and, at a time before the internet, it obviously had a demand.
That in mind, it feels more prevalent in this film than the average eighties slasher flick. Maybe that’s a commentary on the genre that was ultimately played straight? It feels like there’re some flickers of commentary, here and there, but that they don’t work cohesively with the film itself. For instance, our antagonist wields a drill, which is a peculiar weapon of choice, but when he holds it phallically between his legs before going in for a kill, the symbolism becomes apparent. There are other aspects you’ll find sprinkled in as well, but, again, I don’t think they add up to anything concrete, likely because what was intended as a lampooning of the genre was realigned with the status quo. In the end, by removing any type of self-awareness or parody, it actually creates an awkward Revenge of the Nerds vibe, where everything’s creepy and cringeworthy, like the worst impulses of the subgenre cranked up to eleven.
The acting ranges from adequate to subpar, with certain characterizations and developments really doing a disservice. Meanwhile, the storyline is largely templatized, with most of its moments of suspense feeling like they were yanked out of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Let’s be real – Carpenter’s Halloween inspired a lot of slasher films. Nearly all of them, really. But, this one feels like it should be rubberstamped with that meme of Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Meanwhile, even though the film’s short-length is notable, it feels like there were times they had a lot of trouble finding ways to pad it out. The dialogue in this film caught my attention. It is definitely more perverse than what I’ve come to expect from eighties slashers. Like, in a modern horror, nothing you’d hear is uncommon and is fairly tame, but, for an eighties slasher film, it might make you blush.
One shot I did like was early on, our characters are on their way home after class and the camera angles itself so you can see a shot of a person dead inside a garbage receptacle, unbeknownst to them. It was simple and I wish they wouldn’t have zoomed it or drawn more attention to it after, like they did, however.
Our antagonist is, if nothing else, interesting, looking like a random guy (maybe that’s the point?) and seeing him chase people around with a drill is humorous, in a lightweight Leatherface kind of way. Sometimes when it shows him sneak up on his victims, I can see glimpses of how he may’ve worked as a slasher villain.
I wanted to like Slumber Party Massacre, I really did, but I really didn’t. Believe me, I like the idea of a 1980s slasher film “made by women, for women”, and, maybe, in some alternative universe, this film is that. Maybe Roger Corman and company shredded Rita Mae Brown’s script, maybe it would’ve stuck the landing better if they hadn’t tried to make a square-peg fit into a round-hole. That certainly makes sense! Unfortunately, as it is, I feel like it actually epitomizes the worst traits of a slasher film at times, and amounts to a generic, paint-by-the-numbers film at others.