Many years before Wes Craven managed to pull a similar trick with Scream, The Slumber Party Massacre gave horror fans something that not only essentially played as a straight slasher film, but simultaneously stood as an amusing dig at the sub-genres already firmly established conventions.
|Director: Amy Holden Jones; Deborah Brock; Sally Mattison
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella; Crystal Bernard, Jennifer Rhodes, Kimberly McArthur; Yan Birch, Brandi Burkett, Hope Marie Carlton
Screenplay: Rita Mae Brown; Deborah Brock; Catherine Cyran
Credited by some as a happy accident, though Director Amy Jones claims she fully intended to play up its comedic elements all along, The Slumber Party Massacre is a rare case of a film that manages to have it both ways. Famously written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown as a parody (paying special attention to the obvious phallic nature of the killer's 'instrument'), then produced under the legendary Roger Corman's New World Pictures as a serious horror film, it effectively plays it's scenes straight down the line, with humour coming chiefly from the gratuities and clichés of the genre.
Like most films of its type the story couldn't be simpler. A bunch of girls decide to have a slumber party. A maniac is on the loose. Death ensues. With some obvious inspiration taken from Halloween's general structure, in true Corman style it ups it's natural exploitive elements delivering plenty of attractive girls with little or no clothing, and a bunch of rather bloody death scenes that thankfully slipped by the MPAA in the stricter days of 1982.
There's also some well penned dialogue for the sub-genre along with a few nice directional touches, including some effective instances of events playing out in the background while our characters carry on unawares. Particularly memorable is a scene in which a girl opens and closes a fridge door during a conversation, completely oblivious to the dead body inside.
The film's only real downfall is surprisingly - the killer. A maniac with an electric drill, a perfectly fine idea for this kind of film, so long as the resulting villain manages to intimidate. He doesn't. Part of the problem is that actor Michael Villella just doesn't present much of an imposing figure in the film, only to be compounded by the audience seeing his face right from the start, eliminating any possibility of mystery or even the creepiness you get from a masked stalker. Villella stated later in interview that he modelled his movements on that of a peacock. I tend to believe that he shouldn't have...
But despite any shortcomings The Slumber Party Massacre still stands as an enjoyable little genre piece. It's good trashy fun all round; cheeky enough to enjoy as parody, and serious enough that many audience members didn't even notice! Either way you slice it it's a gem that belongs in every slasher fans collection.
Picking up 5 years later, Slumber Party Massacre II follows Courtney (Crystal Bernard), the sister of a character from part 1 as she finds herself attending a slumber party with her friends. Pretty soon she's haunted by strange dreams relating to her experiences in the first, and a new 'driller killer' who might just be beginning to manifest in reality.
To say this sequel's quite a different beast would be an understatement. While the first could be mistaken for a straight slasher film, II wears it campy intentions right on its sleeve. What's more, it shift's completely away from the original's Halloween-esc formula and cheekily straight into Nightmare on Elm Street territory, delivering something far more unpredictable and wacky than it's by contrast traditional predecessor.
The cheesier elements especially work a treat here, like the band aspect that sees our heroine in an all girl rock group with her friends. The result is a bunch of fun 80's moments with the girls all jamming and dancing around and the like, one of which amusingly involves the removal of blouses during a slow motion pillow fight. The new Nightmare-ish approach also brings with it the odd inventive kill, which also adds to the 'anything can happen' feel the movie certainly embraces.
Unfortunately the movie's generally less exploitive than its predecessor, which means much less nudity and blood, and the campier elements ultimately drag the film down into silliness in the final third to the point where it actually ceases to work at all.
It's a shame because there is enjoyment to be had here. The cute female cast are actually pretty good all things considered, and the angle, while derivative, is novel enough. The killer; a 50's greaser nut job with a large guitar drill could have probably also worked minus the musical numbers ... maybe? Ok, so probably not.
Yes, this sequel's a bit of a letdown. It strangely entertains, but it suffers from a severe lack of focus and a bad case of tonal schizophrenia, culminating in a truly disastrous climax. While some may embrace those aspects of the film, slasher fans craving something closer to a genuine horror movie will likely end up feeling somewhat jibbed.
Released in 1990, Slumber Party Massacre III goes completely the other way, forgoing its predecessor's winks and campiness entirely. The story, playing out much like the first, see's a typical group of teens attend a slumber party with the expected dollop of driller maniac.
On paper it sounds fine, if certainly at odds with the series general tone, but the results are disappointingly run-of-the-mill and dull. Yes, there's some T&A here, though it's decidingly less fun this time around. And the customary couple of bloody kills are present too, albeit uninspired.
The cast and dialogue are downright weak (yes, even by slasher standards) and the photography and staging are about only on par with your middle-of-the-road 80's TV movie. Director Sally Mattison - someone who possesses absolutely no interest and/or knowledge of the genre - took the reins just for the chance to direct, and it shows. Taking the material far too seriously, she robs it of much of its playfulness, resulting in a film that completely lacks the charm that made the first two films notable.
There isn't a whole lot more to be said about Slumber Party Massacre III. It is what it is, and that's an unimaginative timewaster that plays like a less effective and strangely serious minded retread of the first. Slasher obsessive's will still get some enjoyment out of it no doubt. Everyone else: be warned.