Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

‘The Slumber Party Massacre’ is one of the most well known slashers of the sub-genre’s early 80’s golden age more so than anything else for its title and for that famous poster artwork (see above). The film is all too often cast aside due to its typical flat style of filmmaking, employing just a point and shoot mentality at the gory murder set-pieces displaying a exploitative nature and entailing a basic premise with a non-existent plot, wafer thin characterisation and bad acting (although the girls here are a generally likable bunch). All of this is synonymous with the slasher movies of this era. However, it is a better film than it is given credit for. Dig a little deeper into its production history and you will find, as I am sure many hardcore genre fans already know is that beneath all this is actually a smart feminist spoof of the sub-genre trying to get out from its screenplay to the screen. This largely contributes to the movie’s cult status along with that it is also just a very enjoyable slice of cheesy entertaining slasher shenanigans.

A Brief synopsis here, as not much is needed. A group of attractive 18-year-old high school girls decide to have a slumber party while the parents of one of them are away. Before their basketball game and before they plan this slumber party in a particular shower scene a telephone repair woman is murdered outside of the school in her van by an escaped mass murderer Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) who does so with his fondness of using a power drill. He takes the van and follows them to the house where the slumber party is taking place. Next door neighbor and new girl at the school Valerie Bates (Robin Stille) who turned down an invitation to the party is babysitting and turns out to be the final girl that faces off against Thorn in the film’s climax.

Originally intended to be specifically a satirical stab (pun intended) at the slasher’s conventions with its commentary from a feminist point of view by screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, an author and feminist activist, the film’s also female director Amy Holden Jones decided to play it straight interpreting the script as serious. The result on screen then is something of an oddity as whatever Brown was aiming for with her screenplay to an extent gets lost in the seriousness Jones injects into her material. Although, the writer’s original vision does leak out from time to time. Throughout the course of the movie and sometimes in the space of just one scene, the tonal feel shifts from seriousness to intentional humour and then to unintended laughs due to some shoddy execution and we get the entire geek show; everything that we expect and also want if you are a fan of the slasher sub-genre is here. The director purposely elevates all the common elements that we are used to seeing - immensely nasty kill sequences that are executed in a brutally over the top fashion and also more than generous amounts of gratuitous T & A.

The latter there is perfectly illustrated in a prolonged scene in a shower room where we are treated to our soon to be victims’ young naked bodies getting all wet and soapy after a basketball game. The first shot here is a close-up from the knees up of the back of one of the high school girls Linda (the beautiful Brinke Stevens) as she enters the shower room with a towel wrapped around her waist that she quickly removes to reveal her peach of an arse. As she walks in the camera tilts up to reveal the rest of the girls already taking their showers. The camera then goes to another close-up of her from the chest up as she takes her shower turning around so we can get a look at her supple breasts. As she turns back around and starts talking to her friend next to her the camera pans across to her friend on the left of the screen and then panning down her back just to show us her soaped up wet cheeks. Of course, when the girl next to her on her left asks her for the soap she needs to turn around to do so to show us her boobs.

As far as the deaths go, well I am just going to touch upon those as so to avoid spoilers for anybody who has yet to see this slasher gem as these are by far and away the best shot sequences of the film and its true main highlights. That is not saying much as nothing on the technical side really stands out. As I stated before, it is just a matter here of pointing the camera at the action and editing it well enough (and the shots of these set-pieces are put together very well) to make sure all of this gruesomeness is captured on screen in loving detail. All I will say is there are some memorably mean spirited kills.

So instead of bitingly deconstructing these components the filmmakers here are instead making fun of their own viewers. 14 years later in 1996 with Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’ writer Kevin Williamson dissected the slasher so meticulously perfecting it so it would actually serve as a survival guide for his characters against the horror film obsessed killer who was using those very same conventions and clichés as the game he was playing with his victims. Williamson respected his audience but here the writer and director just play on all of these generic elements to amp it up to considerable levels; unlike Kevin Williamson they never try to do anything new with it as if to say “this is all you have come to see and all that you want so we are going to give it to you and then some”. You just have to look at the aforementioned shower room scene with its lingering shots of female flesh purposely focusing on their naughty bits for no other reason than to give the audience an eye full. Just look at the over the top murder set-pieces and whatever other obviously elaborately emphasized upon ingredient that makes up the slasher formula. 

Insulting maybe but being a fan of the slasher sub-genre myself, I do not take any offence and neither should any other fan. This is exactly what I expected from a movie of this ilk and being the kind of entertainment I like to seek out sometimes then what is to complain about as it is all here in spades. I am perfectly aware of the slasher’s illogical inconsistences and pitfalls but often I can put it all to one side and enjoy the viewing experience for what it is. Considering this film knows all too well what it is, and many horror fans such as me already know the slasher film like the back of our hands then we are all in on the joke anyway. This is very much how the satirical commentary on the sub-genre works here.

A perfect representation of the feminist angle here can be seen in the movies finale. The killer’s monologue nearing the movie’s conclusion: “You're pretty. All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to... do this. You know you want it. You'll like it. Yes...". Thorn’s drill is a phallic symbol and coupled with the dialogue I interpret this as Brown commentating on how the slasher sub-genre is seen entirely through the male gaze and is mysogynistic and sexist with evidence of this also in that shower room scene. This is made even more apparent at the film’s blood soaked end when Valerie takes away the killer’s tool. As she does so using a machete to cut off the end of Thorn’s power drill, it is in every way just like a castration.

If you look at the ‘The Slumber Party Massacre’ as just another straight 80’s slasherthon approaching it as a piece of nostalgia if you are likened to this type of horror filmmaking especially from this era then the movie works just fine for those purposes. If you try to look at it as a satire of all the characteristic traits that define the sub-genre then it all comes over as being rather confused with its unevenness - the writer is going for parody but the director is opting for a serious angle instead. This does not though make the film any less entertaining or any less interesting if you just take the stronger elements of what is actually there on the screen from the script as a fair bit of sub-text. Overall, recommended.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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