Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Directed by Amy Holden Jones
Starring Robin Rochelle, Brinke Stevens, Jennifer Meyers
Rated R

"You know, I think your tits are getting bigger."

When Slumber Party Massacre was released in 1982, it garnered a goodly amount of ink for being the first "Feminist" slasher movie. The assumption was, since it was written and directed by two women, the film would have a pro-femme slant, a rarity in the largely misogynist world of teen-kill flicks. Well, maybe. Certainly, the overtly phallic murder weapon would suggest a little more self-awareness than usual, but if there's a feminist subtext in this goofy mess, it's pretty well-hidden. Girls get naked and die here, same as it ever was.

One thing I'll say for it - Slumber Party Massacre knows how to be economical in its narrative. For example, it opens at dawn, with a kid delivering newspapers. He tosses one onto someone's frontyard and the camera zooms in on the paper's headline: "Mass Murderer of 5 Russ Thorn Escapes." Blam. There's your fuckin' story, pal. It also lets us know early on that, despite the assertion that this is a sly slasher send-up, it still plans on following the rules. And so, we get our first topless girl at the two-minute mark.

After Trish (Michelle Michaels) is done showing us her boobs, she gets dressed and sees her parents off. They're going on vacation for a few days, leaving Trish to fend for herself. Mom informs Trish that nextdoor neighbor, Mr. Contant (Rigg Kennedy) will be around to keep an eye on her.

As her parents drive off, Trish tosses a bag of belongings into the trash, childhood trinkets like her old Barbie doll. She's just turned 18, and naturally thinks she's over kid's stuff like dolls. As she walks off to school, a hand digs into the trash, and snatches up the doll. This seems significant, but it's not, really.

Cut to: high school. Goofball Jeff (David Millbern) hits on Mary (Jean Vargas), a pretty telephone repair lady. He gets rebuffed, and as he's walking away, she opens up the sliding door of her work van. Someone inside the van grabs her, pulls her in, and slams the door shut. The unseen assailant pulls out an oversized drill, and jams it through her skull.

Cut to: girls' gym class, which quickly follows with a shower scene, complete with ample nudity, including a lingering shot of Brinke Stevens' impossibly tight rear-end.

Over the course of the steamy showers and catty chit-chat, a plan for the evening develops. Given that she's got a parentless house for the weekend, Trish is going to throw a slumber party with her snotty clique of girls. She may also ask Valerie (Robin Rochelle, RIP), the resident gitl-who-nobody-likes-for-no-good-reason, as well. Why not?

"She drinks too much milk," grouses Diane.
"Maybe you just have to get to know her," offers Trish.
"I hate people I have to get to know," hisses Diane.

The kids all head off for her home, blissfully unaware that there's a killer in their midst. Mary's body lies in the school dumpster, and the driller killer is still sitting in her van, waiting for his next victim. He does not have to wait for long.

Studious Linda (Brinke Stevens) forgot one her schoolbooks in her locker, and she heads back to retrieve it. Her gym teacher, Coach Rachel (Pamela Roylance) warns her that the doors are about to chained up for the night, and Linda soon finds herself locked in the school. Naturally, she's not alone.

While Linda is out getting snuffed and the gym teacher is busy getting a new peephole drilled into her front door, Trish is at home, banging on the piano, waiting for her party to start. She hears a noise outside her door and creeps over to investigate, but is startled when a hand grabs her from behind. She whirls around to find that it's just ol' Hawaiian-shirted goofball Mr. Contant, checking up on her. He apologizes for spooking her and offers to stay there with her until her friends arrive. Alright, so he's clearly not the denim-demon driller killer, but this fucker is up to something, that's for sure.

Meanwhile next door, Valerie wears Sergio Valente jeans and makes a pitcher of Kool Aid with her little sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyers). So, that's happening. The party is on at this point.

So far, it's just three chicks smoking weed and talkin' about penises. Then the girls strip off their clothes and slip into something more comfortable, which is nice.

Unfortunately, that's the last significant event for many grueling minutes. False scares abound: Diane runs into Mr. Contant, Valerie's sister 'playfully' stalks her with a knife, and the guys come over to Trish's and yank out electrical fuses, throwing them into darkness. Later on, Diane's boyfriend shows up, and she agrees to make out with him in Trish's garage. He actually gets one of his mitts on her meaty right breast, so we get to see that, at least. But then the driller killer rips his fuckin' head off.

By the way, there's never any question that all the killing are being committed by Russ Thorn (Michael Villella), so all the red herrings along the way are pretty useless. Mr. Contant, for example, only exists to arouse suspicion in viewers, and yet we know he's not the killer, because we've already seen the killer half a dozen times. So why bother?

Anyway, in of the most iconic shots in horror history, Thorn next sets his sights on Diane. She crumples to the floor and cowers in the corner. The killer stands over her, his oversized weapon/penis substitute dangling menacingly from between his legs. Feminism!

And then the pizza guy shows up - with both his eyes drilled out. The guys try to run for help. One of 'em starts banging away at Valerie's door, but she's too involved in a scary movie to notice. So, that dude got massacred. The girls, meanwhile, get hungry, so they eat the dead pizza guy's pizza. Why not?

While they're chowing away, their boyfriends are outside getting sliced and diced. Jackie, the gregarious black chick (Andree Honore), pokes her head out the door to see what's happening, and she gets a drill to the jugular for her efforts. In another classic shot, Valerie and Courtney show up at the house to see what's going on. Courtney suggests they raid the fridge for beer, and when she opens it, one of the dead girls flops out.

Mr. Thorn wanders around the house, dragging all the bodies down to the basement. Then, his grisly work finished, he grabs a blanket and takes a nap on the living room floor. Coach Rachel shows up and wakes our slumbering serial killer so that she might fight him with a poker. Valerie, meanwhile, is zooming up the basement stairs, wielding a circular saw. But will the electric cord be long enough? Or should she just pluck that inconspicuous machete from the wall and hack the fucker into little bits?

In conclusion: top notch cinematography, pretty girls, generous lashings of slasher gore, and an often witty script still cannot make up for the meandering script. Also, we never get any sort of back-story or motivation for the killer. Ok, I get the power drill, but why the tight denim and the cowboy boots? And what's your problem anyway, Mr Thorn? What's with all the lady killin'?

You would imagine these questions would be answered in the sequels, but sadly, they are not. Worth it for the pervasive 80's atmosphere, some very nice photography, and a naked Brinke Stevens in her prime, but not the classic slasher you might expect.

Director Jones went on to make Maid to Order (1987), a clunky fish-out-of-water comedy starring Ally Sheedy. Then she wrote a bunch of dog movies. Cinematographer Steve Posey shot a lot of 80's sleaze, including Savage Streets (1984), Hellhole (1985), American Drive-in (1985) and Welcome to 18 (1986), and then spent the next decade directing genre TV, including episodes of Buffy and Deep Space Nine.

Clip: Slumber Party Massacre trailer.

Availability: Slumber Party Massacre is available on DVD.

- Ken McIntyre

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