Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #507
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 12, 1982
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 77 minutes
Director: Amy Holden Jones
Producers: Amy Holden Jones, Roger Corman
Screenplay: Amy Holden Jones
Based on Don’t Open The Door by Rita Mae Brown
Special Effects: Larry S. Carr, Rick Lazzarini
Cinematography: Stephen L. Posey
Score: Ralph Jones
Editing: Wendy Greene Bricmont, Sean Foley
Studio: Santa Fe Productions
Distributor: New World Pictures
Stars: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra Deliso, Andree Honore, Gina Smika Hunter, Jennifer Meyers, Joseph Alan Johnson, David Millbern, Jim Boyce, Pamela Roylance, Brinke Stevens, Rigg Kennedy, Jean Vargas
Suggested Audio Candy:
Ralph Jones Main Title
After the worldwide success of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th and the predictable glut of knock-offs that arrived hot on its heels, it was only going to be a matter of time before somebody attempted to have a little fun with the formula. Mickey Rose and Michael Ritchie were first out of the gate but their 1981 slasher parody Student Bodies barely caused a ripple in the marketplace. Far more intriguing was The Slumber Party Massacre which arrived a year later with the similar goal of sending up the rapidly populating sub-genre. There are a couple of reasons why this is still remembered over thirty years on and, let’s be honest, quality ain’t one of them.
Firstly, it single-handedly pioneered its very own trend. If you ever wondered where the inspiration came from for the likes of Sorority House Massacre, Cheerleader Massacre and a whole host of other knowing low-rent dorm slashers then look no further. I’m not sure we should be thankful for that one. More relevent is the fact that it was written by a woman and directed by one also. When you consider that the movement was habitually criticized for its misogynistic treatment of the fairer sex, it made for a mouth-watering proposition to see it deconstructed by female hands.
Rita Mae Brown’s script, originally titled Don’t Open the Door, was designed with the sole intention of poking fun at the genre and director Amy Holden Jones used its prologue to create a nine-minute promo reel for next to nothing. After attracting the interest of Roger Corman and securing the $200k required to get the project off the ground, she spent a month rewriting the screenplay and renaming it The Slumber Party Massacre. To this day, Jones insists that it should be regarded as a comedy although she refrained from mentioning this to her cast, who played it straight down the line. The resulting film is a curious beast as while, it does contain moments of humor, most of the laughs on offer are unintentional.
Barely a minute has passed before we are presented with our first pair of bouncing breasts and only a handful more before the customary lingering locker room wash down. It amuses me no end that the naysayers would already have been sharpening their knives at this point, ready to call its director out on his blatantly perverse approach, only to discover that he was in fact a she. The simple fact is that sex sells and Jones certainly wasn’t about to cut her nose off to spite her face so she promptly followed suit. Whether she was making a damning critique on the usual slasher tropes or simply conforming to them matters not, what is important is that she was aware what audiences wanted to see and delivered it without dalliance.
The plot couldn’t really be more bare bones if it tried. With her parents out-of-town for the weekend, high school senior Trish (Michelle Michaels) is preparing to throw a slumber party for the girls. However, she happens to pick the worst possible evening for her soirée as it conveniently coincides with the escape of convicted killer and mental patient Russ Thorn (Michael Villella). Thorn is already skulking around campus and testing out his oversized drill so, when he hears of her plans for a killer party, naturally he presumes that he is on the guest list. Meanwhile, new girl Valerie (Robin Stille) declines her invite but just so happens to live directly next door, putting her just as much in jeopardy as the mean girls she doesn’t feel like mingling with. Game on.
Ralph Jones End Titles
Of course, no slumber party would be complete without a handful of gate crashing jocks to make up numbers. No sooner have the girls started peeling off their blouses, than the usual hormone-fuelled suspects appear right on cue and scupper any hopes of this being a girls only affair. None of this matters a jot to our psychopath as he isn’t fussy on gender but, needless to say, the boys don’t fare so well. As for the hapless pizza delivery guy, well he barely even makes it up the garden path before being considered surplus to requirements. Meanwhile, outcast Valerie and her petulant younger sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers) are tired of watching reruns and decide to pay their neighbors a visit.
At a decidedly brisk 77 minutes, The Slumber Party Massacre doesn’t concern itself with playing the patient game any longer than is necessary and, once the party is in full swing, numbers are whittled down with increasing velocity. Alas, this comes at the expense of anything regarding tension, making this a strictly by-the-numbers affair. Moreover, the killer’s identity is never in question and he opts for two-piece denim as opposed to concealing his features behind a mask, detracting from his stature considerably. To Villella’s credit, he has the wild eyes act very much down to pat and deliberately chose against mingling with the other cast members during shooting to increase his menace but he’s a far cry from The Shape and hardly represents the stuff of nightmares.
What is worthy of note is the signature weapon he uses to make his point. The ludicrously oversized drill is phallic in the extreme and clearly a commentary on the way that male killers compensate for their pent-up sexual frustration. This is never more literal than the moment when he stands astride one cowering female victim with whirring drill bit at full stretch between his legs as he prepares for penetration. Sadly, any splatter is fleetingly observed and many of the dispatches occur off-screen but Jones does what she can with the limited resources at her disposal.
It’s ironic that The Slumber Party Massacre was originally intended as a parody and marketed as the opposite as it ultimately falls between the two stalls and struggles to make an impression either as light-hearted romp or straight-out slasher. Having said that, in the correct company and with a little liquor on-hand to dumb our senses, there’s fun to be had for sure. While its offbeat tone may not suit the more refined palate, it does precisely what it states on the tin and, for that reason alone, I guess that Jones achieved what she set out to. Just don’t forget the copious alcohol.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There is no questioning the validity of the word massacre as our blue jean killer notches up an impressive kill tally. However, most of the grue comes courtesy of after-the-act injury detail as opposed to actual on-screen butchery. There’s a decapitated head, chopped off hand and one pair of gouged out eyes but precious little else to sicken your grandmother. Jones fares much better on the skin front and her lens is just as roving as any of her male counterparts.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015