Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE
I defy anyone not to find some enjoyment in The Slumber Party Massacre. It’s about the most fun you can have with the overcooked conventions of the slasher film: nubile girls gathered away from adult supervision and a psycho killer boring holes into them with a big phallic powerdrill.
But as a franchise, how does it pan out? One word: Cheap.
A.k.a. Sleepless Nights; Slumber Party Murders (original UK video)
“Close your eyes for a second…and sleep forever.”
Director: Amy Holden Jones / Writer: Rita Mae Brown / Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra DeLiso, Andree Honore, Gina Mari, Jennifer Meyers, Joseph Alan Johnson, David Millbern, Jim Boyce, Pamela Roylance, Brinke Stevens, Ryan Kennedy.
Body Count: 12
Dire-logue: “What do you have against Valerie anyway?” / “Nothing…she drinks too much milk.”
Once upon a time, feminists thought slasher movies were a bit offensive to women. There was a lot of woman-as-victim artwork and a fair wad of female naked flesh on show (although it’s worth noting that only 21% of the 553 slasher flicks I’ve seen have more female then male victims).
It wouldn’t be long, therefore, before somebody attempted to reverse the trend and, not so much make a slasher flick for girls, but one that bends the unwritten rules concerning femininity and lunatic killers. The Slumber Party Massacre was originally scripted under the name Sleepless Nights by bisexual feminist author Rita Mae Brown as a parody that was altered by Roger Corman’s production company, who attempted to film it straight, which resulted in an oddly endearing little film with a lot of intentional (and unintentional) humour.
Eighteen-year-old Trish is left alone for the weekend by her folks and decides to invite the girls from her basketball team over. Unknown to her – or she did know and just didn’t give a shit – a homicidal loon has escaped from the local institute blah-de-blah-blah and turns up at her school where he offs a couple of poor maidens who’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, one of whom is Brinke Stevens in her first ‘major’ role.
Kim, Jackie and Diane come over, as do some horny boys, but new-girl Valerie (who conveniently lives across the street) turned Trish down when she overheard Diane dissing her in the locker room. Girl shoulda hit that beyatch up high. Or something.
The driller killer, a fellow of all of five-seven in a denim ensemble, soon appears with his portable power drill and begins doing in the nosy neighbour, and members of the group who venture outside for the usual contrived reasons. Eventually, the killer makes his presence known and attempts to raise help are foiled until Valerie and her precocious little sister Courtney come over to check things out and the remaining girls pool their resources and counter attack the psycho.
The Slumber Party Massacre is nothing special in terms of its look or pastiche-style approach to the genre: it’s a very downmarket production, albeit one that’s pieced together competently enough and acted no worse than anything else from the same era.
The light-hearted playfulness and shallow subtext of the film is what sells it: the pizza delivery scene is gold and when Valerie finally takes on the gnome-like killer, she does so by first hacking off the end of his big, hard…drill. I mean, look at the poster art, a man straddling four cute girls with the drill bit pointed erect in their direction!? It doesn’t get much more phallocentric.
SPM was about the only film before Scream to allow more than one teenage girl to make it out intact. Previously – and in most films that came afterwards – several guys could be left standing but only ever one girl, possibly part of the issue to which feminists took umbrage, as it was common for such a girl to be one who embodied ‘traditional female’ attributes – despite the fact she always kicked ass at the end!
It’s lucky Valerie comes to the rescue, she can operate all manner of powertools of her own (see this Ridiculous scene o’ the month) and swing her machete with vigour. But the other surviving girls lend a hand too.
There’s some decent camera work, interesting kills and plenty of dark humour (the fridge bit is the epitome of awesome) and it never outstays its welcome at a lean 77 minutes. The killer is almost entirely unfrightening but therein lies the appeal of The Slumber Party Massacre, it’s idiotic amusement with more heart than most of its contemporaries.
A.k.a. Don’t Let Go
Director/Writer: Deborah Brock / Cast: Crystal Bernard, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Atanas Ilitch, Patrick Lowe, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Cynthia Eilbacher, Jennifer Rhodes.
Body Count: 8
Dire-logue: “Maybe, just maybe… there is a psycho running around here.”
The Bangles. Remember the Bangles? Pop-rock quartet of the mid-80s who sang about shit Mondays, fire that won’t die and walking around like you’re from the middle east? They were cool – imagine if they did a slasher movie where they were terrorised by Elvis. A shit slasher film where they were terrorised by Elvis.
Slumber Party Massacre II allegedly picks up five years after the first film. Valerie’s bratty little sis Courtney is now 17 and a member of an all-girl pop-rock quartet of the mid-80s not called the Bangles. In fact, I don’t think they ever let on what the band is called. Let’s refer to them as the Snap-Ons after those cool braceletty things of said era.
Courtney still has nightmares about that night, but in her dreams the driller killer is no longer pint-sized loon Russ Thorn but the ghost of a 50s rocker whose drillbit extends from the neck of his guitar who is about as scary as Jimmy Ray with a Black and Decker. You remember Jimmy Ray, don’t you?
Despite omens to the contrary, Courtney thinks it’s a good idea to go off with the Snap-Ons for a weekend at Sheila’s parents’ new condo. Her love interest Matt will be there and a couple of other dickhead guys who’re more interested in getting in the girls’ panties than their elevator-brand of melodic rock-pop. Actually, the second song they do isn’t so bad, though it comes after a long montage of girly dancing and topless pillowfights.
SPM II becomes just another Elm Street rip-off before long. Courtney’s dreams seem to spill over into reality – even one where’s she’s in a bubble bath and spooky shit begins to happen; her friend Sally’s zit also morphs into a super-gross pimple-from-hell and bursts all over her. Yuck.
The driller killer manages to cross over from her dreams and start turning holes in her friends, who, up until now, have pretty much laughed off her rantings as “taking too many diet pills, dude!” Sucks to them, then, as they each feel the sharp end of the guitar-o-drill.
Now shit gets really weird: it becomes a musical. A fucking musical. Possibly the first of its kind (and I’ve sat through Sssshhh… and Kucch to Hai). So, the teens begin to flee, the killer able to appear wherever the nearest smoke-machine has been wheeled in, laugh, drill ‘em, say something unfunny and blow kisses at Courtney, then stops to sing a rock n’ roll song or two. How long would the 76 minute film be without this crap and a never ending chase through a half-built condo? Things aren’t helped by a twist that makes no sense whatsoever.
Ultimately, it’s always nice to see a couple of familiar slasher movie faces; Juliette Cummins was Robin in Friday the 13th Part V and Heidi Kozak was Sandra in Part VII, but the cheapness of the project, annoying stabs at being funny and the randomness of it all (common in late-80s slashers) shoot drill it in the foot.
If you were to televise a talent contest of slasher movie killers, I think all the driller killers would fare badly. We’ve had the garden gnome un-forebodingness of Russ Thorn and his B*Witched-esque denim wardrobe, and now Teen Angel gone bad with a shitty guitar and shittier songs. Surely the next film will feature a truly unnerving bad guy…?
“It’s driller time…and this bit’s for you!”
Director: Sally Mattison / Writer: Catherine Cyran / Cast: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, Maria Claire, Brandi Burkett, Maria Ford, David Lawrence, Hope Marie Carlton, David Krieger, David Greenlee, Lulu Wilson, Garon Grigsby, M.K. Harris, Devon Jenkin, Marta Kober, Yan Birch.
Body Count: 12
Dire-logue: “You don’t just kill someone who’s lying there!”
In terms of production quality, this is probably the best of the original ‘trilogy’. If these films were being shot now, SPM III would likely be classed as a ‘reboot’. With nowt to do with the first two films, things kick off again with a new group of gal-pals in California.
Main chick Jackie is the host of the party this time as she’s going to be moving away with her parents, much to the disappointment of her friends. With the folks away scouting out new homes, Jackie invites Diane, Maria, Janine, Susie, Juliette and Sarah over for a girlie night in. Sarah never shows up because a drill-toting ‘mystery’ killer was waiting for her in the backseat of her car.
The biggest disappointment in the film is the killer’s identity, not because of who it is but the fact that both the back of the box and the trailer make no attempt to disguise it, yet the film goes almost an hour before revealing who it is. In the meantime, there are suspects in Jackie’s uber-strange neighbour, who she finds in her house when she comes home from the beach. Then there’s the weird guy who was spying on them at said beach. He’s lurking too.
Several boyfriends crash the party and the killing soon begins. Isn’t it strange how all three of the films (and to a lesser extent the ‘fourth’ one too) trade on the USP of scantily clad girls being drilled, yet in all of them there are almost as many boys around, none of whom ever survive the carnage. Why aren’t they on the DVD covers in their skivvies, eh? No, really…why?
- There’s plenty of victims
- There’s plenty of suspects
- There’s a trademark weapon
- There’s a lot of tits
What else could you want, other than a modicum of intelligence. The fact that this is the only film to take itself completely seriously undermines a lot of what happens. The girls are shockingly reluctant to fight back (it’s 1990 girls, not 1920), allowing more of them than is necessary to get drilled to death. Fortunately, it takes more cues from the original when they finally band together with admirable ferocity and gang up on the actually rather weedy looking loon, who has some shitty contrived motive about being impotent and/or molested – quite possibly by the rockabilly dream driller from SPM II.
Despite being ‘of the 90s’ – when the genre truly collapsed until Scream - things look very dated and 80s. The girls dance around their living room in a variety of memorable fashion ensembles. The cast – the best of all the films in terms of ‘known’ faces – features a couple of Playboy girls while several of the others look too similar with their bobbed hair. In fact, the professional glamour models look a million miles away from the rather ordinary girls who do most of the acting. Susie has an appealing Winona Ryder quality about her. Maria attempts to use pop-psychology and sex to calm the killer down…
OK so it’s a rubbish film on most levels but hardcore slasher nuts will doubtlessly derive some joy from its predictable elements, not to mention death by vibrator and another by for sale sign. Good piece o’ banter: “Gimme that poker.” / “Jackie, you’re not going down there.” / “Besides, they’re tongs.”
Look out for Marta Kober – Sandra from Friday the 13th Part 2 - as the pizza delivery girl.
A.k.a. Slumber Party Massacre IV
Director: Jim Wynorski / Writer: Lenny Juliano / Cast: Tamie Sheffield, Charity Rahmer, Erin Byron, Lunk Johnson, E. Eddie Edwards, GiGi Enreta, Elizabeth Short, Tylo Tyler, Brad Beck, Summer Williams, Brinke Stevens.
Body Count: 13
Dire-logue: “I knew today was gonna suck when we got those stale donuts.”
Gotta love the opening cliche: no less than 29 seconds in, a girl in a tent hears a strange noise and sends her boyfriend outside to investigate.
So, is this the fourth film in the series or not? Hmm, who knows. It’s the only one not directed by a woman so maybe not. Wynorski directed Sorority House Massacre 2, which notoriously included flashbacks to the original SPM and had fuck all to do with the first SHM.
Here, not only does he use flashbacks from that film again but also goads in genre queen Brinke Stevens as Linda, who supposedly died near the start of the very first film but apparently, y’know, didn’t.Again, he weirdly alters the names of the original characters. She was called Diane, not Ginger! The killer is no longer called Russ Thorn but now Jeremiah McPherson (WHAT?) and the victims were all in their forties. Huh, you say? Yeah – huh?
Ignoring this shit, the film pulls focus on a busload of cheerleaders, their coach, drivers, and two random guys who are there for no clear reason. Stranded in a ‘snowstorm’ (which we never see), they take shelter at a mountain cabin while the local cops look for McPherson and a shady killer off the pom-pom girls and their entourage one by one…
Like his other films, Wynorski crams Cheerleader Massacre full of unnecessary and downright aggravating nudity and graphic sex. At one point the bus driver begins telling a ghost story, which is dramatised for us, that ends up with three chicks naked in a hot tub and licking chocolate sauce off each other!
Much sex, shower scenes and off-screen kills later, the murderer reveals who they are and the final girlies fight back as per the other SPM‘s. Strangely, the screenwriter wisely chooses his heroines, avoiding the usual nice-girl-with-dead-mom route and opting instead for the bitchy girl and the short-fused coach.
So, not as bad as the write-ups but not up to the standards of the films it alludes to following. Well, it’s better than SPM II I guess.
Some strange things: a snowstorm is due, so why is one hiker wearing nothing but a crop-top and short-shorts? Why is the sky so blue and the trees so green? And if the power was cut, why are the lights so obviously on for Ms Hendricks’ shower scene? Oh right, stupid question!
Blurbs-of-interest: SPM: Debra DeLiso was later in Initiation, and Iced, which also featured Joseph Alan Johnson (who wrote it) and he was also in Berserker; SPM II: Juliette Cummins was also in Psycho III and Deadly Dreams; Joel Hoffman was in Aerobicide; SPM III Brittain Frye was in Hide and Go Shriek; Maria Ford was the lead in Stripped to Kill II; Devon Jenkin was in Twisted Nightmare. A 2008 no-budget garbage flick called Spring Break Massacre claims to be an homage. Scream Factory commissioned a remake of the original in 2021.