Slumber Party Massacre (1982) **
Rita Mae Brown wrote a slasher movie once. No, seriously— it’s true! Sometime rival of Betty Friedan, point-woman for the lesbian wing of second-wave feminism, author of The Rubyfruit Jungle and approximately nine million novels about crime-solving cats— that Rita Mae Brown wrote a slasher movie. Weirder still, she wrote Slumber Party Massacre, one of the most sexploitation-heavy slasher movies of the initial early-80’s glut. How the hell is such a thing possible? Well, the part I’ve left out so far is that Brown intended the script she called first Don’t Open the Door and ultimately Sleepless Nights to be a parody of the slasher genre. But when film editor and former New World Pictures employee Amy Holden Jones acquired the screenplay in the hope of using it to launch her directorial career, the natural backer for her to seek was her old boss, Roger Corman. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Corman has no sense of humor, but we are talking about the guy who, when Paul Bartel gave him Death Race 2000, thought it would have been better— less confusing— without all the comedy. (We’ll see how that notion worked out whenever I get around to reviewing Deathsport.) There are conflicting versions of the story in circulation, so that it becomes difficult to say whose idea the tonal shift really was, or when the decision to make it was reached, but the upshot is that Jones ended up filming Brown’s slasher spoof as a straight T&A horror movie instead. You might anticipate that that would make Slumber Party Massacre a peculiar beast indeed, but you haven’t heard the half of it yet. The really screwy part is that Jones left in all the jokes! The effect is almost indescribable.
High school senior Trish (Michelle Michaels) is going to have the house to herself tonight, and she intends to make the most of the lack of parental supervision. Well, actually I suppose there’s room to debate the latter point, since Trish’s guest list for the projected sleepover includes all three of her closest friends— Diane (The Sword and the Sorcerer’s Gina Mari), Kim (Debra Deliso, from Dr. Caligari and Iced), and Jackie (Andree Honore)— but not one boy, even though none of the girls share Rita Mae Brown’s sexual proclivities. Evidently Trish is feeling nostalgic for childhood now that she’s turned eighteen, and she wants to recapture the vibe she remembers from slumber parties of yore. Kim and Jackie are amenable, but the plan doesn’t sit well with Diane; she wants her jock boyfriend, John (Jim Boyer), in attendance as well. We can perhaps chalk it up to resentment over the “no boys” rule, then, when Diane throws Trish’s “just like old times” line back in her face to answer her suggestion that they should also invite Valerie Bates (Robin Stille, of Vampire Knights and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama), the older of the two girls whose family just moved in next door to Trish. Trish eventually extends an invitation to Valerie anyway, but the latter girl overheard Diane’s protest in the locker room, and figures that hanging out where she isn’t wanted is no way to begin making friends at her new school. Meanwhile, Jeff (David Millbern, from Sorceress and Ice Spiders) and Neil (Joe Johnson, of Berserker and The Ghosts of Sodom), a pair of twerps who harbor hopeless romantic designs on… well, just about any female they see, honestly… are plotting to crash Trish’s party in a desperate bid to get laid (or at least to see some pretty girls in their underwear).
Trish has bigger things to worry about than horny dorks, dissention in the ranks, or the possibility of Diane smuggling John into the house after lights out, however. Way back in 1969, a psychotic named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella, from Wild Orchid and Wild Orchid II: Two Shades of Blue) murdered five women in Venice, California, where Trish and her associates now live. Thorn escaped from the asylum last night, and he’s on his way home even now to get back into the serial-killing game. His first victim is an attractive telephone linewoman (Jean Vargas), whom he ambushes in the cargo hold of her own van— at which point he appropriates the vehicle for himself. What self-respecting misogynistic creep doesn’t have a cargo van to cruise around in, am I right? Next, Thorn loiters at the high school after hours to slay one of the protagonists’ teammates on the varsity basketball squad (Brinke Stevens, of Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity and Nightmare Sisters, in her first speaking part). It’s pretty much sheer happenstance that leads the killer to Trish’s other neighbor, Mr. Contant (Rigg Kennedy, from Silent Scream and Swarm of the Snakehead), after that, but once Thorn is on Victoria Avenue, there’s no way he can resist the temptation of two adjacent houses full of unguarded teenagers. The only question is, which will he hit first— Trish’s sleepover, or the pity-party that Valerie and her kid sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyer), are having for themselves next door?
I’m sure Slumber Party Massacre would have been a somewhat better movie had it either been allowed to remain the parody it was meant to be, or received a more thorough rebuild when the satirical intentions were abandoned. Nevertheless, I’m really kind of glad we wound up with this misbegotten half-measure instead. Slasher flicks are as abundant as sparrows, and slasher spoofs are only slightly less common, but I know of nothing else quite like this movie. Try to imagine the results of removing the humor from something without removing the gags. Russ Thorn’s signature weapon, for example, is an electric drill with a helical bit easily a foot and a half long. Russ waving that thing around is actually an effectively dreadful image, but it’s also one that invites the crudest possible Freudian interpretation. And Amy Holden Jones likes to frame her shots of Thorn sticking his tool into women so that the drill is juxtaposed with the killer’s crotch. And the turning point in the final battle comes when one of Thorn’s intended victims lops off the drill’s bit with a size-XXL machete. It has to be a joke— the only way it could be anything else is if Slumber Party Massacre had been made by aliens who never evolved the cerebral circuitry to process humor— yet every one of the subliminal cues we use to interpret the tone of a motion picture is set instead to “straight-up horror.” There isn’t even any sense of comic exaggeration! Such dissonances arise again and again throughout the film, in circumstances as diverse as a false scare involving Mr. Contant hunting garden-ravaging snails in his backyard with a meat cleaver, and Jackie debating with Trish and Kim the propriety of eating the pizza they ordered even after the delivery boy’s gruesome murder. Each time, a morbid gag is the only plausible reading, but the timing, the music, the line delivery, the frame composition, and so forth all insist that we take it seriously instead. It can’t be done, and that impossibility costs Slumber Party Massacre dearly in effectiveness, no matter how you want to relate to it. Still, though, just this once, I prefer the mediocre mind-fuck to either of the two slightly-less-mediocre films that could have been made from this material. Those movies I’d know at once what to make of, but then promptly forget.