Tuesday, March 4, 2014
THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) Blu-ray Review
Slumber Party Massacre, The (1982) d. Amy Holden Jones (USA)
Released toward the end of the early ’80s’ slasher-flick explosion, what makes this relatively pedestrian entry with the drive-in-ready title most worthy of note is that it was written, produced, and directed by women. More surprising is the fact that, at first glance, it does little to distinguish itself from its male-directed counterparts, with its helpless, screaming female victim characters just as seemingly objectified via an abundant amount of gratuitous nudity. The only visible novelty is arming the male killer with a two-foot-long power drill (compensating for something?) and framing him onscreen with his (ahem) tool from various suggestive angles.
The script (originally titled “Don’t Open the Door”) was written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown – supposedly as a send-up of the slasher wave – but producer/director Amy Holden Jones (who did an uncredited pass) does herself and the audience no favors by playing it straight. True, there are a few intentionally comedic moments (pizza, corpse in refrigerator), but so do many of its male-gaze counterparts, and for every joke that lands, another falls flat.
With the identity of the psychopath revealed at the outset and no huge variety in dispatching his victims (yep, for the most part, he drills ’em), the result is a low-suspense, minor-gore, run-of-the-mill compendium of boobs and bloodletting...or so many critical genre thinkers would have us believe.
On closer observation, however, the female characters are clearly drawn, three-dimensional characters. True, these are classic archetypes – the nice girl (Michelle Michaels), the new transfer student (Robin Stille), the tomboy (Debra De Liso), the snobby slut (Gin Smika Hunter, billed as Gina Mari), the token black girl (Andre Honoree), the stern but likeable coach (Pamela Roylance), the bratty younger sister (Jennifer Meyers) – but they feel authentic and largely sympathetic.
Not only that, they are shown to be smarter and stronger than any of the male characters, with the exception of escaped killer Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) working his way through the nubile cast.
Jones’ flesh-and-blood marching orders from executive producer Roger Corman were clear from the get-go, but in choosing to make the nude scenes so brazenly gratuitous, they nearly become a parody of themselves while still keeping the titillation factor intact.
Plus, as she points out on the commentary track (ported over from the 2010 DVD release), nearly all of the female victims meet their violent ends offscreen while the men perish before our eyes.
Jones shares the track with Villella and De Liso, with Tony Brown (big brain behind The Old Hockstatter Place website (www.hockstatter.com) and associate producer for Jason Paul Cullom’s stellar documentary Screaming in High Heels) serving as moderator. It’s a largely nostalgic and informative commentary, made slightly awkward at times by Brown’s persistent if well-intentioned offering up trivia and/or pointing out onscreen gaffes and continuity mishaps.
In addition to fond remembrances of the bare-bones shoot, we learn that the entire swimming pool climax was the result of Corman’s appreciation for the film and his desire for a bigger finish. (The original version concluded in the living room.)
This Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, utilizing a new HD transfer from the original camera negative, also sports Cullom’s entertaining mini-doc, “Sleepless Nights: The Making of The Slumber Party Massacre.” This 22-minute slice of fun gathers together Jones, Villella, Jones, and legendary scream queen Brinke Stevens – for whom SPM represented her first major speaking role – to reminisce about the film’s humble beginnings, and specifically Jones’ rise within the Corman Factory, starting as an editor for Joe Dante’s Hollywood Boulevard.
We also learn how seriously Villella took his antagonistic role, utilizing his Method training and animal imagery (basing much of Thorn’s physicality on that of a peacock), and separating himself from the rest of the cast throughout shooting to keep his character’s menace alive for his co-stars.
But the biggest WTF moment occurs via Aine Leicht’s 13-minute sit-down with Rigg Kennedy who plays the girls’ amiable, snail-slaying next-door neighbor. It’s not every featurette that showcases a full-on performance art presentation of original poetry complete with animal noises and weather impersonations, but this one’s got it. It’s just weird enough to be uncomfortable, and uncomfortable enough to want to share with friends. You gotta see it to believe it.
There are also trailers for all three SPM films, as well as a still gallery, and English language subtitles that accompany the feature.
The Slumber Party Massacre, available for the first time on Blu-ray, will be available March 18 from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine