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Entries in Slumber Party Massacre/The [1982] (1)

Thursday
Mar152012

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Big, Metal Dick

There's real danger in dismissing a movie for years, sight unseen, and then putting it on when you need a really good laugh. Sometimes, just sometimes, it turns out to be good. In those cases, pride has to go, immediately, making room for objectivity and joy. Had I allowed the Snarkometer to run unchecked during The Slumber Party Massacre, I would've missed out on something truly special.

You might think this review is facetious, but I'm completely sincere. The film surprised the hell out of me by not only holding its own as a fine bit of suspense, but also offering a meta-commentary on the slasher genre.* Sure, it's roughly the five-hundredth high-school-girls-in-nighties-stalked-by-a-killer movie. But it's also one of the elite few that was written and directed by women.

The first twenty minutes are pretty rough going. Rita Mae Brown's script offers little for the not-so-great actors to do except giggle about their parents being away for the evening while sufficiently soaping themselves up after gym class. We meet Diane (Gina Mari), the snobbish queen bee; Trish (Michele Michaels), the girl throwing an impromptu party; and Valerie (Robin Stille), the new girl who is universally hated for her shyness and mad basketball skills. There are other girls, of course, whose status as Inventive Death props makes them entertaining but hardly memorable.

Complicating the girls' night of fun is a recent prison escapee named Russ Thorn (Michael Villela). He was locked up more than a decade earlier for brutally murdering five people, and has set his sights on a fresh batch of local teenagers. During one, long night of terror, he kills them one by one, as well as the horny boys who crash the party...

Sorry. It's rude to nod off in the middle of a plot synopsis, but unless this is literally the first horror movie you've ever seen, I don't need to go on.** What's interesting about The Slumber Party Massacre is how it pushes the notion of the strong, female protagonist much further than predecessors like Alien and Halloween.

The film's vibe is not just pro-woman but also distinctly anti-man. Brown and director Amy Holden Jones paint the male leads are damsels in distress who make stupid and dangerous decisions, and freak out when the time comes to be heroic. There's also the matter of our killer: in a unique change-up, Thorn isn't a masked, shadowy figure, but rather a middle-aged white guy who looks like Billy Bob Thornton wearing an awesome red-t-shirt-and-jeans ensemble. His weapon of choice is not just a ridiculously long drill, but one that is often filmed from a low angle, bearing down on helpless girls like a big, metal dick. Yeah, that's crude, but so is the imagery--which, by the way, makes it no less fun.

The filmmakers' propaganda is effective. As the end credits rolled, I marvelled at how human beings have survived as a species. More than other movies of its kind that I've seen, the guys here are either completely useless or pure, drooling evil; not only did I wonder if women really see men that way, I wondered if the women I know see me that way.***

If you don't care for commentary in your slashers, The Slumber Party Massacre has plenty of chills and (mostly intentional) humor--some are one and the same. The refrigerator scene comes to mind, with Brown and Jones playing a horrific moment for sustained laughs; I also love a later moment in an upstairs bedroom, where two of the survivors have sufficiently barricaded themselves against the killer--except for that pesky, wide-open window.

The movie is not nearly as over-the-top, scary, or funny as my all-time-favorite, ridiculous splatter-fest, Pieces, but the spirit is the same. The cardboard character gain just enough dimension as the story rolls along to make their untimely deaths sting a little, and the setting (a college campus in that film, a suburban street with oddly connected back yards here) keeps the flow of action from getting stale--though Brown and Jones get a lot of mileage out of Trish's garage.

This will, I'm sure, be sacrilege to my fellow horror devotees, but on many levels, I appreciate The Slumber Party Massacre much more than Halloween. If this film had had a Detective Loomis character, it might have been the ultimate 80s bloodbath.

So, yes, I've learned my lesson. I will try to be better about not underestimating movies based on their stupid titles and kitschy poster art. It'll be hard, though, for I am but a man--nature's default idiot. 

*Unlike Scream, which did so fourteen years later, The Slumber Party Massacre simultaneously bucked and indulged in cliches at the height of the genre's popularity.

**If this is your first, please drop me a line and explain WHY?!

***Feel free to protect my feelings, ladies.