Judge Patrick Bromley loves a good sleepover.
Close your eyes for a second…and sleep forever.
After first coming to prominence with John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978, the slasher movie exploded in the late '70s and early '80s. The movies were most the same: a group of teenagers would gather, the girls would get naked and everyone would be murdered by a madman often wielding a signature weapon. So ubiquitous was the genre and so entrenched its tropes that in 1982—just four years after it first came to prominence—it was ready to be parodied. When you think about it that way, it's impressive that screenwriter Rita Mae Brown and director Amy Holden Jones were already making deconstructionist fun of the genre as early as 1982 with The Slumber Party Massacre, making its bow on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory.
There's little to be gained by describing the plot. A group of high school girls have a slumber party and are terrorized and (mostly) killed by a maniac wielding an oversized power drill. Some boys show up. A neighbor. The pizza man. None of them have much luck.
The Slumber Party Massacre can be a difficult movie to get a hold of. On the surface, it feels like every other early '80s cheapie slasher. But it's more ambitious than that; more subversive. Writer Rita Mae Brown wrote the movie as a parodic critique of the slasher genre, while director Holden Jones (who, it's revealed in the bonus features, turned down the opportunity to edit E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to direct this) directed it as a comedy. Apparently no one told the cast any of this, as they play everything straight. The disconnect can be fascinating, but also off-putting at times.
As much as Holden Jones insists the movie is a comedy, she didn't really direct it so that it's funny. Like, if you didn't know that she was kidding with a lot of this stuff, the movie wouldn't really feel any different than the other genre entries of the era. Certain things are exaggerated, like the fact that every girl in the movie gets naked almost immediately and the "Driller Killer's" weapon of choice is comically oversized, clearly a commentary on the phallic compensation of the men who dominate these kinds of movies. Brown and Holden Jones want to take the piss out of the slasher genre, but The Slumber Party Massacre is too crudely made for the humor to land.
But even if the movie is never quite as subversive or funny as its makers intended, there's a lot to enjoy for slasher movie fans. The women in the cast are appealing across the board—a rarity for this kind of film—and the performance from Driller Killer Michael Villela is so amateurishly over the top that it achieves a kind of Verhoevian transcendence. I can appreciate the fact that Holden Jones is trying to make the kind of movie that critiques the genre while still functioning as a solid example of the genre, even if it alternately comes up short as both depending on which "side" of the balancing act it's attempting to pull off.
The Slumber Party Massacre makes its high-def debut courtesy of Scream Factory (who else?), the newly crowned patron saint of horror movies. The 1080p transfer created from the original camera negative looks very good; this is a low-budget movie that's over 30 years old, but the Blu-ray is easily the best it has ever looked. The lossless mono audio track is a bit on the thin side, but it gets the job done. Besides, it's faithful to the source—I'm not sure a full 5.1 surround mix would feel right for a title like this.
Because it's Scream Factory, there's a solid collection of bonus features. The featurette "Sleepless Nights: The Making of The Slumber Party Massacre" is another of the studio's excellent retrospective pieces that gathers most of the major cast and crew (notably missing are co-star Robin Stille, who passed away in 1996, and writer Rita Mae Brown) for interviews on how the movie came together, its production and reception. The featurette opens with late '90s camcorder footage of Slumber Party Massacre super fan Tony Brown opening a VHS copy of the movie on Christmas morning and shouting with the excitement of a kid whose just been giving a fleet of new bicycles. It's a moment to make any horror fan proud.
Brown moderates the commentary featuring Holden Jones and stars Debra De Liso and Michael Villela, which covers some of the same ground as the retrospective featurette but in greater detail. There's a reasonable amount of info and it's interesting to hear Holden Jones defend the movie as a deliberate comedy, but Brown is not a very gifted interviewer. His questions are too general ("Tell me about how you found the house you shot in?") and he's such a fan of the movie that he's almost too close to it, getting bogged down in minutiae and missing some of the larger context of the film. Luckily, Holden Jones makes sure to cover that.
As a devoted fan of horror movies—particularly those made in the '80s—there's a lot I love about The Slumber Party Massacre. It's not a slasher for everyone; it's not funny enough to clearly be a comedy and it's too goofy and broad to be taken as a straight horror film. If you can get on board with what the movie is trying to accomplish and accept its offbeat mix of tones, it's a blast. Everyone else might want to break out the Friday the 13th box set.
I'm sure I'm not the only one disappointed that Scream Factory hasn't yet announced plans for a Blu-ray release of the sequels. Part 2 in particular.
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