The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Slumber Party Massacre

If you like grindhouse cinema, you really need to see (or re-see) Slumber Party Massacre. This lurid 1982 chiller is about as grindhouse-y as you're going to get. Slightly scandalous in its day but now considered an ultimate cult flick, it was different from most slasher pictures due to the fact that the writer and director were both women. The early '80s were a time when women were routinely victimized in horror; the creators of Slumber Party Massacre put a feminine twist on that, while also subtly satirizing similar films from the genre. Scream Factory has given the movie a new HD transfer for their Blu-Ray release.

Michele Michaels plays Trish, a high school basketball star who invites her teammates over to a slumber party at her house. It's supposed to be an evening of fun and, perhaps, a little naughtiness. A couple of male peers crash the party, showing up to spy on the girls through the window. Things turn dark when mass murderer Russ Thorne (Michael Villela) escapes from prison and begins running around with his weapon of choice, a power drill. He starts stalking the girls and murdering people left and right. The new girl on the team, Valerie (Robin Stille), lives in the same neighborhood as Trish and, after turning down an invite to the party, ends up being dragged into the bloody proceedings.

Slumber Party Massacre has many of the staples of '80s slasher fare, such as the gratuitous shower scene and the obligatory “cat scare.” (That cliché hadn't quite been beaten to death as of 1982.) It also has other things that set it apart, including homoeroticism (it's pretty clear that one of the girls has a crush on her friend), a sick sense of humor (one character eats pizza off the back of the delivery boy's corpse), and some hardcore Freudian imagery (such as the shot taken from behind the killer's legs, as his drill hangs down like a penis in front of his terrified victim). In this sense, it is both a slasher movie and a sly subversion of a slasher movie. Whereas most entries in the genre were straightforward blood-and-guts affairs, Slumber Party Massacre imbued it with an edge. It is precisely this quality that has allowed it to remain popular.

Writer Rita Mae Brown was a novelist who went on to create a popular series of mystery books allegedly co-authored with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. Director Amy Holden Jones, meanwhile, eventually directed the 1996 Halle Berry thriller The Rich Man's Wife and wrote/co-wrote such notable films as Mystic Pizza and Indecent Proposal. Their collaboration on this grisly, low-budget thriller may seem unlikely, yet it yielded what was clearly one of the most daring of the early-'80s slashers. That's not to say Slumber Party Massacre is a great film – the plot is thin and the performances occasionally a little awkward – but there's no doubt that it maintains its shock value.

SPM has the quality of being aggressively in-your-face, and that may, in fact, be its best quality. The death scenes are suitably nasty, with Michael Villela proving to be a convincing psychopath. That Thorne has no apparent motive for his killings other than getting off on them only adds to his deranged nature. Dark humor contributes greatly to the edgy vibe; it's rare for a movie to ask us to laugh at some of the depraved things this one milks for comedy. The equal-parts mixture of feminism and Freudian additionally marks it as something at once part of the slasher genre, but also outside it. And while that genre was generally considered disreputable at the time, we can now see that Slumber Party Massacre broke boundaries.

Scream Factory's HD transfer is magnificent, allowing the film to look good while still maintaining its gritty, down-and-dirty style. The supplementary material is fantastic, starting off with “Sleepless Nights: Revisiting Slumber Party Massacre” a 23-minute retrospective documentary featuring Amy Holden Jones. She talks about getting an early career assist from Martin Scorsese, who introduced her to Roger Corman, and opting to make her directorial debut with this film instead of editing Steven Spielberg's E.T.. Meanwhile, Michael Villella talks about taking a Method approach to his performance, refusing to socialize with the actresses so that they would be unnerved by him. We also learn that he imitated a peacock to give the character a creepy quality. On a sadder note, the director and cast offer thoughts on Robin Stille's suicide. This is an informative and fun look back at the film.

Also here are interviews with Rigg Kennedy, who plays the unlucky next door neighbor, trailers for the Slumber Party Massacre sequels, and a photo gallery. Horror fans have come to expect first-class releases from Scream Factory, and this one is no different.

Slumber Party Massacre is rated R for graphic violence, nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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