Women In Horror Month: The Slumber Party Massacre

 

Is this a parody? Or what?

I have a number of problems with The Slumber Party Massacre, not as a movie, but as an example of the kinds of things that can happen to a movie or, more precisely, the bad things that can happen to a good idea.slumberIn ridiculing the countless shortcomings of the current White House administration on a recent installment of The Resistance, Keith Olbermann kept returning to this phrase: “Are these people high? Or what?” When it comes to The Slumber Party Massacre, I’m going to paraphrase this and ask, “Is this a parody? Or what?”

The story goes that Rita Mae Brown wrote The Slumber Party Massacre as a slasher parody. You don’t have to look far to find the truth of that. Just look at the poster. Killer standing, legs apart, massive drill bit protruding into the frame, with the victims staring into his crotch.

Is this a parody? Or what?

 

It’s said that producers repurposed the script against her wishes in order to make it an actual slasher film, no doubt in order to capitalize on the Halloween and Friday The 13th franchises. I’m not sure if those are the producers listed in the movie. I assume so.

The title itself could have been part of this same cynical process, a callback to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Same syllable count. But now with a drill. This was the producers’ final draft after Brown’s title, Sleepless Nights, and the original shooting title, Don’t Open The Door.

Is this a parody? Or what?

Me, I’d have gone with Don’t Open The Door. It’s a far less blatant bastardization than sticking “massacre” in the title and could instead have ripped off Don’t Go In The House, Don’t Answer The Phone, Don’t Look In The Basement, or, I dunno, Don’t Open The Fridge, Don’t Drink Out Of The Milk Carton, Don’t Use If Seal Is Broken, etcetera.

The body count isn’t bad. All told, we end up with an even dozen (including the killer). The total is split (sorry) down the middle in terms of gender. The first three victims buy it in the first half hour. 3 more within the next 15 minutes. This could be what prompted Janet Maslin to call the movie “just the usual cavalcade of corpses, all of them dispatched by a maniac who wields a power drill.”

drillShe adds that, “At the end of the movie, a woman who has miraculously survived the carnage breaks his drill in half. That’s feminism for you, and symbolism too.” I think she missed the point (oops). The producers may have retooled (yeah, I said that too) the movie to be straight-up instead of send-up, but come on. A male antagonist attacking women with a 3-foot power drill?

Is this a parody? Or what?

What I’ve read here and there suggests that Brown and director Amy Holden Jones went to Roger Corman’s New World Pictures for the creative freedom Corman famously afforded filmmakers. On the other hand, knowing what Corman would have wanted/expected, Jones seemed to scale back on the anti-misogyny angle Brown intended while playing up the gratuitous nudity.

On the other other hand, if you’re going to parody the slasher movie, a genre whose tropes are already wearing thin before 1982, you probably have to throw subtleties out the window.

Who survives?

  • Valerie (Robin Stille), the kind of character Molly Haskell described as becoming “extraordinary by rejecting their initial status as victims and overcoming pain and hardship in order to control their own fate” (From Reverence To Rape: The Treatment Of Women In The Movies)
  • Courtney (Jennifer Meyers), Valerie’s little sister, the innocent.
  • Trish (Michelle Michaels), the one girl who was nice to Valerie at the beginning of the movie.

Also worth noting is the fact that Valerie and Courtney’s mother is a) nowhere to be found and b) recently divorced. The male characters are hormone-addled, useless (the pizza guy with his eyes drilled out was one of the producers), or vaguely predatory.

The antagonist is a middle-aged white male, Russ Thorn (Michael Villella). Thorn. I guess Prick would have crossed a line. I’m not sure what’s being suggested here. The destructive evil of white male power seems too obvious (yet chilling when looking in the direction of the nation’s capital). Then again, looking over what I’ve written, I’m reminded of what I said about subtleties.

Is this a parody? Or what?

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