Horror 365, Movie 62: The Slumber Party Massacre

slumberI 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 great idea.

On The Resistance, years ahead of the curve, Keith Olberman regularly predicted the ignominy that the trump administration would hurtle into at the end. In one installment he 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.”

She 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 with tropes 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 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?

12 onscreen
Available on Plex, Pluto, Prime, Shout Factory, Tubi

Horror 365, Movie 58: The Mask

maskFebruary 1st–the start of the 12th Annual Women In Horror Month. So throughout this month expect at least a few appropriately related posts, starting today with The Mask.

I’ll be honest. I’m not much of a fan of 3D flicks. The effects usually become distractions and/or attention grabbers resulting all too often in “What else can we make jump out at the audience?” Still, let’s talk about this 1961 Canadian 3D effort, shall we? A psychiatrist, Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens), tries to calm his patient, Michael (Martin Lavut, looking much like a cross between Anthony Perkins and Roman Polanski).

Michael suffers a psychotic break from the effects of a mysterious tribal mask. He soon commits suicide, but not before sending the mask to Barnes. Like any objective (ahem) scientist, he almost immediately puts the mask on.

And this is where The Mask gets clever with its 3D effects. The 3D segments are more extended but still only take up about fourteen minutes of screen time keeping the 3D effects from chewing up the scenery throughout the film.

mask3There are good reasons for this. One, the 3D scenes only occur when Barnes wears the mask (itself a ghastly looking thing). The mask tells him, “Put the mask on now! Put the mask on now!” This also served as the cue for the audience to put on their 3D glasses. Not a bad gimmick, that.

All the 3D scenes, therefore, take place in this hallucinatory “mask world.” The visuals for this surreal, hallucinatory nightmare world were designed by Slavko Vorkapić, widely considered a master of montage.

What does this have to do with Women In Horror? It’s a fair question. Vorkapić, director Julian Roffman, and the main characters are all male. Well, it turns out a little backstory is in order.

It starts back in 1990 in Boston. At the time, I was a frequent participant in the open mic at Naked City Coffeehouse, held on the second floor of what was called the Allston Mall. Also on the second floor was the Primal Plunge Bookstore where I first found this:


Yep. The cover is from The Mask. Obviously, I bought it. But I never got around to tracking down a copy of the film until a couple years ago while I had also been reading New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran.

And that brings me to Caitlín R. Kiernan’s story, “Pickman’s Other Model (1929).” Kiernan’s story picks up shortly after where Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” leaves off. Blackman, her narrator, relates his association with his friend, Thurber (who Kiernan shrewdly establishes as the narrator of “Pickman’s Model”). Thurber has committed suicide.

Theda Bara

Tasked with sorting through Thurber’s papers, Blackman uncovers some unsettling sketches of silent movie actress, Vera Endecott. Endecott is described as “a woman whose loveliness might merely be a glamour concealing some truer, feral face,” and he compares her to such contemporaries as Musidora and Theda Bara.

Sidenote: Brian McNaughton adds to this discussion of “the look,” specifically meaning The Innsmouth Look, in his story “The Doom That Came To Innsmouth” listing Herbert Hoover, Edward G. Robinson, and Gloria Swanson as further examples.

Blackman himself sounds respectably like one more in a long line of ill-fated Lovecraft protagonists: “the mind may not…simply forget the weird and dismaying revelations visited upon men and women who choose to ask forbidden questions.” It’s straight out of the Lovecraft playbook. Barnes could have said it in The Mask.

There are two connections I want to make to The Mask. One is that the story could have come right out of the Lovecraft Mythos: a cursed object which triggers unexplainable dread leading to obsession, nightmares, bizarre visions, madness, and death.

Sometimes that cursed object is a film. This happens in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s story “Flash Frame” and Fabien Delage’s Fury Of The Demon. It also happens here in Kiernan’s story. Blackman sees a disturbing film featuring Endecott leading to all those aforementioned results.

It’s worth pointing out that The Mask is creepy, underratedly so. But Kiernan’s passages about Endecott’s film look like they could have come directly from The Mask. Her imagery and Vorkapić’s montage work–both are atmospheric, otherworldly, sinister. My point is, reading “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” significantly ramps up The Mask’s creepazoidinal factor.

Come to think of it, The Mask came out in 1961. “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” was published in 2008. I wonder if, just maybe…

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Available on Fandor (a Prime subscription channel with 7-day free trial)