One of the biggest criticisms levelled at the slasher is its supposed misogynistic tendencies. Many have stated that its need to cater for the teenage male market who would make up the majority of its audience would force filmmakers – who were also male – to fill the screen with scantily clad young females and plenty of T&A. Oh, if only a woman would direct a slasher! There have been few attempts by female filmmakers to subvert the formula, but perhaps the most famous of these was Amy Holden Jones’ 1982 effort The Slumber Party Massacre. Penned by noted feminist Rita Mae Brown and pitched as a satire of the conventions of the slasher film, the resulting movie was far more misogynist and titillating than, say, Friday the 13th, and would see Jones simply attempting to emulate her male counterparts by upping the sleazy aspect of the film.
Early one morning in a sleepy Californian suburb, a paper boy (Francis Menendez) walks out of his house and climbs onto his bicycle, heading out on his round. He throws one newspaper onto a lawn, with the headline reading ‘Mass murderer of 5 Russ Thorn escapes.’ Meanwhile, eighteen year old Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels) slowly stirs as the radio comes to life. Climbing out of bed, she strips off her robe and changes into a summer dress, making her way down the stairs as the music changes over to a news bulletin, revealing that Thorn (Michael Villella) had been convicted for the murders he had committed in her neighbourhood back in 1969. Outside, her parents (Howard Furgason and Anna Patton) are packing up the car as they prepare to leave for a vacation. Reassuring them that she will be fine on her own, her mother says that their neighbour, Mr. Contant (Rigg Kennedy) will look in on her. Her parents drive away and Trish dumps her old dolls into a trash can, but as she walks down the road a hand reaches over and picks one up.
At the high school, best friends Jeff (David Millbern) and Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson) discuss who the latter should ask out on a date. Jeff notices an attractive young telephone engineer (Jean Vargas) working nearby and struts over confidentially to flirt with her. Despite being flattered, she politely declines and heads back over to her van, but as she opens the door a hand reaches out and drags her inside. Thorn pins her down and lifts up a huge drill, driving it down into her skull as blood sprays over the walls. Trish is in the gym playing basketball with her classmates but is beaten by new girl Valerie (Robin Stille), much to the delight of the watching boys. They then relocate to the showers where they discuss the ‘no boys’ party at Trish’s, with spoilt bitch Diane (Gina Smika) insisting that they don’t invite Valerie. Overhearing her bitter insults, Valerie storms out of the room, claiming to be too busy for the party. Later on, one of the girls from their class, Linda (Brinke Stevens), is chased through the locker room by Thorn and attacked with his drill.
That night, Valerie has been left in charge of her younger sister, Playboy-obsessed loud-mouth Courtney (Jennifer Meyers). At Trish’s, Diane, Jackie (Andree Honore) and Kimberly (Debra Deliso) enjoy their irresponsible evening, whilst various boys such as Jeff, Neil and John (Jim Boyce) attempt to gatecrash. But when a pizza delivery man (Aaron Lipstadt) arrives at the door with his eyes drilled out, the group realise that there is someone outside trying to kill them. Kimberly had been on the phone to their basketball coach (Pamela Roylance) but when the line goes dead she phones Valerie, their neighbour, to ask if anything has happened. One-by-one, Trish’ guests are mutilated in a variety of gruesome ways as they attempt to barricade themselves in the house. When Courtney sneaks over to the house, Valerie is forced to come after her, discovering the house in darkness. Suddenly, Thorn appears behind the girls but Trish manages to knock him unconscious, or so they think.
Anyone looking for originality should look elsewhere. The Slumber Party Massacre shamelessly ‘borrows’ from a variety of slashers, most notably Halloween (with Valerie and Courtney resembling Laurie Strode and Lindsey Wallace). The script itself is pretty basic and uninspired – psycho escapes and targets a group of immoral teenagers, with the babysitter left to defend herself (another Halloween reference). But there is no denying that the movie is lots of fun. The killer’s weapon of choice, a huge drill, makes for some delicious death scenes and Villella chews the scenery adequately in the role. Stille (who sadly committed suicide in 1996 at the age of thirty five) makes a likeable final girl, displaying enough innocence and intelligence to make the character believable. The male characters are poorly written and under-developed but the actors are competent enough to be entertaining.
But any claims that The Slumber Party Massacre is a feminist slasher is ridiculous. The camera takes every opportunity to provide close ups of naked buttocks and fans of breasts will be more than satisfied. It seems somewhat ironic that the killer ‘penetrates’ his victims with such a phallic weapon, perhaps this decision was the only ironic aspect that Brown intentionally included in her uneven script. Jones certainly lacks the style of Halloween‘s John Carpenter or even Friday the 13th‘s Sean S. Cunningham, but she manages to point the camera in the right direction when the red stuff is spilt. All in all, The Slumber Party Massacre is far from the best that the early eighties had to offer but as a guilty pleasure it provides plenty of violence and topless teenagers (despite most of the actresses being in their twenties) to keep the viewer entertained for its brief seventy five minute running time.