|The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: March 18, 2014) Released in 1982 in the midst of the big early-'80s slasher craze, "The Slumber Party Massacre" could very well be the most proudly formulaic of them all. A psycho killer who has recently escaped from a mental hospital? Check. A gaggle of nubile teenage girls and oversexed boys? Check. Drugs, nudity and gratuitous violence? Check. Jump scares and false alarms every five minutes? Check. A cat leaping hilariously off the top shelf of a closet? Check. Where the film gets its charm is in its sly knowing humor. As directed by Amy Holden Jones and written by noted feminist Rita Mae Brown (yes, you read that correctly), "The Slumber Party Massacre" treats its characters seriously but has fun playing right into the hands of male studio heads and moviegoers by delivering exactly what is expectedand then spinning it to reveal how silly the tropes of the genre can be. Director Jones avoids misogyny by shamelessly acknowledging it and then taking the time to listen to her female characters beyond what was usually afforded them during this period.
Thirteen years ago, Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) was locked up after committing the mass murder of five people. On the day his escape is reported in the local Venice, California, newspaper, 18-year-old high-schooler Trish (Michele Michaels) is preparing to have a girls-only slumber party while her parents are out of town. As the festivities get underway and a group of randy boys crash the party, Russ lurks about outside with his electric power drill, ready to pounce. Meanwhile, new girl in school Valerie (the sympathetic and charismatic Robin Stille, who tragically committed suicide in 1996) and younger sis Courtney (Jennifer Meyers) are settling in for a lazy Friday night next door, unaware of the immediate danger creeping up on them.
When the pizza guy is brutally slayed right before the gals at the slumber party open the door, his dead body comes tumbling into the house. "He's so cold," one of the girls later remarks. "Well, is the pizza?" asks Jackie (Andree Honore). "Life goes on, after all." Self-aware moments such as this split time with scenes of kids getting drilled by the killer (his weapon of choice unsubtly symbolic of a certain part of the male anatomy) and some surprisingly observant interactions between Valerie and Courtney, whose close sibling relationship is the heart of the otherwise barebones plot. There is an inventive set-piece where a murder outside Valerie's house is intercut with a similar scene in the scary movie she's watching inside, while an early stalk-and-slash sequence involving the ill-fated Linda (future B-movie scream queen Brinke Stevens, in her first film) within the halls of the deserted high school builds at a nicely tense clip. The climax rises to operatic levels of terror and subtext as Russ' drill is cut off, a castration that renders him, for all intents and purposes, powerless. An amalgamation of satire, conventional box-checking and fright tactics, "The Slumber Party Massacre" is smarter than most naysayers give it credit. There is far more going on than meets the eye, and this is the prime reason why horror fans and critics are still discussing and debating the film all these decades later.
Those who bought the 2002 New Concorde DVD or even the Shout! Factory version from 2010 can safely hang those up or sell them for good. Presented in high-definition for the very first time, Scream Factory welcomes "The Slumber Party Massacre" to Blu-ray with a brand-new HD transfer from the original camera negatives, and watching it this way is like seeing it for the first time. Granted, an extensive clean-up job might have helped to make the opening credits sequence look better than it doesas is, it is rife with dirt and hairsbut once this early section is behind us the film splatters to life with renewed vigor and dignity. The widescreen framing and photography are, for the first time, filled with depth, dimension and restorative detail. Lovely. As for the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, save for the rare, relatively minor example of muffled and/or distorted dialogueno doubt inherent to the sourcethe film sounds exceedingly fine. Is there lots of sonic bombast? No, but viewers also shouldn't come expecting such a thing from a low-budget horror movie from 1982.
Audio Commentary with director Amy Holden Jones and actors Michael Villella and Debra Deliso; "Sleepless Nights: Revisiting 'The Slumber Party Massacre'" (23:04, HD); "Rigg Kennedy: The Man Next Door" - Interview with actor Rigg Kennedy (13:22, HD); Theatrical Trailers: "The Slumber Party Massacre" (1:58, HD), "Slumber Party Massacre II" (1:48, HD), "Slumber Party Massacre III" (1:05, HD); Photo Gallery (3:20, HD)
Scream Factory is at it again, this time revitalizing a catalogue title already released to DVD for the Blu-ray market, thus signaling once again their respect and care for fans and consumers who want the movies they love presented in the highest quality possible. "The Slumber Party Massacre" is a quintessential '80s slasher that spawned three sequels (1987's "Slumber Party Massacre II," 1990's "Slumber Party Massacre III," and 2003's "Cheerleader Massacre"), and with any luck we might be seeing at least the former two (which Shout! Factory also owns) on Blu-ray soon. It will be imperative, however, that sales for "The Slumber Party Massacre" be strong enough to warrant putting the follow-ups out. This is a definite upgrade over all previous versions, and comes with a fresh interview on top of the other ported-over special features. Everyone, join together and show Scream Factory our collective appreciation for the work they continue to do for the horror genre and cinema in general by giving this release a well-worth-it purchase.
|© 2014 by Dustin Putman