Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Census Bloodbath: That Sleep of Death

Year: 1982
Director: Amy Jones
Cast: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villela
Run Time: 1 hour 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I rewatched an old classic this weekend in solidarity with one of my favorite online reviewers, Tim Brayton of Antagony & Ecstasy, an absolutely fabulous writer who, every summer, does a marathon of slasher movies called Summer of Blood where he reviews an old slasher movie every weekend. My Census Bloodbath feature is essentially the same thing except instead of occupying a couple weekends out of the year, it's my entire life.

Anyway, I've been following his stuff for years and I've decided to stick it out alongside him as many weekends as I can this summer. What gave me the push was that this week, he landed upon The Slumber Party Massacre, one of the films that helped me get into the genre and become such a longtime fan. 

Written by outspoken lesbian and feminist activist Rita Mae Brown as a parody, but shot as a straightforward slasher, SPM comes to its cheesy delights with a simultaneous genre purity and winking sense of humor.

Wow, the wine tonight really has body.

Trish (Michelle Michaels) is an 18-year-old girl whose parents are going out of town, and if you want more character traits than that, you're watching the wrong movie. This weekend, all she wants is to party and slumber with her best girlfriends Kim (Debra De Liso), a blonde sports nut; Diane (Gina Smika Hunter), who'd really rather be macking on her neckless jock boyfriend John (Jim Boyce); and Jackie (Andree Honore), who just barely escapes being a Token Black Character but still has no defining traits other than "Alive Until She Isn't."

Also on the Meat Tray for this evening are Valerie (Robin Stille), the sweet new girl who just moved in next door and is a little upset that Trish's friends aren't quite as welcoming as she and Courtney (Jennifer Meyers), Val's little sister who, despite being clearly played by a teenager, sucks on a lollipop to assert her age. There's also the hapless party crashers Jeff (David Millbern) and Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson, who would later star in Berserker in 1987), who are irritating voyeurs who think removing fuses from the electrical box is a world class prank.

So, with our invitingly large number of pieces put into play, our escaped serial killer Russ Thorn (Michael Villela) can have some fun. In a way, I love that he's given no direct motive other than "he's a serial killer, duh." It really helps makes SPM the stripped down fun ride it's meant to be. So, yeah. He's a serial killer and he serial kills as many of the slumberers as he can in 77 minutes, mostly with his massive penis.

Sorry, I meant penis.

Dang Autocorrect.



He kills them all with a drill. That's what I meant to say.

Although, come to think of it...

Yeah, that's definitely a penis. No ifs, ands, or butts. Although the subtext would have worked better in its original parodic form, the villain of The Slumber Party Massacre brings the sexual undercurrent of the slasher film genre to the forefront. From the beginning, the "pretty young thing penetrated by a sharp weapon" angle has been used to express sexual frustration or indict sexuality. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, psychosexual themes are apparent in all but the most aberrant slasher films.

This is largely from a misogynistic standpoint. Slashers are films generally written and directed by men and marketed to teen boys and the violence tends almost exclusively toward women and the men who stand in the way. We won't see the victim pool change much here, but the thematic intent is vastly different. Where in many slasher films the knife's phallic point is used as a countermeasure to prevent female sexuality from expanding beyond controllable limits by punishing their sin, Russ Thorn's gigantic drill turns the tables on the male perpetrator, literalizing his penis as a weapon in the most obvious way possible.

Instead of women being punished by what they take into their bodies, the men are indicted because of the punishment they inflict upon women. The fact that this theme is present in a film with a cacophony of exploitative topless scenes dilutes it somewhat, but the point is clear. Slumber Party Massacre doesn't want to be like other slashers.

I mean, it is. It very much is like other slashers. And that's probably the biggest problem with its overall message, but the straightforward approach to the formula is what endeared me to the film in the first place so I can't rightly call it a flaw.

I mean, come on. This is kind of my thing.

Slumber Party Massacre is a crummy slasher film, but it's a crummy slasher film written and directed by women and for women, so that is where it draws its strength and uniqueness, not from trying to alter rules that had long since been set in stone. 

There's heaps of false scares, plenty of Idiotic Horror Behavior like "why don't we split up?" or "I'll just go investigate that dark corner with no weapon," and plenty of gooey gore. But that's all part of the fun, isn't it? Getting to eat popcorn with your friends and yell at the screen as unaware victims back straight into the killer is the cornerstone of cheese cinema and Slumber Party Massacre acknowledges this with good humor, including enough winks and nods to keep the laughs flowing although its parodic roots remain deeply buried.

So, to sum up. The film is a contradictory but smart mostly feminist slasher with plenty of blood. It's a cheese fest filled with idiots making terrible decisions. It's a clever script adhering to a dumb formula and ends with multiple final girls and a castration metaphor. It's a blisteringly fast 77 minutes that are full of joy and humor the whole way through. It's really just a fun, good natured exploitation film and a lot of the entertainment is derived from the way those opposing parts clash into one another.

Truly a blissful experience in sleaze cinema, The Slumber Party Massacre doesn't rise up from the swamp of a genre that birthed it, but rather nestles into it to provide the best thrill it can, and that's really all I asked for it to do. The feminist stuff is just a bonus, but a grandly delightful one in the middle of a decade that wasn't quite prepared for this kind of thing yet.

You go, girls.

Killer: Russ Thorn (Michael Villela)
Final Girl: Trish (Michelle Michaels), Valerie (Robin Stille), and Courtney (Jennifer Meyers)
Best Kill: Mr. Contant is drilled through the neck after he cleavers a snail in half. He deserved it.

Sign of the Times: Kim's gym shirt says "Space Baby" on it in big glittering letters for no discernible reason.
Scariest Moment: The arrival of the Pizza Boy is simultaneously hilarious and shocking.
Weirdest Moment: Jackie eats pizza using the dead delivery boy as a table.
Champion Dialogue: "It's not how big your mouth is, it's what's in it that counts."
Body Count: 12; including the killer.
  1. Telephone Repairwoman is drilled in the forehead.
  2. Linda is drilled offscreen.
  3. Mr. Contant is drilled through the neck.
  4. John is decapitated offscreen.
  5. Diane is impaled with the drill.
  6. Pizza Boy has his eyes drilled out.
  7. Jeff is drilled through the chest.
  8. Neil is stabbed to death.
  9. Jackie has her throat slit with the drill.
  10. Kim is stabbed in the gut.
  11. Coach Jana is gutted with the drill.
  12. Russ Thorn is metaphorically castrated, has his hand cut off, is gutted, and impaled on a machete. 
TL;DR: The Slumber Party Massacre is the perfect slumber party horror flick - short, and full of characters you can scream at for being dumb and cheer on for being heroic.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1317
Reviews In This Series
The Slumber Party Massacre (Jones, 1982)
Slumber Party Massacre III (Mattison, 1990)


  1. Came for Slumber Party Massacre, stayed for the penis

  2. I've heard the penis is evil.

    I wonder what you'd possibly do if you wanted to make your killings vaginally themed. Drowning? Suffocation? Throw somebody in a bag and beat them to death with a hammer? If the latter, is the hammer a clitoris? This should be explored.

    Also, for some reason I want to watch Body Double again.