Four girls get together for a slumber party and find themselves fighting off a sadistic escaped mass murderer…with a drill. On the surface, it’s easy to simply write off 1982’s cult classic, Slumber Party Massacre as just another 80’s exploitative slasher . But upon closer examination, this film is exposed as being much much more than that. November 12th marked the 35th anniversary of the movie’s release and it’s the perfect time to re-examine and delve a bit deeper into this smart, intelligent and incredibly entertaining flick.
First, a bit of background. The script was originally written by the feminist writer and activist Rita Mae Brown. Originally titled Don’t Open the Door it was intended to be a parody of the slasher genre and the feminine and masculine roles that were normally represented. The script crossed paths with Amy Jones who was then working for the infamous Roger Corman. An established film editor at the time, Jones had previously worked as Martin Scorsese’s assistant on Taxi Driver, as well as on Joe Dante’s (Gremlins, The Howling) first film Hollywood Boulevard. She produced a short prologue for Don’t Open the Door and Corman enjoyed it so much he told her to go ahead and finish the film. Now, at this time Jones was already slated to work as a film editor on a little film called E.T. But here was Corman offering her the opportunity to produce and direct her own film. Tough choices. Jones decided to seize the opportunity at really creating her own picture and Slumber Party Massacre was born. Originally marketed and sold to the public as a run of the mill slasher film, there’s really much more to this movie. Here’s a quick synopsis of the film courtesy of IMDB:
An eighteen-year-old high school girl is left at home by her parents and she decides to have a slumber party. There is friction between some of the invited guests and the new girl, who is better at basketball than they, so the new girl decides to stay at home (which is conveniently across the street from the host’s house). Meanwhile, a murderer of five people with a propensity for power tools has escaped and is at large, and eventually makes his way to the party, where the guests begin experiencing an attrition problem, with only the new girl to help them.
The real genius behind Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones and the cast play with the exploitation and slasher film stereotypes. Right off the bat the audience is given the Corman classic of “tits, butts and blood.” This was expected from a Corman film and Jones simply gets it out of the way with a classic locker room scene involving the main group of girls after a basketball game. We are also quickly introduced to Russ Thorn (played by Michael Villella), an escaped mass murderer who has chosen a drill (with a 12 inch bit) as his current weapon of choice. His first victim, a beautiful phone repair woman meets her end inside her work van. Now, this first victim could have been anyone, but Jones chose to make her not only female, but a capable, blue-collar working woman. A female handyman also appears for a moment later in the film while installing a peephole at the girl’s basketball coach’s house. Just something to take note of that wasn’t really seen in movies, and especially exploitation films up to this point.
Finally, we really get to see what Russ Thorn is all about as he stalks Linda (Brinke Stevens) through the gym when she goes to look for a forgotten book. There’s no question who the killer is in this film. He’s never really hidden, there’s no mystery who is killing off these girls. He’s an average clean cut white guy wearing jeans, boots and a denim jacket…and yeah, wielding a giant drill. After a bit of a hunt (accompanied by the really amazing synthy, simple, creepy score by Ralph Jones) Thorn claims his second victim without even uttering a word.
Now to the part we’ve all been waiting for, the slumber party. The girls gather at Trish‘s (Michelle Michaels) house while new girl Valerie (Robin Stille) turns down the invitation, even though she conveniently only lives next door. The girls go about typical movie slumber party activities; smoking weed, drinking beer, getting naked and changing in front of each other, etc. Outside, there are two teenage boys who are getting an eyeful while peeking in an open window. Not just a throw away scene, the boys represent the “male gaze” and the fact that these girls, while friends of the boys, are being objectified in a way very similar to the way the killer objectifies them. Lest you think it’s only the males that objectify in this film, there’s a really interesting scene that takes place over at Valerie‘s house. Valerie‘s baby sister Courtney (one of the more interesting characters in the film) seizes an opportunity to search Valerie‘s room and commandeers her Sylvester Stallone Playgirl that she has hidden under her bed. Here she is the one objectifying, and since the Playgirl belongs to Valerie, she obviously also takes part in this practice. A clever little scene to be sure and an interesting counterpart to the teenage boys.
Let’s fast forward a bit. One by one, Thorn manages to pick off not only the girls, but the boys, the neighbor, an unlucky pizza delivery boy, and their concerned basketball coach. Each time he uses his drill in a variety of creative ways. You know what, let’s talk about this drill. This massive, intimidating drill that Thorn is constantly caressing and using to violate his victims. It doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines to see that this drill is not just an interesting weapon, but a phallic metaphor. This is no veiled metaphor either, there’s some incredible shots in the film that make it very clear what this weapon is supposed to represent. As a character Thorn is intentionally bland and little is ever explained as to his motive. His only lines in the whole thing are when he speaks to Trish telling her “All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to… do this. You know you want it. You’ll like it. Yes…” His lack of character development leaves plenty of room for interpretation as to what he is supposed to represent, the most obvious metaphor being the act of sex itself.
Finally Thorn finds himself in a showdown with Valerie who has obtained a machete, equal in size to Thorn‘s drill. She manages to chop the drill bit in half leaving Thorn castrated and unable to fend of her attacks. The satire and the wit is so clever in Slumber Party Massacre and it still holds up incredibly well. While Thorn may be the ultimate party crasher, the real stars of this film are the women involved in it; the actors, the writers, the directors and the characters themselves. While this film came out over 35 years ago now, it’s still so relevant and the issues that it addresses are sadly very timely. If you haven’t yet, definitely spend a night with the girls of Slumber Party Massacre and enjoy a cult classic that offers up way more than one might initially think.