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.
Seemingly playing to the fantasies of teenage boys — and probably even grown men — and horror-hounds alike, 'The Slumber Party Massacre' is actually a diamond in the rough. It's a smart, tongue-in-cheek "slasher" that understatedly pokes fun at the subgenre by employing familiar clichés and conventions. It surprises all the more by being released right at the height and popularity of those types of movies. Unfortunately, the film went largely underappreciated during its initial theatrical run, but happily, has garnered a strong and devoted cult following over the years, especially in the home video market. It has even gone so far as amassing a franchise series simple referred to as the "Massacre Collection."
From a screenplay originally written by novelist, poet, and feminist activist Rita Mae Brown, the story doesn't revolve around a mystery or deal with a masked maniac. It's as if prominently declaring to moviegoers, "What's the point?" and "Who cares?" since all we really want is the blood, carnage and nudity. In fact, the killer's identity is flagrantly disclosed at the start of the picture with radio announcements warning the citizens of Venice, California of escaped mass murderer Russ Thorn (Michael Villella doing an awesome, creepy job as the crazed killer). During the first act, this becomes a recurring gag where every time a DJ host cautions listeners, characters switch the station, funnily ignoring the obvious foreshadowing. Essentially, they are willing participants in their own demise.
As for the rest of the plot — as thin and formulaic as it intentionally was written — it mostly follows high school senior Trish (Michelle Michaels). The 18-year-old is the first character to coincidently turn off the radio as Thorn's escape from a mental hospital is announced. Humorously, she collects many of her stuffed toys and throws them in the garbage, signifying her development into adulthood. Yet, this is ironically the day she planned for a slumber party with close friends — promiscuous snob Diane (Gina Hunter), cheerful bad girl Kim (Debra De Liso) and somewhat ditsy Jackie (Andree Honore) — hoping to relive her childhood before graduating. The obligatory virginal "Final Girl" is Valerie (Robin Stille), playing the requisite babysitter and literal girl next door persona.
Aside from characters adhering to the basic outline of the genre, like overt bullet points, director Amy Holden Jones's camerawork visibly borrows stylized conventions and almost hyperbolizes them to the point of silliness. Perhaps the best example of this is the girls' shower scene where the camera quite literally ogles and drools at the female body. Perfectly positioned so that buttocks are prominently displayed in the center of the screen or very slowly panning from right to left and from head to thighs, Jones makes it a point that the camera possesses a rather intrusive but natural gaze that objectifies. Later, she drives the point home when male friends, Jeff (David Millbern) and Neil (Joe Johnson), lustfully stare from a window at the girls outlandishly undress, as if also looking through a screen.
Probably the most blatant commentary made towards the subgenre is the killer's brazen, flagrant and repeatedly hilarious use of a large portable power drill with an incredibly long drill bit. Jones, who also tweaked Mae Brown's script, reportedly declined to edit Steven Spielberg's 'E.T.' in order to make her directorial debut here. And frankly, she should never regret the decision because 'The Slumber Party Massacre' is a smart and witty horror slasher with astute observations on the genre. If the camera doesn't already speak volumes, then the killer's weapon of a choice makes it quite clear. These moments, along with others, also hint at the movie's comedic undertones, making this low-budget flick a genuine cult gem.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Slumber Party Massacre' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc, housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with photos on the back side of the cover sleeve. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
The Driller Killer crashes the Blu-ray party with a solid and quite favorable 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1). Granted, the movie has never been much of a looker, so expectations should be checked at the door. There is a fair amount of softness and average resolution, which can be forgiven as the result of the source's age and condition, with the occasional white specks and bits of dirt. Nonetheless, the cult "slasher" classic has never looked this good or as gratuitously scintillating, offering several excellent moments of sharp detailing.
The overall color palette is animated and cleanly rendered, making the early 80s fashion and design all the more hilarious. Facial complexions appear healthy and revealing, especially during close-ups. Contrast is generally well-balanced but not particularly impressive except for bright daylight exteriors. Blacks could be a tad stronger, making darker portions of the image seem murky and flat, which in turn has produces less-than-appealing shadow details.
All in all, it's a strong high-def transfer that devoted fans are sure to approve of.
While it may not be the sort of wild, riotous party that would garner a visit from the police, the 'Slumber Party' still manages to be quite a shindig.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack is, for all intents and purposes, true and faithful to the production's original design. Only, that loyalty unfortunately comes at the cost of a few, minor nuisances worth noting. The first, and arguably most noticeable, is in the dialogue reproduction where a good deal of hissing is plainly heard in the back and forth of a few conversations. Dynamic range also falls pretty flat and hollow, making most of the film feel canned, narrow and lacking some presence.
Thankfully, like the video, much of these can be exonerated of the party foul since they manage to not completely ruin the blood-soaked debauchery. Vocals remain intelligible throughout, and the blood-curdling screams are delivered cleanly through the center channel. There's not much going in the upper frequencies or in the lower ranges, but much of the track is well-maintained and decently balanced in the mids. In the end, the lossless mix is appropriate and an improvement to previous editions.
English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also included.
From novelist and feminist activist Rita Mae Brown and directed Amy Holden Jones, 'The Slumber Party Massacre' is a wickedly fun horror slasher with clever hints of comedy and post-modern jabs at the very genre to which it belongs. The Blu-ray arrives with a strong and markedly improved audio and video presentation, but the bonus material is disappointingly light. Nonetheless, devoted fans will love the upgrade and will want it proudly displayed in their cult collection.