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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Slumber Party Massacre Collection (DVD)

The Slumber Party Massacre Collection
1982-1990 (2010) - New World Pictures (Shout! Factory)
Released on DVD on October 5th, 2010


No movie genre loves a sequel more than horror. Sure, studios have been successfully building all kinds of franchises since the dawn of cinema. But in horror, you don't need to have any of the original filmmakers or actors involved. You don't need to have any hope or intention of receiving a theatrical release. You don't even have to have a single narrative connection to any of the preceding films. Just slap a roman numeral on the title and keep the budget low and you're almost guaranteed to make a profit. Even when I'm not a fan of a particular series, part of me enjoys seeing how long they can keep it up. It's like a cinematic version of Hot Potato, where doing a remake of the original means you've dropped the ball and have to start over.


By horror standards, the Slumber Party Massacre series is a relatively quick game. The three movies have precious little to do with each other. They all take place in Venice, California, although that seems to be more of a coincidence based on the location's proximity to Roger Corman's studio. The killers favor a power drill and target attractive young high school girls enjoying a parent-free evening of booze, boys and pizza. And, unique for the genre, all three films were written and directed by women, although it takes a big stretch of the imagination to interpret any of them as radical feminist takes on the slasher movie.

The 1982 original, directed by Amy Holden Jones and written by Rita Mae Brown, is a paint-by-numbers killer-on-the-loose flick. Trish (Michelle Michaels) is a popular teen whose parents have left town for the weekend. She throws a slumber party in their absence but unfortunately for the girls, homicidal maniac Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) has escaped and has his industrial strength drill with him. He targets Trish's house, while right next door, wallflower Valerie (Robin Stille) and her little sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers) hear strange noises and worry that trouble's a'brewin'. The carnage is delivered with grim efficiency and there are a couple of clever touches early on. But by and large, The Slumber Party Massacre is a tired rehash that runs a mere 77 minutes but feels like it's about twice as long. Even so, the movie has a devoted cult following that must see something in it that completely eluded me.

For Slumber Party Massacre II, writer-director Deborah Brock made a sharp left turn into the bizarre. Picking up five years after the original, Valerie has been institutionalized and Courtney (now played by future Wings star Crystal Bernard) is haunted by recurring nightmares. But instead of dreaming about Russ Thorn, she's conjured up images of a new Driller Killer (Atanas Ilitch), a leather-clad rock-and-roller with a demonic guitar-drill. She heads off with her friends for a weekend of partying and band practice where, for reasons that are never made clear, the Driller Killer steps out of her dreams and into her condo. SPM2 really isn't much better than its predecessor but it's more enjoyable simply because it's so flippin' weird. It's certainly the only slasher flick I've ever seen that gives the killer a musical number. Don't even bother trying to make sense of the plot, just sit back and enjoy the over-the-top performances, absurd makeup effects and rockin' 80s tunes and fashions. If nothing else, SPM2 is certainly memorable, unlike the undistinguished original.

Unfortunately, Slumber Party Massacre III abandons the all-out wackiness of SPM2 for another straight-forward psycho-with-a-drill adventure. This one has no connection at all to either of the two earlier movies. It's a completely new set of kids, terrorized by a completely new killer. Written by Catherine Cyran and directed by Sally Mattison, this is the weakest of a weak lot. The kids are bland and interchangeable and they spend about as much time and energy figuring out how to remove a stain from the rug as they do how to escape from the killer. Late in the game, one of the girls tries seducing the killer, distracting him long enough to try to grab a weapon. It doesn't work and as the camera pulls back from the carnage, we see the three other girls STANDING RIGHT THERE, apparently having decided to hang out and watch rather than, you know, leave, call the cops, bang on the neighbors' door or help in any way. It's that kind of movie.

Technically, The Slumber Party Massacre Collection isn't one of the best entries in Shout's line of Corman classics. The prints are beaten up and scratchy, the audio is hissy and distorted, and SPM3 is stuck with a full-frame transfer. It's a serviceable presentation at best. Fortunately, the extras help make up for the lackluster presentation. Disc one includes a terrific three-part documentary called Sleepless Nights: Revisiting The Slumber Party Massacres, which is more fun than watching some of the actual movies. You also get trailers for all three movies, a still gallery and an audio commentary (more on that in a second). Disc two includes both sequels, plus still galleries and two more commentaries. The commentary participants include Amy Holden Jones, Michael Villella and actress Debra Deliso on part one, Deborah Brock, producer Dan Daniel, actress Juliette Cummins and story editor Beverly Gray on part two, and Sally Mattison, actresses Brandi Burkett and Hope Marie Carlton, and story editor Beverly Gray on part three. All three of the commentaries are moderated by SPM superfan Tony Brown and are full of interesting and amusing stories and information.

The enduring popularity of the Slumber Party Massacre series is a complete mystery to me. The first and third entries are utterly unremarkable, while the second is more a random collision of bizarre moments than a coherent movie. So what do fans see in these movies? You got me. But if you're one of them, there's quite a bit to enjoy in this set.

Film Ratings (I/II/III): D+/C-/D-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C+/B+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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