For slasher enthusiasts, the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy is an aptly titled series that delivers exactly what it suggests; a massacre that occurs during a slumber party. The cover art also sums it all up in a single image of scantily pajama-clad women cowering from a drill-wielding maniac. Yet, all three films were written and directed by women, earning the trilogy a reputation for being a feminist take on the slasher. That’s not entirely true, but that its cast and crew were stacked with women does make the trilogy noteworthy.
The Slumber Party Massacre films were produced by the legendary Roger Corman, the pioneer and king of independent filmmaking (mostly genre) under the model of “fast, cheap and profitable.” Corman didn’t see gender; he hired whoever he felt was suited for the job. He also gave his directors creative freedom on their projects, so long as it contained enough violence and nudity to cut a decent trailer to entice viewers. In the context of the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy, this resulted in a collision of subversion and pure 80s slasher fun.
The Slumber Party Massacre
Amy Holden Jones had been editing films for Roger Corman’s production company and wanted to try her hand at directing. So, she shot the opening scenes from the script over a weekend, spending only $1,000, to show Corman her work. He was impressed and asked her to direct the full film, an opportunity that meant Jones passed up a job editing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. As for the script, it was penned by feminist author Rita Mae Brown, who intended the film to be a lampoon of the slasher genre. It was rewritten by others to take a more straightforward and familiar approach.
The plot set up is simple; teen Trish decides to host a slumber party for her fellow basketball team members while her parents are away. It’s all fun and games until an escaped murderer crashes the party with power tools. Though it doesn’t show its killer until much later, the early reveal that there’s an escaped killer on the loose takes away any mystery, leaving ample time instead to get to know these teen girls.
Despite plenty of nudity to appease Corman’s rules for genre filmmaking, and a straightforward kill by numbers slasher formula, some of Brown’s feminist angle still shines through. Namely in its gender swapping. The first kill of the film is that of a phone repair woman, introduced up on a ladder working away on the lines. The killer offs her and steals her van (hence his new collection of power tools). The love interests to the female protagonists exist as fodder for the killer, and their dialogue is solely fretting over their relationships. The slumber party ladies, though, talk basketball, call up their coach for stats on the previous night’s game, and gossip over pizza and marijuana. The true hero, Valerie, spends most of the film next door watching horror movies and bickering with younger sister Courtney. The coach, also female, also comes to save the day in the final act (she fails).
Gender swapping aside, one of the biggest subversions this film takes is that these characters band together once they realize they have a killer on their hands. Granted, their plans to survive and thwart their attacker aren’t very successful, but it’s rare in slashers to see its characters attempting safety in numbers.
In other words, despite the generic title, this is a slasher is anything but. Fun gory kills, really goofy “red herrings” (hello, weird neighbor who uses a kitchen cleaver to kill snails at night), and even an early appearance by scream queen Brinke Stevens as an early victim. It takes its time to introduce these characters, too, even in a fast-paced slasher.
Slumber Party Massacre II
If ever there was a perfect film to play in a double feature alongside Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, this would be it. They even share the same release date, so, now it’s mandatory that someone set this double feature up. Writer/director Deborah Brock wasn’t interested in following the same footsteps of The Slumber Party Massacre, and this sequel gets weird.
Set years after the first film, now teen Courtney is a senior in high school and plays in a band with her three close friends. She also happens to suffer night terrors about the drill-wielding maniac from the first film, only this time he’s a young greaser with a massive drill bit guitar. And he likes to sing. When Courtney goes away for the weekend with her friends, and their boyfriends, the nightmares become reality.
So, between Courtney’s band and her musically inclined killer, Slumber Party Massacre II steps away from the standard slasher and into schlocky musical horror. Freddy Krueger mania was in full swing at this point, and The Driller Killer draws overt influence from the dream stalking wisecracking boogeyman. First, he taunts Courtney in her dreams, then her dreams turn her waking life into surreal horror, and finally, The Driller Killer escapes from her dreams into her reality to slaughter everyone in his path – all while dancing and singing in his fringe jacket.
This sequel doesn’t bring anything insightful to the realm of slashers, it’s far more interested in B-movie fun and special effects. That’s not a bad thing, by any means. The best moment of the film is the gag-inducing vision Courtney has of her friend Sally’s massive zit growing to grotesque, monstrous size until it bursts and splatters her with fluid. Yeah. That’s the type of madness Slumber Party Massacre II delivers.
Slumber Party Massacre III
The third entry in the trilogy goes back to the blueprint of the original, following a new, entirely unrelated group of girls getting picked off by a drill-wielding killer during a sleepover post volleyball game. Written by producer Catherine Cyran, Slumber Party Massacre III wasn’t initially intended to be a sequel to this series at all. Directed by Sally Mattison, this sequel was originally titled Stab in the Dark, but was repurposed for an easier sell with a recognizable title.
This is likely why it’s the only film in the trilogy to not reveal the identity of the killer until the end, and give the killer an actual motive outside of just being a homicidal maniac. Granted, just what that motive is remains a bit murky. A point is made to connect the killer to a character who died prior to the events of the narrative, but doesn’t really much explain how that character is connected to anyone in the main cast. They’re just mentally unstable, ok? Slumber Party Massacre III also tries really hard to throw in a few red herrings, albeit red herrings that are so over the top they’re easy to scratch off the suspect list.
The killer gets a little more creative with his weaponry, too, lending to humorous kills like the plug-in vibrator electrocution via shower, mounted swordfish “sword”, chainsaw, and above all, the drill. It matches the body count of the first film, but with a little more gore and nudity. Or maybe a lot more.
In terms of subversion and originality, Slumber Party Massacre III closes out the trilogy as the weakest entry. But for slasher fanatics, it still brings entertaining fun. The Slumber Party Massacre trilogy is an odd trio of slashers that follow the Corman style of genre filmmaking but with the freedom of making it their own for the women who wrote and directed each film. Because of that, it’s a slasher series that doesn’t feature the same killer twice, and each brings a very different flavor to the mix. Well. Except for slumber parties and drill induced massacres.