Written and Directed by: Deborah Brock
Starring: Crystal Bernard, Jennifer Rhodes, and Kimberly McArthur
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I can't get no... satisfaction!"
The 80s were arguably the most crassly commercial era of American film, so it’s no surprise that this age of excess is easily reflected in its horror fare, particularly the slashers that clogged theaters and video stores. Watching the big franchises unfold and become consumed by such excess is especially telling: by the time the decade had closed, Jason Voorhees had moved from the backwoods of Crystal Lake to the mean streets of Manhattan, while Freddy Krueger had ascended from suburban boogeyman to the genre’s rock star clown prince.
However, it’s just as (if not more) fitting to look even further down the cinematic candy aisle for the decade’s real junk food, like The Slumber Party Massacre. When it kicked off in ’82, it already felt like a subtly self-aware riff, one that was ruthlessly stuffed with all of the clichés as its subtext threatened at every turn to become the unassailable text: when you have a guy running around trying to slaughter nubile valley girls with his phallic drill, you have perhaps reached Peak 80s Slasher status.
That is, until you consider Slumber Party Massacre II, a sequel released only five years later but feels as though it hails from another decade altogether—somehow, in such a short time span, the 80s morphed into exactly how we remember it three decades later: glib, goofy, absurd, and fuelled by sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Slumber Party Massacre II is a reckoning for an MTV generation confronting its own decadence and embracing it in the most unhinged, nonsensical way imaginable. It doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but, then again, did the 80s make any?
Set five years after the events of the first film, it catches up with Courtney Bates (Crystal Barnard), one of two survivors of the driller killer massacre. With her older sister locked up in a nearby insane asylum, Courtney has to endure her own trauma with a mother who doesn’t seem to care and friends who don’t really understand. No longer the precocious, sexually curious girl she once was, she’s repressed her urges and barely feels like she belongs to the band she and her friends have started. One of her friends suggests they spend a weekend in their family’s abandoned condo, and Courtney’s eagerness is readily apparent, especially when it holds the promise of boys. The only problem is that her daydreams of hunky Matt (Patrick Lowe) are met with nightmarish visions of the Driller Killer, who has taken the guise of a rockabilly Andrew Dice Clay lookalike (Atanas Ilitch).
If the first Slumber Party Massacre is an obvious conflation of sex and death, then this sequel takes the notion to an even more logical extreme. So many slashers tacitly make this connection, but here’s one that actually tackles it head on by turning sex into Courtney’s literal boogeyman: ostensibly, the Driller Killer only exists in her head and only emerges when she dares to dream about intimacy. Typical slashers deal in maniacs trying to kill virgins; this one is about a repressed virgin whose sexual urges create the maniac, not unlike the way fear conjures Freddy Krueger, only with more guitar solos.* Like its predecessor, Slumber Party Massacre II is directed by a woman (Deborah Brock takes over for Amy Holden Jones) concerned with female sexuality, particularly its power: in other hands, it might read as paranoia or revulsion of it, but Block seems to be making a pointed reaction to the implicit conservative leanings of this genre.
One of the most fascinating features of the slasher film is the paradoxical tension guiding it: on the one hand, they are transgressive in their gratuitous sex and violence, yet, on the other, they often uphold conventional morality. Indulging and drugs and sex lead victims to their doom, much to the delight and mortification of Reagan-era fuddy-duddies. But what happens when this notion is escalated to absurd heights? Considering Slumber Party Massacre II manifests these notions into a wailing psycho whose theatrics (and ridiculously ornamental guitar) would even make Prince blush, it’s hard to imagine Brock isn’t taking the piss out of the whole thing, especially since the Driller Killer doesn’t belong to the same generation as his victims. Rather, he’s a greaser throwback from the boomer heyday—you know, the same boomers wagging their fingers at debauched teens during the 80s (here further represented by authority figures that tower in the frame and practically break the fourth wall when Brock films the characters being chided from their own point-of-view). He’s not Courtney’s unloosed id so much as a personification of puritanical lunatics looking to punish women for their own sexuality.
If this is a quintessential 80s slasher (complete with frequent genre starlets Juliette Cummins and Heidi Kozak), it only follows that it’d send a sharp rejoinder in the direction of its critics. The message—delivered with the screech of guitar feedback and the howls of radical bloodshed—is unmistakably “fuck off.” Slumber Party Massacre II is a righteous, fiercely crafted splatter movie that embraces every cliché, from the peeping tom boyfriends to the scantily-clad girls pillow fighting with one another. Inexplicable dialogue (“smoke your head” is a refrain here—did anyone actually even say this during the 80s?), dopey characters and their dopey decisions, and a general disregard for decency or logic set the stage for ample nudity and even more ample bloodshed that follow. In short, everything that’s supposedly terrible about slasher movies becomes an exquisite indulgence as part of a full-course meal serving up severed limbs and viscera.
Once Brock begins to truly remove the hinges (this happens right around the point where a girl’s face begins to fester and boil with a tumor), Slumber Party Massacre II ascends to an ethereal plane in the slasher movie pantheon. Truly, there is nothing quite like the fevered climax, which takes on the frenzied tenor of Sam Raimi’s work as her hyperactive camera bobs and weaves through a construction area serving as the final staging ground between Courtney and her tormenter. Before he commits to finally hunting her and her remaining friends down, though, he breaks into song in one of the most gloriously batshit moments in slasher history. As he prances and stalks about the house, Slumber Party Massacre II transforms into a music video, a fitting climax since it’s essentially splatter movie by way of Jem and the Holograms. Here, you can feel the film pointing its finger back at its critics and their own denial: what does it say when their vintage rockabilly avatar of justice is sort of a square preying on teenaged girls. Maybe it’s not Courtney who’s repressed after all—I mean, she’s not the one carrying around the oversized drill looking to fuck everything in sight until the credits roll.
Where the first Slumber Party Massacre gently nudged and winked at slasher conventions, its sequel wears them like a badge of honor. Both are vital snapshots their era, with Part II serving as the platonic ideal of cheeseball slashers and an argument for their existence all at once. Later slashers would wear their reverence on their sleeve to make a wry commentary--this one is just content to party. It doesn't get more 80s than that.
*It should be noted, however, that this did happen once.
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