by Evan J Peterson
SHRIEK returns to Scarecrow Video for one night to kick off our Women Horror Directors festival on Sunday, October 2! Join us for The Slumber Party Massacre, directed and produced by Amy Holden Jones. Pajamas encouraged!
Tickets available here.
Stats on The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Director and Producer: Amy Holden Jones
Writer: Rita Mae Brown
Score: Ralph Jones
Nudity: Immediate and plentiful
Major actors: Michelle Michaels, Pamela Roylance, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra De Liso, Andree Honore, Gina Smika Hunter, Jennifer Meyers
Body Count: we lost count (many)
Major Protagonists: Female
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? Yes, and early.
Oh, The Slumber Party Massacre. Here we have an overlooked example of a film that can be read in two very different ways by very different audiences. On the surface, it’s a dumb, low-budget teen slasher flick, complete with plenty of bare breasts and buttocks. Just underneath that, it’s a feminist critique of the slasher genre, and it comes a decade before Dr. Carol Clover’s essential book on the subject, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, which we often bring up at SHRIEK.
Nudity is immediate. Director Amy Holden Jones says that this was a requirement of Roger Corman’s production company, who bankrolled the film. She gets it out of the way early as part of changing and showering, either alone or in the company of other women. There’s a caressed nipple, but that’s as far as sex goes, unlike the genre convention of “get laid, get stabbed.” When some boys see the girls changing, they’re clearly infringing on the girls’ privacy. The shower scene itself follows a tense game of basketball in PE class, which is quite possibly a reference to De Palma’s Carrie.
Jones says that Rita Mae Brown’s original script wasn’t funny, but Jones adapts it to create a distinct satire of the genre, complete with some cartoonish camp. It’s quite common—standard, even—to rewrite a script before and during shooting, while still giving credit to the original author. What’s particularly significant about Brown’s script is the author, a lesbian feminist famous for her books Rubyfruit Jungle and the Mrs. Murphy Mysteries series.
Between screenwriter and director/producer, the film ends up with many feminist elements missing from the slasher flicks it parodies. In the first act, there are women performing jobs usually associated with men: a telephone repair operator, a carpenter. The female PE coach is also a prominent figure in the film, one of two surrogate parents who watch over the teens while the parents of the household are away (a popular and convenient slasher trope—absent parents).
There’s also an unnecessary but intriguing scene in which a very young teen, Courtney, peruses Playgirl. Caught by her older sister, she is teased but not shamed. The sexuality of the women is dignified at the same time as the boys in the film try to exploit it.
The men of the film are largely useless and/or antagonistic. Other than the murderer, there are skirt-chasing boys and a rather creepy neighbor, all of whom fail to save the girls. Instead, the girls must work together to bring down the murderer. Spoiler: There’s more than one survivor.
The most glaring feminist statement of the film is in the killer’s choice of weapon: he uses a massive drill to penetrate the heads and bodies of his victims. Slasher films are so-named due to the prevalence of stabbings. One needs no academic psychological background to notice that the violence perpetrated against women (and everyone else) in this genre comes most often at the end of a man’s pointed weapon. It’s the blade that does most of the damage in this genre, not usually a gun blast or a choking rope or poison. Audiences pay to see the weapon enter the body. The rape metaphor is ever-present, and Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown craft The Slumber Party Massacre in such a way to make this subtext into bold text. Even the film’s poster suggests not murder but abuse: young women on the ground, staring tensely up at a man standing with legs spread before them.
What’s truly remarkable is that Amy Holden Jones has made this treatise on rape and violence against women into a subversively entertaining horror romp.
Join us at Scarecrow Video for The Slumber Party Massacre, Sunday Oct. 2!
Then we’re back at Naked City Brewery for more Women Horror Directors on Oct. 16, 23, and 30!
Evan J. Peterson (evanjpeterson.com) is a college professor, author, and journalist. He is a Clarion West alum, and he received his MFA from Florida State University. His writing has been featured in The Stranger, BoingBoing, Weird Tales, Queers Destroy Horror, and The Rumpus. His books include The Midnight Channel, Skin Job, and Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5. He lives in Seattle with his werewolf, Dorian Greyhound.