Slumber Party Massacre is a gory and gritty remake of Roger Corman’s 1982 cult classic, directed by Amy Holden Jones, with even more jolting twists and turns than the original. Danishka Esterhazy pays homage to the best parts of the 1982 slasher whilst cutting the misogynistic voyeurism in this self-aware and anything but a subtle parody of the 80s horror genre.
The film is set in Jolly Springs, an isolated cabin resort home to the merciless killer, Russ Thorn (Rob van Vuuren) who preys on naive teenagers. In the first five minutes before the opening credits have rolled, Esterhazy immediately sets the tone for the film with a respectable kill count of two and an on the nose reference to rape culture, where the stereotypical laddish male, fittingly named ‘Chad’ assumes his ex-girlfriend, Trish will have sex with him because of the way she’s dressed. After she rejects him, Chad follows Trish back to the lodge, where he creepily peers on the girls eating pizza, dancing and making brownies through the window.
Esterhazy frames Chad’s point of view with the same voyeuristic camera position she and Jones in the 1982 original use for Russ Thorn’s perspective, which blurs the intentions and differences between a murderer and sleazy high school boys, focusing only on the impact of the victims. Of course, Chad isn’t self-aware enough to see why his spying is an issue, but he calls Russ Thorn (who he doesn’t know is a killer yet) a “pervert” for doing exactly the same thing as he is. Fast forward a couple of minutes, and the killer has murdered Chad and one of Trish’s friends, leaving Trish as the final girl in the cat and mouse chase scene for blood. Esterhazy brings back the iconic drill as the murderer’s weapon, which is seen on the original poster dangling between the killer’s legs, doubling as a not so subtle symbol and commentary on male violence towards women and rape culture.
Once Trish defeats Russ but doesn’t actually kill him, the title credits roll, and we’re introduced to another female lead, Dana (Hannah Gonera), who we quickly learn in Trish’s daughter. Esterhazy pays homage to the first scene in the 1982 version where the original Trish, played by Michele Michaels, is changing and, in classic 80s horror fashion, does a nudity scene, whilst the news of a killer on the loose plays in the background.
There’s no nudity in Esterhazy’s version and a ‘True Crime’ podcast about Russ Thorn plays instead. Dana’s mother, Trish, is wary of Dana going away with her friends for a sleepover due to her own trauma, but she and her four friends obviously go anyway. The chemistry between the women playing best friends on screen is as charming as you’d hope, emphasising the significance of strong female leads that support one another during challenging times. It’s refreshing to see a cast on-screen that use intelligence and logic, and not once does a female character utter the spineless words “what do we do now” to a male character. It’s minor, but it is vital that this sort of realistic representation of women on screen who are just as composed as their male counterparts during taxing moments.
The group stay at the chilling Jolly Springs. This cold and familiar setting gives the film a true 80s slasher, gritty feel to it that lovers of the original will undeniably love. Esterhazy also provides the audience with plenty of gruesome, spine-tingling kills that treat its male and female victims equally. Andries Smit’s intense and suspenseful music builds momentum in the pacing of all three acts before spiralling into a whiplash-inducing concoction of unexpected twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the whole film.
Esterhazy creates a film that is extremely critical of the treatment of women in horror, which at times works well but regularly doesn’t land because the director’s attempt to make a parody of Jones’s original which was already a parody of the genre to begin with. The delivery of dialogue containing buzz words like “toxic masculinity” and “male privilege”, whilst very valid phrases, feel unnatural and break the rhythm of scenes.
The film humorously refers to two of the True Crime obsessed male fans, also staying at Jolly Springs, as ‘Guy 1’ and ‘Guy 2’ but unfortunately falls flat with the dilution of the comedy by over explaining the joke, as though the audience wouldn’t have understood the reference. In an attempt to preserve the best bits of the 1982 original and cut the unnecessary nudity and sexism, Esterhazy seems to forget about the value of subtext and oversaturates scenes with back and forth conversations that you’d expect to see in a Twitter argument against an anonymous troll account, rather than in reality.
Whilst the political narrative is significant to the 2021 remake of a 1982 cult classic, the ‘less is more’ idiom would be better applied to Esterhazy’s take of The Slumber Party Massacre. Nevertheless, the film is a subversive and surprising slasher time capsule that transports you back to the charming and killer-crazed 80s – just without all of that sexism stuff.
Slumber Party Massacre will be released on Digital Download on 13 December and on DVD from 10 January 2022.