Happy Halloween, Enemaniacs!
There are a handful of traditions on this website. The first has always been the October theme month of horror or monster films. That started with the very first five posts way back in 2014. When the blog returned from a lengthy hiatus in 2016, I continued the idea for October, but started a new, second tradition – the Halloween special post. However, to say that was started in 2016 isn’t exactly true either as October 31, 2014 was the original release date of my first Jess Franco review, the really bad Oasis of the Zombies.
Another tradition on this blog is to often mention the influence of the old Roku channel Bizarre TV. I talk about it a lot. It was, without a doubt, the primary influence for me to get off my duff after a somewhat crappy time in my life filled with loneliness and despair to get back to my one true love – writing this blog. Not only that, but it led to one last tradition on this blog. That last tradition was to celebrate the final six films that ran on Bizarre TV for months at a time before the channel finally going off the air forever. We’ve reached the final entry of those final days of one of the finest channels on the history of Roku. This year’s Halloween Special Post goes to The Slumber Party Massacre.
I decided to save this one for last because of the six films that closed out Bizarre TV, Slaughterhouse Rock, Zombie Nightmare, Werewolf of Washington, Doom Asylum, Nightmare, and The Slumber Party Massacre, this one is maybe the best. Nightmare might be the scariest, Doom Asylum might just be the most peculiarly offbeat, but The Slumber Party Massacre has Roger Corman and a pair of women writing and directing the film that really wanted to do something that could make a tongue-in-cheek statement about horror.
The film is written by feminist activist and author Rita Mae Brown. She got started in activism while she was in college when she fought for the Civil Rights Movement. After that, she didn’t stop. She was fiercely anti-war while fighting for feminist issues before joining in with the Gay Liberation Movement as well. She mostly wrote fiction in her writing career. The Slumber Party Massacre was her only feature film script, though she did write some TV movies and even won awards for her work in television.
This was her only film script… because it was written as a complete send-up and parody of the new trend of the slasher sub-genre of horror. Yet, when it got into the hands of some producers, the script was changed to lose some of the elements of the parody and more comedic stuff to resemble more of a straightforward slasher horror which was likely to Brown’s disappointment. However, we’ll see as this article continues, that not everything was straightened into a more classic slasher mold. We still get a few good chuckles.
That said, film editor Amy Holden Jones wanted to direct the film and was given the blessing of Roger Corman. However, he had to be convinced to give her the money to do the film. Jones took a version of the script that would eventually become The Slumber Party Massacre and spent a week and $1000 to film three complete scenes for the movie. Her husband, a cinematographer, got some equipment for her while she went UCLA to get some actors. She filmed the scenes, showed Corman, and he bankrolled her.
Amy Holden Jones got to direct her first film, and that caused her to miss out on editing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial where she might have gotten nominated for an Oscar for editing (which Carol Littleton did). Jones did not direct many films, only four in all, but she did have a decent career as a writer since the 80s. Probably her biggest hit was Beethoven about the big dog that really bugged Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt.
While a couple of the other actors in the movie have made other things through the years, the most famous two in this would later be listed among the great scream queens of the 1980s – Brinke Stevens and Robin Stille. Stevens dies early on in the movie as this is still very early in her career and she hadn’t yet had her much more famous roles. Stille is a little bit of a sad story.
Robin Stille was brand new to acting at the time this film was made. Her best known part would come later in Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama alongside a trio of heavy hitter scream queens Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, and Linnea Quigley. She flamed out relatively quickly. Getting roles in mainstream films, but never anything significant enough to sustain a real career.
When roles became hard to come by, she spiraled into a deep depression and she began drinking heavily. She had lost contact with her former co-stars and others in the industry. In February of 1996, she committed suicide at the age of 34. While that is sad enough, you can say that this happens quite a bit with those who are unable to control their substance abuse along with the cutthroat nature of making it in Hollywood. However, it’s especially sad because Stille gave birth to twin sons in 1983 and they were suddenly left without a mom due to tragic circumstances.
I always remember watching this movie on Bizarre TV in those waning weeks that the channel was winding down. I never could really watch the movie the same way after I learned that about Stille committing suicide. She likely would not have had any idea how many people really love this movie since it was a combination of a run of the mill slasher while also feeling like something more at the same time. As it turns out, and probably due to the title itself, this is often one of the more overlooked slashers of the decade for actually being pretty fun with mostly likable and/or interesting characters.
As a side note, whenever I watch this and see Robin Stille, I always have to stop and remind myself that she is not Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The movie wastes no time jumping right into the action with the title splattered across the morning sky. Right out of the gate we get something clever. We follow a kid delivering the morning paper with spooky synthesizer music. We then see Michelle Michaels, playing Trish Devereaux. Trish is sleeping and suddenly we hear a woman screaming. However, the screaming woman is calling in for a contest on the morning radio program. So right out of the gate, we have a scream that does not startle our featured character out of her slumber (who also doesn’t look terribly excited about facing the new day in general), and that scream is immediately undercut by the radio deejay. However, the radio deejay’s excitement that this girl is excited to be a winning caller is undercut immediately by him announcing that the girl won her very own t-shirt for the radio station to which the girl only responds with a disappointed, “Oh…” before Trish changes the channel.
Immediately out of the gate, this film is intelligently using tone that feels like it is related to Rita Mae Brown’s original parody script. A girl screams on the radio as if she’s being attacked by a killer. That scream does not illicit any kind of excitable reaction from Trish. The radio host reveals the prize. We hear the disappointment of the caller. It’s a perfect few moments after scary synthesizer music juxtaposed against a beautiful Southern California morning.
Trish’s own unexcited expression also portrays that she’s desensitized to a woman screaming as if her head is about to be cut off. Again, it is poking a little bit at the idea and directly opposing what horror movies should make us feel. This is all for me to say that this is a wonderful way to start your horror movie. Oh, that and spending the time to make sure a common trope of horror movies of the era is given time to breathe – female nudity for the sake of female nudity.
This isn’t even the only time they play with this concept either. Stay tuned. Alright, we basically see Trish get ready for school. She does something very odd, though. The movie takes place just after Trish’s 18th birthday and thus her final year of high school. That morning, she decides to collect up all her stuffed animals and assorted other kiddie stuff and puts them into a bag and places them in the garbage. I think this was meant to imply that she’s no longer a little girl. As she walks away to go to school, some unseen guy snatches a doll from the bag.
At school, a couple guys are contemplating who they are going to ask to the next dance. One suggestion that comes up is for one of the guys to ask the new girl, Valerie. However, the other guy kind of scoffs at the idea. And I’m like, “Are you sure? Have you seen Robin Stille? People coming into a new school really need new friends. Maybe you should, I dunno, ask her out? She’s a cutie!”
But then they see a woman who works for the telephone company and the guy looking for a date decides to chat her up. I guess she’s good too. 20-something blondes do like to party – at least that’s what these movies of this era have always told me. However, she gets snatched by someone who was hiding in her van and a shot that is both funny and also chilling, but shot very well, is then seen of the guys walking away and the girl banging on the back window of the van while she is being attacked.
Inside the van, the girl is drilled by our slasher killer’s favorite weapon of choice, a giant power drill.
At school, we see the girls gym class playing a game of basketball. A game of sweaty, sweaty, oh so sweaty basketball. In short shorts and tight shirts. Goddamn I love the 80s. We meet our other girls. But I can’t focus on any of that right now because… Because… Um… Uh…
Yup, this is a relatively infamous shower scene. This was something that can be critiqued. I mean, I could watch this shit over and over and over and give you an amazingly detailed play-by-play of every nook and cranny of this scene… I mean! I mean, Amy Holden Jones later questioned whether or not she should have done this scene. Here was a woman directing a movie about a killer attacking a group of girls and the girls having to overcome and win the night, right? Granted, Corman wanted this sort of stuff, but we already had Trish going full tits out earlier. This wasn’t totally necessary. I believe this scene was later revealed to be something the actresses were uneasy about because of there being a woman director and they really didn’t think it would be handled this way. I could be misremembering the story I had seen in a documentary about the movie, but I do clearly remember there being a question at one point whether or not this should have been shot this way.
Anyway, we meet our other girls that are central figures for this evening. Along with Trish, the seeming leader of the in group of girls, and Valerie, the new girl, we have blonde Kim, black girl Jackie, stuck up brunette drama queen Diane, and Brinke Stevens. We get to see a whole lot of them in this shower scene too and I appreciate that. Valerie also has a precocious younger sister, Courtney, who has just gone boy crazy, but we don’t meet her until later.
Trish really wants to become friends Valerie. Kim and Jackie seem to not have any beef with the new girl either. But Diane, isn’t just a smokin’ hot little ball of fire, she’s a stuck up bitch. Diane wants nothing to do with Valerie, but Kim asks if that has anything to do with how good she is at basketball and Trish wonders if it has anything to do with how pretty she is. Diane says she has to work at being that pretty because Diane, well, she doesn’t have to do anything to be as hot as she is. Sadly, Val overhears the conversation and runs away when Trish approaches her to invite her to the party.
Brinke Stevens has to go back into the school because she forgot something and has to go back in to get it. This gives the electric drill guy a chance to stalk her and make her wish she didn’t forget her books like a dummy. He works quickly to lock all the doors to prevent her from getting out. She’s able to dodge the first attack and only gets her arm drilled, but she’s not able to hide for long before he’s able to find her because her wound is bleeding out from under the door in the room she’s hiding in.
Also, everyone notices that the giant drill this guy uses for a weapon is 100% an analog for his dick, right? Thought so too. This is most definitely a thing that’s also been analyzed quite a bit. I suspect that too was all part of that original parody script of Brown’s. I have to believe that pretty much everything she wrote is still here, but it’s just played for serious instead of being a black comedy.
I also want to point out a few other small things. First, every time someone on the radio starts talking about our killer, Russ Thorn, they either turn the station or turn off the radio. Second, this movie is about sisters doin’ it for themselves. The girls mostly have agency throughout the whole thing. The guys are trying to get into the slumber party to get some trim, sure, but the girls are mostly left to occupy all the main roles in the movie. Also, it tends to be a virtue to be younger too as the adult characters are killed off. I also can’t help but notice that the basketball coach and P.E. teacher, Coach Jana, is likely hinted at being a lesbian. She lives by herself and has a lady handyma… er… woman that comes over and does things around the house for her (i.e. installing peephole in the door, hanging shelves, etc.), and that handywoman is most definitely given a “butch” demeanor.
The movie showcases a ton of different types of female characters. To be completely and totally serious, this might be one of the more feminist movies ever made – at least in the horror genre. And that’s done without having to draw a single moment of attention from this incredibly lean and efficient movie to call that out. Couple that with that really strange thing at the beginning of Trish throwing away her “little girl” things, it seems to try to approach the idea of crossing over from adolescence to adulthood in a way typically reserved for boys and male-centric stories.
But also gratuitous shower scene…
For a little bit in the movie, we have a couple false starts on some horror. When Trish comes home from school, she hears noises in the house and it turns out to be her neighbor, Mr. Redherring. He saw that her door was left open and he was checking out the house to make sure everything is okay. Meanwhile, over at Coach Jana’s house, she first breaks a glass. While she is cleaning that up, she hears something in her place. It turns out to be her cat trying to get out of the closet. It was established earlier that she was looking for her cat. So, we get a nice payoff.
The girls come over for the party and bring some Michelobs and Maui Wowee. Meanwhile, Valerie is making a big pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid for her sister, Courtney, while they read some gossip mags. If you ever wonder how I spend my Friday nights – especially in my high school years – you can see it right here…
While Valerie is outside alone cleaning up after some dogs that knocked over the trash cans, she sees something strange next door and hurries back inside. We also see our two main guys in the cast, Neil and Jeff, coming by to peek in the window to see the girls changing into their pajamas which means we get to see some more titties. Russ dispatches of the neighbor charged with keeping an eye on Trish’s place.
When Trish goes to close the window, she sees what looks to be somebody by the garage. Of course, we know it is Russ, but he’s left something for Trish to see – her Barbie doll made bloodied and pinned to the side of the house with a cleaver.
This whole stretch of the movie is what makes the whole damn thing work the most for me. Yes, those first few minutes are perfect. Yes, there are lots of interesting characters in each of the very different kinds of girls introduced. However, this section that does not include any real scares, and no overt “jokes” just works on giving us character scenarios that are damn likable.
Diane goes to talk to her boyfriend on the phone and the other girls listen in to take the piss out of her later. Courtney sneaks upstairs to read Playgirl while licking a giant lollipop. We find out that Val once caught her doing something “naughty” when she was in 5th grade. Trish, Kim, and Jackie have to go fix a power outage because Neil and Jeff was playing a prank on them. Diane sneaking her boyfriend into a girls-only party. Val and Courtney just talking like sisters while they prank and rib each other but also doing each other’s hair and makeup.
This is the stuff that makes you like characters and HOPE they don’t get killed. Even characters like Diane, who are stuck up bitches who think they are hot shit in a champagne glass, are human and likable in these scenes. These scenes will make or break the movie for you, but it does make something pretty clear – when you have a woman writing and a woman directing a movie about girls being stalked by a killer, you end up having super realistic and meaningful moments between the characters. This is kind of like you are also at the slumber party and hanging out with your friends or sister or what have you.
Things do start to head downward for the party. Diane gets convinced by her boyfriend to leave with him to go back to his place so they can play a couple games of grab ass. She has to make the awkward revelation to her friends that she is leaving this party that was meant to just be the girls for “old times’ sake” to go off with her boyfriend to do things that, clearly, has caused these types of slumber parties to need to be set up this way to celebrate old times gone by. when she gets back to the car, her boyfriend loses his head (literally) and she is chased around the garage by Russ until we see a shot that turns out to be relatively iconic and used often in advertisements for the movie.
This does draw the attention of Courtney and Valerie. Courtney heard the car honking when Diane was trying to get her friends’ attention (they couldn’t hear thanks to making daiquiris in the blender) and she heard screaming. Things get real bad at the party itself when the pizza guy shows up, but he’s been killed by Russ…
We’re now propelled into the final act of the movie. The girls know there is a killer on the loose. The guys, Neil and Jeff, are trying to figure out what they can do to help the girls. They plan to make a run for it… but not the way you think. The phone line is cut so they need to get help. They are going to run in opposite directions and try to find someone to help. The girls give them knives and send them out to get that help. Jeff is sent out the back and through the garage where he finds Diane’s body and gets killed before he even is able to leave the garage. Neil makes it to Valerie’s door, but she’s watching TV too loudly to hear him at the door (she’s watching Hollywood Boulevard – edited by Amy Holden Jones). The commotion draws Russ’ attention and they fight in the yard out of view from Valerie. Neil is hacked to shit with the very knife he was sent out to protect himself with.
So… The guys are out of the way completely. Not a one of them could save the girls. Now it is time for the girls to actually protect themselves. Speaking of the girls, Jackie reminds everyone that they still haven’t had that food. So they crawl over to the pizza guy and she decides to go ahead and have a couple slices because “life does go on after all.”
Things are not made better by Courtney sneaking out of the house to go over and crash the party at Trish’s place. When Courtney sees her sister coming, she hides. Valerie knocks on the door, and this causes Jackie to rush to the door to let her in for help, but that plays right to Russ who slashes Jackie’s throat with the drill. After a few more minutes, Val goes inside to see what’s going on. When Val calls for Trish, Kim wants to answer, but Trish says they probably shouldn’t because that got Jackie killed. Val leaves again which makes the girls wonder if a) Val has been killed by Russ, b) Val is in cahoots with Russ (she is the new girl and they don’t know her well and they didn’t invite her to the party), or c) she just, I dunno, left? While they try to figure that out, Russ sneaks in through the window behind them.
Trish knocks Russ upside the head with a baseball back but it doesn’t stop him too long and he stabs and kills Kim. So Trish runs out of the room while Val is still looking for Courtney. Courtney is still looking for a party. She wants to raid Trish’s fridge to get a beer because she is fucking desperate to be an adult. Now, if only Courtney had actually looked into the fridge, she would have probably grown up a little that night… Because she would have seen a dead body.
Seeing how she was that needy for an ice cold Michelob, Courtney does go back and finally sees Kim’s body. Her screaming, then Val’s screaming, causes Russ to come downstairs to see what’s up. Courtney watches from under the couch as Russ moves the body of the pizza delivery man from under the blanket and tosses him down into the basement. Russ then hides under the blanket himself. When Coach Jana comes over to check on the girls and give them an update on the Dodgers game (the girls are constantly talking sports in this by the way – a totally male thing to do but not in this movie).
She moves the blanket and sees Russ. She tries to go poker versus drill to fight him off but that doesn’t really work. Also, Valerie finds a handheld electric saw and tries to use it as a weapon, but it’s corded and she doesn’t even make it out of the basement with it. Courtney trips Russ and Coach Jana beats him with the poker. Trish comes storming into the room with a knife and starts stabbing him over and over. Coach Jana pulls Trish away which gives Russ the chance to slice the coach’s guts open.
Russ tells Trish that all the girls were very pretty and that he loves her. Val found something that isn’t corded – a machete. She comes into the room and chases Russ outside where she cuts his drill dick in half and then cuts his hand off and slices his guts open. He falls into the pool and seemingly dies. He climbs out and attacks Val and Courtney, but Trish is able to knock him off Val and when he lunges to attack Val again, she holds the machete up and impales him. The girls are all left crying and completely traumatized by the evening as sirens blare in the background.
I really like this movie. It works on a lot of levels depending on what you’re looking for. For fans of your general slasher, it’s got that. For fans of hot chicks, it’s got that too. It even has boobs. But on a deeper level, it’s got a lot of fascinating things to look for and to pick up on if you want to think about things a little more. You’ve got believable relationships between friends, sisters, strangers, etc. Again, I think that really benefits from having a woman writing the script and directing the film because this is so heavily centered on a group of girls.
In all, I admit I’ve seen this movie a lot. For months, it was what was on BTV when I turned on the app when I would get started working each morning. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this movie. Mostly, though, I think about how much I loved Bizarre TV and how much it inspired me to get back to this blog and how it helped carry me to this point, my 241st entry on the blog. Without waking up that one March 2016 morning to a strange little Mexican monster movie that I found myself giggling as I riffed it quietly to myself (The Brainiac), I don’t know what it would have taken to get me back in front of the computer screen pounding way thousands of words every week.
When I mentioned earlier that I was in a place full of loneliness and despair before coming back to the blog, I was mostly joking, but writing this blog has always brought me a great amount of joy. It continues to bring me a great amount of joy. While I may be closing a chapter on this blog with this final tribute to Bizarre TV, I am not closing the book on B-Movie Enema. This blog serves as a testament to a lot of inspirations and appreciation I have for people who write about movies, talk about movies, review movies, the lot of them. So, in that way, whether it be for OtherWorlds TV, the channel that now exists as a physical tip of the cap to what Rhonda Baffes did with Bizarre TV, or for any movie that I have covered or will cover in the future that I first saw on BTV, Rhonda lives on through her love of these fun little movies that either go overlooked or underappreciated.
To that, I say Keep Lurking and Happy Halloween. I’ll see you back here next Friday.