Grades: The Slumber Party Massacre: B; The Slumber Party Massacre 2: C+; The Slumber Party Massacre 3: C-; Cannibal Girls: C+
For almost as long as there have been horror movies, there have been filmmakers commenting on horror movies, either by mocking them outright, or by subverting the conventions. In theory, 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre does the latter. Based on a screenplay by novelist Rita Mae Brown—who intended to skewer the slasher film by amping up its clichés—SPM was re-written and directed by Amy Jones, who played the material much straighter than Brown intended. The result is a slasher film that’s more a quintessential example of the genre than a spoof. The movie has plenty of gratuitous nudity—including a shower scene in which the camera pans up and down each body, leaving no curve unphotographed—and a pro-forma plot that features a group of partying teenagers getting picked off one by one, in ever-gorier ways. But what Slumber Party Massacre lacks in style, originality, and satire, it makes up in entertainment value. It’s blessedly unpretentious. Outside of some obvious sexual symbolism involving the killer’s “drill,” and a few gender-specific images—a discarded Barbie doll, a would-be victim hiding behind her clothes, etc.—the movie mainly offers one fake-out-followed-by-an-impaling after another, interrupted only by female-bonding scenes. Those come off as a little more realistic than the norm, though the ladies do wear skimpy nightgowns while they gab.
Women also helmed the two Slumber Party Massacre sequels—Deborah Brock for II, Sally Mattison for III—and each tries to emphasize sisterhood as much as possible amid all the stripping and stabbing. SPM II is the weirdest, and the least committed to the premise. A pre-Wings Crystal Bernard stars as a survivor of the first massacre, now tormented by dreams in which the killer has transformed into a rockabilly dude with a drill attached to his wicked red guitar. Surreal, silly, and blessed with decent rock songs by Go-Go’s-esque girl-group Wednesday Week, SPM II doesn’t make a lick of sense, but at least it’s memorable. The same can’t be said of SPM III, which returns to the series’ psychopath-stalks-teen-orgy basics, albeit with more generic victims and less spooky suburban atmosphere. The movie also abandons two of the elements that set the earlier SPMs apart from so many of their contemporaries: The killer in this one is masked for the first half of the film and has an elaborate backstory, rather than being some ordinary, inexplicable doof, and the plot follows the “death as punishment for sex” script too closely. (In the original Slumber Party Massacre, the women don’t die for having sex, but for abandoning their friends to have sex.)
None of the three women who directed the Slumber Party Massacre films went on to work extensively in horror, though in interviews on the two-disc SPM DVD set, each expresses their gratitude to Roger Corman for giving them a break and letting them do more or less whatever they wanted, provided they turned in a film that was under budget and that contained enough bare skin and blood-spatter to be marketable.
That’s the way most tongue-in-cheek/anti-horror horror movies get made, through the ingenuity of young filmmakers looking to get their feet wet, trying to make a commercial picture without losing their point of view. That was the goal for future A-lister Ivan Reitman when he made Cannibal Girls, a grubby early-’70s horror-comedy starring Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin as a young couple waylaid by a flesh-eating cult in a Canadian small town. Working with just the rudiments of a plot, Reitman assumed his funny friends would improvise, he’d toss in some gore and nudity, and he’d end up with a movie he could sell.
The scheme almost worked. Levy and Martin are suitably droll—especially the bushy-haired Levy, playing a nerdy, guitar-toting hippie who practically defines Me Decade doucheiness—and Reitman and his co-writer/co-producer Daniel Goldberg do successfully turn snowy rural Canada into a gothic wonderland. And Cannibal Girls did sell, to AIP, which marketed the movie with a gimmick that had a “warning bell” appear on the soundtrack whenever a scene was about to get gross. But it’s clear that nobody involved with this project had their full hearts in it. Atmosphere and ad-libs aside, Cannibal Girls is too dour, and dully mechanical in its interjections of exploitation. Because that’s another eternal truth about horror films: No matter how hard smart filmmakers try to flee them, the genre’s demands rise up, relentless and unstoppable.
Key features: An hour’s worth of featurettes on the SPM trilogy, plus commentaries on each film; an interview with Reitman and Goldberg and an interview with Levy on Cannibal Girls.