Scream Series: The Slumber Party Massacre Deconstructs the Mold
Halloween and Friday the 13th ignited the slasher flame across the box office in the early 80s. Dozens of imitators were manufactured to cash in.
By 1982, the genre peaked and cliches piled up. Then came The Slumber Party Massacre’s witty approach to parodying the recycled scares and commentary on gender roles.
Trish ( Michelle Michaels) hosts a slumber party for her basketball team while the parents are away. She invites the shy new girl Valerie (Robin Stille), who lives next door with her sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers), but she declines after over-hearing Diane (Gina Smika Hunter) talking trash about her. A night of joints and junk food is ruined when they are picked off by escaped killer Russ Thorn (Michael Villela).
Rita Mae Brown’s (author of Rubyfruit Jungle) screenplay parodies generic allegories in contemporary slasher films through her feminist angle. B-Movie master producer, Roger Corman, got his hands on the picture and set out to make a buck. Declining an editing job on E.T., Amy Holden Jones gambled her fate and joined the production as director.
Within the first ten minutes, the female cast is seen naked in a shower scene. The camera has no shame about its long takes of gratuitous nudity. Each shot checks off the price of admission. Jones later noted “I find that the shower scene [is] a little squeamish to watch because it’s very pro forma. You can see by the way I did it that I’m like just… you want it, here it is. Here’s the nudity. That’s IT.” Jones played into the formulaic tactic because “nudity was more important to [Roger Corman] than sex and you know he has to sell the thing.” The scene nods to Carrie’s opening scene where high school seniors cavort naked through a steam filled locker room in slow motion; a teenage boy’s wet dream. Jones’ use of the male gaze is a teasing ploy to comfort the male audience and then pull the rug out when the male characters are brutally murdered.
Gender roles are swapped in the story. Throughout the night, the girl’s talk about “last night’s ball game” while the guys flamboyantly gawk and swoon over the girls. A doomed electrician, a carpenter, and Coach Jana (Pamela Roylance) are portrayed by women; roles predominantly donned by men under the patriarchy.
Courtney expresses her sexuality by reading a Sylvester Stallone cover issue of Playgirl magazine while “doing her biology homework”; dismantling the idea that women don’t indulge in pornography. Her older sister Valerie mocks her for “beating off boys in the 5th grade”, demonstrating the independence and normality of women having casual sex.
Female camaraderie enhances the film when the blood isn’t spilling. Valerie and Courtney bash each other in a light hearted sibling manner. Trish and the gang lounge around drinking beer and reading horoscopes (comically foreshadowing their deaths) and are just having adolescent fun. It mirrors the hanging out of that same year’s male driven Porky’s without relying on racist jokes and one dimensional female characters.
Slasher movies are the dirty secret hidden in the sock draw because critics argue these films are mainstream snuff films depicting pornographic images against violent and bloody backdrops. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel believed they were a backlash to the 2nd wave feminist movement. Jones taps into this convention with her framing.
While Diane cowers from the killer, his legs outline the scene and Diane’s face appears dead center. The power drill swirls from his crotch in phallic fashion. The battle of power and sexuality is blunt in this iconic shot and sums up the “underlying fear that is very female which is about getting laid for the first time.” Jones continues to defend her vision by saying it’s “ a virgin’s fear of having sex. Oh no! He’s coming at me with that big thing what’s he gonna do to me?”
Reclaiming their narrative, Trish, Valerie, and Courtney confront Russ in a lightning splashed battle near the backyard pool. Valerie chases the killer outside with a machete. Weapons ready. Slash! Valerie chops off the tip of Russ’ drill and it “plops” into the pool. He is caught off guard and strokes the flaccid instrument. Valerie’s use of a phallic weapon castrates Russ’ toxic masculinity and proves he’s a defenseless schmuck compensating for his dick. What’s that saying about guys who drive big trucks?
After its successful release, Jones endured backlash for her part in the film. “It’s okay for Scorsese, it’s okay for Jack Nicholson, it’s okay for Coppola, it’s okay for Jonathan Demme to go do exploitation films with Roger Corman, but a woman’s supposed to be above that. Well, I’m sorry but that’s the way you broke into the business,” she commented and persists the film is feminist.
Most genres center their stories around men, but horror films typically tell a story through a woman’s perspective. We see her complicated life rise and fall as she fights for her life.
While critics will continue to debate whether horror films are misogynist or feminist, film theorist Isabel Pinedo stated “the slasher film is after all an expression of male anxiety about female agency in which female agency wins out. Part of the pleasure to be gleaned by female viewers lies in the combination of arousing such anxieties in men while securing female victory.”