It’s a common trend in horror remakes to deliver fervent fan-service homages and revisionist takes on classic material.
Writer Suzanne Keilly (Leprechaun Returns) and director Danishka Esterhazy (The Banana Split Movie, Level 16) adhere to this practice in their remake of 1982’s Slumber Party Massacre, but unlike so many other contemporary remakes, this female-fronted project (both in front of and behind the camera) has a sly, knowing wit about it that helps to make the film both reverent and self-aware.
Gone are the gratuitous, lingering body shots of female characters (undoubtedly dictated by producer Roger Corman, known for mandating nudity in his schlocky B-movies), replaced by not only a female empowerment message, but also a voyeuristic, objectifying gaze of the boys. And beyond anyone decries Black Christmas (2019) or The Craft: Legacy (2020), Keilly has negotiated the tricky business of balancing Slumber Party Massacre’s occasionally heavy handed feminist message with a healthy dose of self-reflexivity that helps to make it all go down smoothly. In this capacity, Slumber Party Massacre is a great template on how to update a film in a fun, self-aware fashion.
The film opens with an extended cold open as Trish (Masali Baduza) and her girlfriends hang out at a secluded cabin where they drink, bake brownies and generally attempt to avoid Trish’s shitty ex-boyfriend, Chad (Arthur Falko). Then they’re attacked by the driller killer, Russ Thorne (Rob van Vuuren) and tragedy ensues.
Years later, Trish (Schelaine Bennett) is a survivor and overprotective mom to Dana (Hannah Gonera), who is preparing for her own girls’ weekend. Each of Dana’s friends naturally slots into a predetermined role: Breanie (Alex McGregor) is capable, Ashley (Reze-Tiana Wessels) is ditzy, and Maeve (Frances Sholto-Douglas) is Dana’s bestie – and maybe more? (There’s some pretty obvious queer coding for those who choose to see it).
The girls hit the road and very quickly discover that, unbeknownst to them, Maeve’s younger sister Alix (Mila Rayne) has tagged along for the weekend of drinking and drug-use.
Cue the usual tropes involving car trouble, an unexpected change of accommodations and two potential harbingers at the gas stop in Dave (Richard Wright-Firth), the mechanic, and store owner Kay (Jennifer Steyn). At this point it feels as though Slumber Party Massacre is a paint by numbers slasher film.
The difference is that Reilly and Esterhazy are completely aware of what they’re doing, which quickly becomes evident when the true reason behind the weekend trip is revealed and the boys from a nearby cabin are introduced.
The latter is used primarily for comedy. Not only are the male characters far more aligned with slasher archetypes than the girls, they are the ones who are objectified in the film. Energetic Sean (Nathan Castle) is introduced with a close-up butt shot of his tiny short shorts; the girls later observe the boys engaging in a ridiculous slow motion, shirtless pillow fight, and – in the most gratuitous scene of the film – the camera lingers on beefy nerd Matt (Eden Classens)’ abs, lower back, pecs, and yes, bare butt, as he showers. The moments hilariously upend traditional gender roles by simultaneously poking fun at slasher films’ tendency to objectify women while also serving up prime cuts of man candy for appreciative viewers.
These very knowing, calculated wink-wink scenes help to set Slumber Party Massacre apart from other entries in the subgenre and inform the whole production from narrative, to character, to technical elements. It’s not subtle or hidden, which only makes it more amusing and enjoyable as a result.
If there are complaints to be had, it is that the film features a big narrative swing around the two-third mark that doesn’t entirely work. As a subversion of expectations, it’s great, but in terms of pacing and momentum, this development diffuses all of the film’s tension, resulting in a hard reset that Slumber Party Massacre never fully recovers from.
This results in a lopsided film: the first hour is much stronger than the last thirty, to the point that Slumber Party Massacre even feels a little draggy at the end, which isn’t great for a movie that clocks in under 90 minutes. Throw in some occasional cheap-looking FX work (blame the made-for-Syfy budget) and there are some negatives.
Overall, however, the experience is extremely positive. Slumber Party Massacre features likeable characters, decent kills and, most importantly, knows exactly what it is and actually has fun with the formula. It sounds facetious to suggest that Slumber Party Massacre is better than it should be, but this a surprisingly fun and clever entry in the new slasher canon. 4/5
Slumber Party Massacre airs Saturday, Oct 16 on Syfy