When I stumbled across the surprisingly loopy Halloween knockoff Sorority House Massacre, I discovered the popular opinion that it was an inferior film in comparison with the Roger Corman production The Slumber Party Massacre. It’s easy to see why the two films are closely associated with one another. Besides the shared word in their titles, both are female-directed slashers, which is a rarity in the genre (assuming that Sorority House Massacre‘s mysterious Carol Frank was/is female), that depict groups of nubile teens being picked off one by one by an escaped mass murderer during a sleepover party. That latter, narrative similarity can almost be completely excused by the context of their shared genre, though, as there’s nothing especially unique about their respective set-ups. In fact, although Sorority House Massacre was released four years after The Slumber Party Massacre & is largely considered to be the derivative work, I’d argue that it’s the much more ambitious & experimental of the pair. The Slumber Party Massacre might have a larger fan base due entirely to is heavier reliance on nudity & gore, but none of those cheap thrills compare to the strange deja vu/dream imagery that Sorority House Massacre employs for a cheap, but sincerely unnerving effect.
What might be holding The Slumber Party Massacre back from being particularly remarkable as a genre film is its compromised tone. Written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown to be a parody of the slasher genre, the film was produced by Corman’s New World Pictures imprint to play as a straightforward genre exercise. There are some flashes of satiric brilliance left in Brown’s screenplay straining to make their way to the surface. Lines like “It’s not how big your mouth is. It’s what you put in it that counts,” or gags like a girl motioning to make out with her beau only to knock his decapitated head down from its perch feel like leftovers from the slasher parody The Slumber Party Massacre was intended to be. Then there’s the impossible-to-ignore, loaded imagery of the film’s villain attacking a group of young women with a gigantic power drill that he sometimes dangles between his legs. If the film’s originally intended form had been pushed a little further to the parody end of the spectrum, I might’ve been a little more on board with what it delivers. As is, these comedic moments feel like occasional respites form a pretty run-of-the-mill slasher picture. There’s nothing especially surprising about what transpires in The Slumber Party Massacre. It’s an enjoyable, but entirely predictable gore fest, complete with the eyeroll-worthy jump scare fake-outs instigated by cats, surprise house guests, and (most amusing of all) someone drilling a new peephole in the front door.
It’s hard to tell exactly why The Slumber Party Massacre has gradually earned a cult following as one of the “best” slashers of the 1980s. Which end of the film’s dueling, compromised tones is winning over people’s hearts? I suspect some folks are latching onto the remaining whiffs of feminist-leaning parody leftover from the script’s early stages, but the film’s top two “plot keywords” tagged on IMDb are “girl in bra & panties” and “female rear nudity”, so who knows? The film definitely delivers a lot more that Sorority House Massacre on the shameless nudity & grossout gore end. It’s easy to see how its group showers, severed limbs, lingerie, and power drill slashings would make it play better as a goofy midnight movie group viewing among boozed out friends in comparison with Sorority House Massacre‘s less salacious, dreamlike creep-outs. Still, I think that Sorority House is the superior Massacre, for what it’s worth. In the end, splitting hairs about which tangentially-related, genre-derivative, softcore porn-esque slasher from the VHS era is slightly better than the other probably isn’t a super effective use of my time (nor yours, for that matter), but dammit, this is all I got, so humor me. Sorority House Massacre reigns supreme. The Slumber Party Massacre is . . . pretty okay.