The Horrors of Music Television in Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

One of the more bizarre aspects of the initial slasher genre boom of the 70s & 80s is that it’s oddly just as prudish as the “road to ruin” exploitation pictures of the 1950s. In the 50s pictures, teens who dared to experiment with sex & drugs, especially girls, would swiftly be met with a violently tragic end as punishment. This formula allowed audiences to both indulge in the sexy, transgressive behavior of rebellious teens and wag a morally righteous finger in their direction once they get their inevitable comeuppance. Although packed with far more nudity & bloodshed, the slasher genre was generally just as condemning of teenage rebellion as the “road to ruin” pictures before it. Its teen characters were chopped down by humanoid monsters like Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees instead of dying at the hands of syphilis or car crashes, but slashers were just as obsessed with punishing wayward youngsters for straying into the temptations of marijuana & premarital sex. The original entry in the Roger Corman-produced Slumber Party Massacre slasher series both participated in and satirized this time honored tradition. Written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown, 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre is a straightforward slasher film that still punishes teens for their hedonistic behavior, but delivers its kills by way of an oversized, phallic drill that points to the absurd gender politics of its genre. What’s much more interesting than that subtle subversion in the mechanism of punishment, however, is the way its sequel, 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II, updated the source of its teenage moral transgressions to something more blatantly modern.

Marijuana & premarital sex had been triggering teen deaths in exploitation pictures dating all the way back to the 1950s, long before slashers added machetes & kitchen knives to the recipe. Slumber Party Massacre II modernized the formula by introducing an entirely new source of teenage transgression, one highly specific to the 1980s: music television. In the five years between the first two Slumber Party Massacre releases, MTV had proven to be a kind of cultural behemoth instead of a flash-in-the-pan novelty. Suddenly, the already sinful business of rock n’ roll had a direct line to youngsters’ television sets, where it could tempt them into darkness with all of the sex, drugs, and partying their little eyes could take in. MTV had come to visually represent the teen rebelliousness that ruined so many fictional lives in exploitation cinema past and the Corman-funded, Deborah Brock-directed team behind Slumber Party Massacre II were smart to adapt that visual language to the slasher genre format. It’s still a film where teen girls are murdered for straying from their parents’ protection to experiment with sex & alcohol. The difference is that the mechanism used to punish them is not a scary man in a mask wielding a comically oversized kitchen utensil. Instead, the victims in Slumber Party Massacre II are hunted by a personified representation of MTV culture. In its own absurdist way, the film literalizes parents’ fears about rock n’ roll invading their homes to destroy their children’s lives. Better yet, it does so with a cartoonish slapstick energy usually reserved for a Looney Tunes short that keeps the mood consistently light instead of browbeating the audience for indulging in its sex & fantasy violence.

The youngest survivor of the titular slaying in the first Slumber Party Massacre, Courtney, is now high school age, living alone with an overly stressed mother who shares her anxieties over her traumatic past. Instead of spending her birthday weekend visiting her sister (who also survived the massacre) in the hospital, Courtney convinces her mother to allow her to go on an unsupervised road trip with her small group of close friends. All four girls in this crew are members of a jangly, Go-Gos reminiscent garage band and plan to spend the weekend away practicing new songs. They, of course, also plan to drink excessively & sleep with hot boys. In the days leading up to this getaway, Courtney has recurring nightmares featuring a demon in a leather jacket, billed simply as The Driller Killer, who warns her not to have sex on the trip or else. Of course, being a teenager, Courtney inevitably ignores this warning and deliberately sheds her virginity with her biggest crush. The exact second Courtney has sex for the first time, the transgression gives birth to the rock n’ roll demon, who escapes from her nightmares and hunts down every one of her friends & bandmates with a giant, guitar-shaped drill. The physical manifestation of MTV culture, The Driller Killer is dressed like Andrew Dice Clay, except with a vampire collar on his biker jacket. Before drilling each teen dead with his unignorably phallic guitar, he suggestively delivers rock n’ roll one-liners like “I can’t get no satisfaction,” & “C’mon baby, light my fire.” He also had a rock n’ roller’s sense of open-ended sexuality, applying his drill to victims of all genders instead of reserving it just for the girls, like in the first film. The only way this sex demon could’ve been more MTV is if his name was Downtown Julie Brown.

Not all of Slumber Party Massacre‘s MTV horrors rest on The Driller Killer’s leather clad shoulders. Besides its two music video tangents highlighting Courtney’s garage band, the film generally adapts music video language to its visual style. Drastic comic book angles, fog machines, and intensely colored lights shape a lot of the aesthetic of its nightmare sequences & third act slayings. The film’s sets, which include empty condo developments & construction sites, also recall early MTV-rotated rock videos that were cheaply, rapidly produced to feed the young channel’s bottomless need for content. The teen girls in the film are highly aware of this then-modern medium too. Minor scream queen Heidi Kozak, who plays the band’s drummer, exclaims in a pivotal scene, “Someday we’re going to be in movies and rock videos and everything, because my song is going to be a hit,” and, more directly, “MTV, here we come!” This declaration is promptly followed by the girls stripping down to their underwear (or less) and erupting into a dance party/pillow fight that could easily pass for a mid-80s hair metal video if it weren’t for all the nudity. The sequence is often viewed from the television’s POV, as if the music emanating from it was directly influencing their drunken behavior, enticing them to commit sins that will immediately get them killed. The broadcasted film soundtrack they’re dancing to is also none other than the Corman-produced classic Rock n’ Roll High School, which had its own significant impact on music video culture before MTV ever existed.

Slumber Party Massacre II can sometimes be a nihilistically violent exploitation piece in the way that all slashers are, but mostly it just mirrors the light-headed inanity of pop music as a medium. Song lyrics like, “I wanna be your Tokyo convertible,” and scenes like the dance party/pillow fight keep the tone goofy & charmingly absurd. Even the film’s rock n’ roll demon, although a murderous creep, never feels like the kind of nightmarish threat that usually terrorizes wayward teens in this genre. The film not only modernizes the slasher formula by shaking off its 1950s cobwebs and updating its teen transgressions with a borrowed MTV flavor; it also makes its violent downfall seem just as fun & enticing as the sins that trigger it. Given the choice to either live a chaste life or die by the hands of MTV, it’s likely a lot of mid-80s teens would’ve eagerly chosen death, which feels like a different sentiment entirely from the third act downfalls of the “road to ruin” era of exploitation cinema. It’s funny that it had to return to the demonized image of a 1950s rock n’ roller to free itself from that era’s moralist trappings.

-Brandon Ledet

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)




Four films into the Roger Corman-produced “Massacre” collection & I feel like my efforts have finally payed off in a significant way. Sorority House Massacre was a delightfully dreamlike slasher, but it was cheap & derivative in a way that kept it from achieving anything too special. The Slumber Party Massacre was a by-the-numbers genre exercise with brief flashes of feminist-bent satire that were exciting, but mostly lost somewhere in their translation from script to screen. Sorority House Massacre II bridged the two properties, mixing & confusing the plots of the two original features to the point where no sense could be made of their central mythology (which, I assure you, was never intended to be shared). Slumber Party Massacre II, thankfully, brings a sense of purpose & unique charm to the (very loosely connected, if connected at all) Massacre franchise. It’s the first film of the series I’ve seen that felt like something truly special, the exact kind of bonkers midnight monster schlock that’s so mindlessly trashy & gratuitous that it approaches high art.

Courtney, the younger sister of one of the few nubile survivors of the original Slumber Party Massacre, ditches visiting her traumatized sibling in the hospital (“But Mom! It’s my birthday! I don’t wanna go to a mental hospital!”) in order to practice for The Big Dance with her all-girl New Wave garage band an at unsupervised (and unfurnished) condo. Of course, a group of goofball boys crash the party in order to make out & cause mischief. Despite warnings from her sister (who speaks to her through nightmares) to not “go all the way”, Courtney does the deed with the hunkiest of the bonehead beaus anyway, an act that releases a killer sex demon bent on killing everyone in the condo (seriously). Before having sex, Courtney falls into a routine of seeing nightmare images that recall the loopy flashbacks I enjoyed so much in Sorority House Massacre, but pushed to a much goofier extreme (severed hand sandwiches, killer raw chicken, a mutant zit spewing a river of puss, etc.) only to have everything snap back to normal when she calls for help. Her buddy/drummer asks, “Are you on drugs or something?” and Courtney responds with a perfect, gravely serious deadpan, “I wish I was, Sally.” It isn’t until after she has sex that these horrors become “real” & Slumber Party Massacre II devolves into supernatural horror/screwball comedy antics.

Slumber Party Massacre II gets everything right on its approach to slasher-driven mayhem. The origins & specifics of its killer rock n’ roll sex demon are just flat out ignored. All you know, really, is that he kinda looks like Andrew Dice Clay (although I’m sure they were aiming for Elvis) with a Dracula collar on his leather jacket & a gigantic power drill extending from the neck of his electric guitar (or “axe” in 80s speak). He mercilessly disembowels & impales teen victims on his monstrously phallic weapon/musical instrument all while shredding hot licks & doling out generic rock ‘n roll phrases like “This is dedicated to the one I love” & “C’mon baby, light my fire” before each kill. The best part is that this irreverent killer antagonist, although supernatural & unexplained, feels clearly purposeful. He not only plays directly into the slasher genres teen sex = instant death trope in a hilariously exaggerated way, he also stands as a perfect fit for the film’s overall aesthetic of a dirt cheap MTV relic. The film’s nightmare sequences & playful girlishness intentionally mimic/mock cheap music videos (right down to the smoke machine & bare bones sets) so it makes perfect sense that the killer would be a rock video knockoff with a phallic guitar murder weapon. Early in the film the girl band dreams of big success in ambitious statements like “Some day we’re going to be in movies & rock videos & everything,” and “MTV here we come!” What they didn’t expect is that MTV would come to them, wielding a gigantic power drill & an endless abundance of cheesy rock ‘n roll one-liners. All this & the camera taking the POV of a television while the girls watch the sister-Corman production (and flawless masterpiece) Rock ‘N Roll High School & dance around the living room in their undies (or less).

There are isolated moments that made the three Massacre films I had watched prior feel occasionally worthwhile, but Slumber Party Massacre II puts them all to shame. Written & directed by Deborah Brock, Slumber Party Massacre II includes everything recommendable in the earlier films, only pushed to their most exaggerated extremes. Its kills are bloodier. Its self-parody is funnier. Its nudity is more enticing. Its characters & dialogue, although awful, are far from memorable. I even have favorite characters in this film (a power couple of the impossibly attractive/horny Sheila & the perfect cad/Adam DeVine prototype T.J.) when I couldn’t name you a single character in any of the Massacre films I had watched before. So far in this franchise I’ve been championing Sorority House Massacre as a favorite due to its surprisingly strong femininity (for a slasher, anyway) & loopy dream/deja vu imagery. Slumber Party Massacre II outdoes it on both counts. The music video nightmare imagery is far more plentiful/bizarre than anything to be found in Sorority House Massacre & its mock sexiness (although it mimics male masturbation fantasies like pillow fights & car washes for a comical effect; at one point some male lookers-on exclaim “I didn’t know girls really did this stuff!”) is far more playfully feminine in an authentically girly way. It even achieves all this without airlifting its killer from John Carpenter’s Halloween with little to no changes in his backstory the way Sorority House Massacre does, opting instead to bother creating its own monster to terrorize its buxom, half-dressed teens (R.I.P. Sheila). Barring the highly unlikely event that Slumber Party Massacre 3 is an even better turn for the franchise it feels safe to say that this film is the most worth tracking down under the “Massacre” imprint. More importantly, it’s one of the most deliriously fun VHS era slashers I’ve ever seen, within or without the franchise. I highly recommend checking it out no matter how much you care about the “Massacre” films as an enterprise.

– Brandon Ledet