Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

To my shame, I am not yet equipped to watch the new Scream sequel that just hit theaters, because I haven’t yet seen most of the films in that franchise (despite the 1996 original being a major touchstone of my teen years).  I plan on correcting that major horror-nerd blind spot later this year, but in the meantime, I have a ton of pent-up teen-slasher energy and nowhere to direct it.  Thankfully, the SyFy Channel has offered a cheaper, at-home alternative to that theatrical Hollywood offering, as they often do.  2021’s Slumber Party Massacre is a SyFy Channel remake of the classic semi-feminist slasher The Slumber Party Massacre and, honestly, an improvement on the 1982 original.  Although I was largely mixed on the first Slumber Party Massacre film, I have seen every entry in that series, and I’m generally a big fan (especially of the crazed, MTV-inspired wet nightmare Slumber Party Massacre II).  Feminist author Rita Mae Brown wrote The Slumber Party Massacre to be an academically critical parody of the leering teen-slasher genre, but the Roger Corman production machine softened its satirical edges beyond the point of recognition, leaving it little room to stand out in a crowded field of Halloween knockoffs.  Four decades later, metatextual post-modern commentary on horror tropes is much easier to get greenlit without producers’ interference (thanks largely to the popularity of Scream), so the Slumber Party Massacre remake got a chance to double back and do things right.  The only shame is that it’s working on a SyFy Channel scale & budget, when it should at least have been afforded the same resources & platform as the similarly minded 2019 remake of Black Christmas – a film it bests at its own game.

Slumber Party Massacre 2.0 worryingly opens with a straight-faced reenactment of the tropiest 80s slasher you can imagine, complete with girls dancing in skimpy pajamas and the hyper-phallic Driller Killer from the original series.  Besides the final girl archetype disarming the killer’s drill with a soup can, there isn’t much to the cold open that telegraphs how silly & self-aware the film will quickly become.  Decades after that initial sleepover massacre, a new crop of teen girls arrive in the same small town and repeat the same ritualistic slasher-victim tropes: car engine troubles, pajama dance parties, giggling over pizza, the works.  Only, they’re consciously re-enacting this ritual to bait the Driller Killer to their cabin so they can collectively stab & bludgeon him to death as an act of vigilante justice.  The only trouble is that there’s a nearby cabin of young gym-body hunks who are having a genuine sleepover slumber party (complete with an abs-out pillow fight), who might now be in danger of the killer’s phallic drill.  While the 1982 Slumber Party Massacre was too subtle for its own producers to catch onto what film they were making, the 2021 version is so over-the-top and blatant in its satire that you have to be awed by its audacity.  Once the pro-active vigilantism of its would-be teen victims is exposed, the movie has a blast openly riffing on subjects as widely varied as voyeurism, queer-bating, slut-shaming, and the wide cultural brain rot of true crime podcasts.  It’s obviously not as grimy nor as authentically bizarre as the original Slumber Party Massacre trilogy, but I still really enjoyed its self-aware quirks & post-modern pranks on slasher tradition.

There’s nothing especially original about Slumber Party Massacre‘s post-modern genre commentary, but originality is just about the last thing I expect out of SyFy Channel mockbusters anyway.  What’s really exciting & novel here is that the film announces the arrival of the very first SyFy Channel auteur.  Director Danishka Esterhazy is also responsible for the 2019 Banana Splits movie, another shockingly delightful horror-comedy revamp of a long-dead cultural curio.  Both films are irreverently self-aware & gory in the exact same way, and Esterhazy deserves major accolades for managing to establish a recognizable creative voice in a set-em-up-knock-em-down filmmaking environment that usually doesn’t have much of a discernible personality.  There are rigid limitations to what Esterhazy can achieve on the SyFy Channel playground, but her voice is at least cutting through more clearly than Rita Mae Brown’s did on a Corman set in the 1980s.  I’m looking forward to whatever self-aware genre prank she gets away with next—SyFy Channel Original or otherwise—even more than I’m looking forward to catching up with 5cream.

-Brandon Ledet

Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (2015)

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three star

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As the less fortunate among you surely know by now, The SyFy Channel usually churns out its CGI mockbusters to siphon off money from the especially content-hungry in anticipation of major summer releases. While there’s no accounting for certain titles like Sharknado or Lavalantula, which have no “real” cinema counterparts to speak of, SyFy will usually pull a stunt like preempting del Toro’s kaiju love-letter Pacific Rim with its own mech suit cheapie called Atlantic Rim or riding the MCU’s Thor‘s coattails with some generic atrocity called The Almighty Thor, etc. My curiosity, then, was recently piqued while scrolling through Netflix after midnight when I noticed that SyFy had produced a film last year titled Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs. The most obvious comparison point to that title would be Jon Favreau’s better-than-its-reputation Cowboys & Aliens, but that film’s from all the way back in 2011 & Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs aired in 2015, so the timeline didn’t make much sense to me.

It wasn’t until I was a good 20 minutes or so into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (thanks to a complete lack of willpower) that I remembered, oh yeah, there was a CGI dinosaur movie that came out last year. It was called Jurassic World and starred one of Hollywood’s up & coming leading men and made a ridiculous amount of money all over the world, despite apparently being less memorable than a box office flop that came out five years ago. By the time I had this epiphany I was too far into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs to bail, though, and I just sort of gave into finishing it the same way your body gives into the numbness of freezing to death when you plunge into icy waters.

Truth be told, Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs isn’t all that bad when judged by the perilously low standards of SyFy mockbusters. The characters are laughably wooden & the entire premise is just as try-hard as they come, but damn if I didn’t laugh every time some dope was eaten by a CG dino. In a world of cowboy cliches that range from fallen rodeo hero to power-hungry sheriff to country music video skanks of all genders, a CG dino is more savior than monster. The wicked creatures are released early on from their dino treasure trove inside an active mine shaft thanks to a shitty little CGI dynamite charge and are thankfully violent at every given opportunity: chomping heads, removing guts, biting people purely out of malice instead of hunger. The mine shaft works like some kind of bizarre 3D dino printer, emanating countless copies of the same generic, raptor-like dinosaur that move in quick jerks like a video game glitch and bleed explosive methane, because why not? The movie drowns in its own mediocrity when there’s no dino mayhem on display, focusing mostly on a romantically-charged rivalry between the sheriff & his rodeo cowboy nemesis that no one could possibly care about, but the plot is mostly an inconvenience at best. The dinosaurs are easily the more interesting half of the dino-cowboy equation, but the movie knows it & does its best to disperse their murderous chaos evenly throughout the production.

I was just shy of abandoning all hope on Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs when a second round of explosions happened to set loose a new, more varied batch of dinosaurs. This is when the cowboy gimmick really pays off. Our rodeo hero lassos himself a wild one & ends up riding a stegosaurus like an ornery bull. There’s even an exploding T-Rex. Where else are you going to see that? Don’t answer that. Look, the production value is essentially on par with a softcore porno, the gore is goofy but never quite gruesome, and the plot feels like one beat in a screenplay instead of a finished product. Even SyFy’s signature celebrity stunt casting is lackluster here, featuring Eric Roberts of such prestigious works as A Talking Cat?! & The Human Centipede 3. If Roberts’s IMDb page is to be believed, he appears in roughly 4,000 projects a year, so that wasn’t much of a get by any measure.

Still, I chuckled at far too many dino attacks in this film to brush it off completely. This must be how the poor people who enjoy watching Birdemic must feel. I wasn’t excited when Cowboys vs.Dinosaurs left the door open for a sequel, but I honestly would be more likely to watch that then giving Jurassic World a second look. If you want to consider that an insult to one movie instead of a compliment to the other, that’s up to you.

-Brandon Ledet