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

Heidi Kozak: Undersung Scream Queen

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There’s a lot to be shocked about in February’s Movie of the Month, Brian Yuzna’s satirical class politics body horror Society, but long before the incestuous, gore-soaked surrealism of the film’s climactic shunting began I found one of my biggest shocks in a very minor casting choice. The protagonist’s Valley Girl brat girlfriend was a very much unexpected face, the same actress who played the drummer in one of my favorite discoveries last year: Slumber Party Massacre II. Heidi Kozak has a tidy little career as a television actor to her name, most notable from her arc on the long-defunct drama series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Her feature film career, however, is much more limited. After a single scene debut as a street tough in the Sharon Stone/Adam Ant cop thriller Cold Steel, Kozak enjoyed a brief run as an undersung scream queen in three 80s horror classics: Slumber Party Massacre II, Friday the 13th Part VII – The New Blood, and, of course, Society. Her respective roles as Sally, Sandra, and Shauna in these films were never big enough to snag top bill or make her anything close to a household name, but Kozak did find a way to leave a huge impression on horror schlock as an art form in just a few years’ time.

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Sally

I ran through the entirety of the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy twice last year, not because each entry in the series blew my mind, but because the second film in particular was a life changer. Slumber Party Massacre II is an MTV-inspired fever dream of slain teenagers & nightmarish hallucinations that completely reinterpreted its straightforward slasher predecessor as a kind of surreal live action cartoon. All four girls in the film’s central garage rock band (a surprisingly decent The Go-Go’s knockoff) who embark on the titular doomed slumber party road trip are exciting to watch as performers. Courtney’s got the Final Girl timidity, Amy’s got the Best Friend sincerity, Sheila’s got the Rock Star sex appeal: each are entertaining in their own right. Still, I’d argue that Heidi Kozak’s performance as the band’s drummer, Sally, is a definitive show stealer. She not only features prominently in the movie’s most stomach-churning practical effects showcase (just one of her two onscreen deaths in the film), but she also brings a distinct Valley Girl cheese to the character that would make the actor so easily recognizable in her later horror works.

We don’t know much about Sally as a character except that she’s boy-crazy and she’s a drummer. The drumming part is something Kozak sells hilariously unconvincingly, endlessly miming the same repetitive motions with her drumsticks while the soundtrack does its best to make her seem competent. She does sell the character’s boy-crazy delirium quite well, though, chiming in as often as she can with announcements like, “I met this outrageous guy! He was such a babe,” and “I know what Courtney’s getting for her birthday . . . a boyfriend!” Sally seems to be her social group’s air headed cut-up, prone to shouting half-formed thoughts like, “Someday we’re going to be in movies and rock videos and everything,” and “Do anything you want to! Good times!” It’s easily the most dialogue Kozak is afforded in any of her works as a minor scream queen and she makes Sally out to be such a fun, bubbly character that every moment she’s onscreen is a gift. This is especially true of the first of her two onscreen deaths in the film, when Courtney hallucinates that a pimple Sally’s been worried about all weekend grows to encompass the entirety of her face and explodes all over the bathroom. It’s hideous, highly effective gore work and a much more memorable moment than when she’s later impaled by the killer’s phallic guitar drill. Poor Sally.

Most Killer Outfit: In the pillow fight scene, Sally sports a yellow crop top with Daisy Duke cutoffs and an asymmetrical ponytail. It’s the perfect outfit for any summertime sleepover, but it’s especially sporty for when you might need to flee from a demonic sex monster and his giant, guitar-shaped drill.

Sandra

A year after her scream queen debut in Slumber Party Massacre II, Kozak hit it big time (as far as mainstream horror franchises go). Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood practically lifted the Sally character wholesale from her previous film, only leaving behind her beloved drum kit. I can’t say that I especially enjoy this late-in-the-game franchise entry, but I do appreciate that it occupies the sillier end of Jason Voorhees lore that makes movies like Jason X and Jason Takes Manhattan, some of my favorites of the series. In this loosely sketched out version of Crystal Lake mythology, Jason’s dead body is reanimated & freed from its watery grave when a troubled young teen accidentally exercises her Carrie-like telepathic abilities in his general vicinity. Unfortunately, the film finds a way to make this ludicrous premise punishingly dull, despite some promising ideas about Jason functioning as a supernatural curse. There’s only two worthwhile aspects to The New Blood once the plot gets stuck in its by the books slasher rut: an inventive kill in which Jason smashes a girl zipped up in a sleeping bag against a tree (a kill later satirized to even greater effect in Jason X) and the casting of Heidi Kozak as inevitable victim Sandra.

Again, there isn’t much difference between Sandra & Sally in terms of character work, except that Sandra actually gets to act on her boy-crazy teen horniness while Sally only got to gush about it. In her introductory scene, Sandra is shown sunbathing and ogling a nearby hunk. In her second scene, she’s screwing a different boy, her boyfriend, in the back of a van, essentially marking herself as ineligible for Final Girl status, a surefire victim for Jason’s swinging machete. It’s in this romantic pairing that we get to see a different side of Kozak that wasn’t already covered in Slumber Party Massacre II. Because her wealthy boyfriend is hosting a teen party at his uncle’s Crystal Lake cabin, Sally winds up playing party mom during a large portion of the film’s first act. She’s still operating within her usual ditzy Valley Girl caricature, but now with a flustered sense of responsibility that has to negotiate between her oversensitive boytoy and some rowdy teens who just want to get drunk & screw. She makes no show of hiding why she’s with the wealthy dipshit either, answering his question, “When did you fall in love with me?” with a teasing, “The first time I saw the enormous size of your beautiful . . . wallet. The bulge in your pants was calling my name. Sandra, Sandra!” Unfortunately, Sandra’s life on this Earth is cut short when she gets the idea to go skinny dipping in Crystal Lake, one of Jason’s biggest pet peeves. She watches in horror as her boyfriend is decapitated on the shore and her naked body double is subsequently drowned. It’s a shame too, because she was one of the few compelling characters in a film that desperately needed more of them, yet she was one of the first to go.

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Most Killer Outfit: In accordance with her status as a more horned-up replica of Sally, Sandra sports a skimpier version of the yellow crop top & short jorts outfit from the previously mentioned pillow fight in her big skinny dipping scene. This time, however, it’s paired with a nude body double instead of an asymmetrical ponytail.

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Shauna

Society is easily the strangest film in Kozak’s trio of horror outliers, depite each work being uniquely goofy in their own unique ways. Kozak reprises her Valley Girl routine for one final go-round in Brian Yuzna’s cult classic body horror, but not as a participant in the gore-soaked “shunting” climax, neither as a victim nor as a wealthy mutant “sucking off” the life force of the lower class. Instead, Shauna is a total outsider to the entirety of the plot. She’s just as clueless as the film’s protagonist as to what supernatural evils lie under the surface of the film’s well-to-do Society, but instead of investigating the Truth, she spends the entire film trying to join the ranks of a ruling class that has no use for her. Her character traits aren’t much different than Sally’s or Sandra’s, but Shauna’s ditzy, boy-obsessed teen routine is put to a much stranger use, likely because Society itself is much less structurally formulaic than the two straightforward slashers she worked on previously.

Shauna has exactly one goal in Society: to earn an invitation to rich cad Ted Ferguson’s party. She does not succeed. The high school cheerleader schemer pretends to be so into and in love with the protagonist, Bill, but her interest in him seems to be a political move based on his football star social status and potential election as senior class president. When Bill finds himself entangled with a potential love interest that actually wants to have sex, Shauna is incensed not because she’s jealous of the affair, but because she wasted so much emotional work with Bill and never earned that Ted Ferguson invite she wanted so badly. Once their romance is fully dissolved, Shauna’s storyline is left by the wayside and she disappears before the climactic shunting, forever an outsider, never to be heard from again.

As an actor, Heidi Kozak similarly disappeared. Her work as a minor scream queen dissipated within three glorious, but short years and it’s doubtful she’d be remembered for any other popular media contributions, except maybe by the most dedicated Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman fans. I’d say she fully deserves to be remembered now, though. All three of her horror projects have proven to be such strange genre outliers with unexpected cult status longevity and she makes a striking presence in each instance. She’ll never enjoy the status of a Neve Campbell or a Jamie Lee Curtis, but she’ll always be a cherished scream queen to me.

Most Killer Outfit: In the scene when Shauna confronts Bill for his cheating ways, she shows up at his house in a skin tight denim dress, paired with a candy red sports car. She looks incredibly powerful in that getup and Bill was a fool to let her go in his pursuit of the truth about the shunt, especially since his eventual fate was entirely unavoidable.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, the satirical class politics body horror Society, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at its highly questionable DVD-mate Spontaneous Combustion (1990).

-Brandon Ledet

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

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three star

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The Roger Corman-produced “Massacre” film series, which had its origins in the not-intended-to-be-connected The Slumber Party Massacre & Sorority Party Massacre, is such an intrinsically-1980s franchise that it really had no business extending itself into any other decade. That’s why it sorta makes sense that both films individually enjoyed a last-gasp sequel in 1990, one final return to the well for a dying enterprise. Sorority  House Massacre II was a mess of a generic slasher, one that confused the origin story of its source material to the point where it was downright impossible to tell what, if any, film it was supposed to follow. Released the same year, Slumber Party Massacre III is a run-of-the-mill genre exercise as well; it’s just one with enough sense & clarity to stand as a logical disciple of its predecessors. Honestly, if it weren’t for the deliriously goofy heights that Slumber Party Massacre II took the franchise to, it might’ve even stood as one of the best of the franchise. As is, it’s serviceable.

Is there any need to go into the details of the plot of Slumber Party Massacre III? There’s a pretty solid formula to these things. Teen girls with access to an empty house decide to throw a girls-night slumber party. Horny teen boys attempt to crash the party in hopes of causing sexual mischief. A mysterious killer murders them one at a time, leaving only a few survivors to promise/threaten the potential of a sequel (despite the sequels typically abandoning characters/plot-lines from earlier films anyway). The killer in question is different in all three of the Slumber Party films, but the murderous creeps do all share the same weapon of teen destruction: a massive (& massively phallic) power drill. Throw in some gratuitous nudity & lingerie-clad lounging and you have the basic structure of any & all Slumber Party Massacre films laid out in detail. Slumber Party Massacre II complicated this set-up with some Looney Tunes-level screwball comedy & classic MTV cheese, but the first & third films in the franchise are more or less entirely straightforward. As long as you’re not looking for anything too unique or remarkable in the formula (besides the loaded imagery of that power drill) you’re likely to enjoy Slumber Party Massacre III for what it is: a no-frills VHS-era slasher.

There are a few variations that Slumber Party Massacre III brings to the table, though. The first thing I noticed was that it introduces a lot of exterior space to the equation. The film begins with the girls playing volleyball in high-waisted bikinis on the beach. Once their game is over, they’re trailed, chased, and spied on in a way that recalls a lot of traditional slashers’ mode of terror that was missing in the earlier films, setting up the voyeuristic killer dynamic that will haunt their sleepover party later. The films’ living room dance party/strip tease is nothing new, but the way it’s crashed by a bonehead gang of dudes’ Halloween mask prank is interesting. I’ve also championed this series as a whole for feeling remarkably feminine for a slasher property despite the inherent softcore porn salaciousness of their titles (going along with the franchise’s tradition of female directors this one was helmed by a Sally Mattison), but Slumber Party Massacre III stands as the first & only film in the franchise to reference both cunnilingus & female masturbation. I found that somewhat surprising.

What really makes Slumber Party Massacre III stand out, though, is the way it fully engages with the phallic imagery of its gigantic power drill murder weapon. The drill-wielding killers in the earlier films are escaped mental patients & mystical sex demons who command the phallic power of their murder weapons without much thought given to their reasoning. The killer in Slumber Party Massacre III, as a change of pace, has a legitimate reason for using the drill the way he does. He has access to an uncle’s lumber yard where he would conceivably be able to obtain a drill of that size. He also suffers from an embarrassing case of early onset impotence which makes the meaning behind the giant drill kills all the more disturbing (especially in a gruesome, climactic seduction/murder). The kills are also more sexualized in order to play into this theme, including an early murder in which the maniac moves the drill back & forth into his victim rhythmically (Gross.) and in a hilarious death involving a bathtub & a plug-in vibrator.

As potent as those predatory sexuality themes are in Slumber Party Massacre III, the movie is, of course, a largely goofy trifle. There’s plenty of campy touches to the film’s proceedings. A dressed-in-black D&D nerd described only as “the weirdo” shows up only to be creepy & promptly disappear unexplained along with at least one other potential-but-not-actual killer. When the girls arrive to party at the house, they bring along one six pack of beer to split between them that seems to last forever. The cans read “Beer” in plain letters, just like their brandless pizza box reads “Pizza”. One particularly buffoonish victim is eliminated by being impaled on a real estate agent’s yard sale sign. You get the picture. Slumber Party Massacre III is a goofy home video horror with a few gruesome kills, some deliciously corny acting/dialogue, and sexual energy that alternates from girlishly playful to deeply uncomfortable. If you’re looking for anything more than that from a film of this ilk, I highly recommend checking out Slumber Party Massacre II instead. It’s easily the most worthwhile film in the series to track down.

-Brandon Ledet

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

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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

Sorority House Massacre II (1990)

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twohalfstar

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So here I am defending Sorority House Massacre against accusations that it too closely resembles its tangentially-related predecessor The Slumber Party Massacre (although I can’t fully excuse how heavily it borrows from Halloween), when Sorority House Massacre II has to turn around & make me look like a fool. Sorority House Massacre II is such a blatant, subpar ripoff of The Slumber Party Massacre that I had to check the title on the DVD sleeve several times just to make sure I hadn’t watched the wrong sequel by mistake. Completely ditching the vengeful sibling backstory of Sorority House Massacre, this sequel instead shows what I swear is exact footage from the killings in The Slumber Party Massacre. Like, exact. By the time the killer was hiding under a blanket or dangling a large power drill between his legs I felt like a crazy person. To make matters even more muddled, the killer from The Slumber Party Massacre (who most certainly doesn’t belong in this film’s backstory) is given a completely different name & origin than either killer in the two Massacre films that precede this mess. Besides being written & shot over the course of a single week, this discrepancy about which film is being followed up here exactly can be cleared up by recognizing that all three productions were handled by Roger Corman, who was no stranger to cutting corners financially at the expense of his films’ narrative continuity.

As best as I can make clear from the Sorority House Massacre II‘s jumbled mythology, a group of college girls purchase a sorority house for dirt cheap due to a mass murder that had occurred on the property five years prior, only to have the killings (shocker!) repeat themselves over the course of one bloody night. Whether this is supposed to be the bloodstained sorority house from the first Sorority House Massacre or the suburban home from The Slumber Party Massacre or neither house at all is solidly up for debate. No matter. The plot is, duh, a largely inconsequential inconvenience for the film to deliver its main concerns: nudity & gore. What I enjoyed about the first Sorority House Massacre was how surprisingly girly it was for a film that promised a blood-soaked softcore porn in its title. It relied on  bizarre dream imagery instead of lady-stabbing for most of its terror and, although it certainly wasn’t shy on the gratuitous nudity front, its dress-up & make-out montages were far from hyper-masculine masturbation fantasy material. Sorority House Massacre II, on the other hand, delivers loads more slasher genre hedonism on both counts. The film’s power tool murders, which range from the aforementioned drill to kookier instruments like bear traps, are plentiful & plenty bloody. Its nudity is also heavy on the leering, filming girls as the soap up their breasts in the shower, individually dress in skimpy lingerie, and give each other massages in high-waisted thongs. Whether or not the film is narratively in line with the first Sorority House Massacre, it certainly outdoes its predecessor in tastelessness, yet never aproaches its weirdo deja vu-inspired visual ideas (despite a last minute supernatural twist that does little to complicate its straightforward genre trappings).

Besides being in line with The Slumber Party Massacre in terms of narrative backstory & softcore porn salaciousness, Sorority House Massacre II also matches The Slumber Party Massacre‘s intentionally self-aware goofiness in its Ouija board & toilet bowl swirlies tomfoolery, its references to the fictional slasher Strip to Kill Part 7, and in lines like “This place would give Boris Karloff the creeps! […] I love those old horror movies & stuff like that.” I can see how the atrocious acting & dialogue and the shameless blood & tits formula of Sorority House Massacre II could make it more readily enjoyable for the boozy midnight crowd than the first Sorority House film, but I believe that the earnestness & the visual experimentation of the first film makes it the more interesting entry in the franchise. A followup to Sorority House Massacre II, Sorority House Massacre III: The Final Exam, was promised/threatened as recently as the 2000s, but I suspect any third entry in the franchise will skew even further to the winking parody end of the slasher spectrum, which is fine, but not nearly as exciting as the first film’s genuine weirdness. The real question is how a third film would pull together the narrative trainwreck Sorority House Massacre II made of its franchise’s continuity. As a run-of-the-mill genre exercise, Sorority House Massacre II is pretty alright, but not especially worthy of a recommendation. As a sequel meant to hold its series’ narrative throughline together in an A-B progression, it’s a total mess.

-Brandon Ledet

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

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three star

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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.

-Brandon Ledet