Much has been made about the fact that the Slumber Party Massacre was written and directed by women. Some have championed the film as a feminist approach to Slasher films, a movie meant to lampoon the supposed misogyny of the film-type. Others have used the film as a weapon with which to attack the filmmakers, treating them as traitors to their gender.
It’s interesting that those on both sides of the argument, whether they applauded or derided the film, based their arguments on the same fact: the filmmakers were women. There continues to be the sense that, if a work was created by a female artist, the product could not possibly be misogynistic. Conversely, others will say that women must hold themselves—and be held—to a higher standard, that certain forms of art or entertainment are off limits due to their inherent misogyny (as defined by whom is never made clear).
As the film’s director, Amy Jones, has pointed out, she was attacked for producing the type of movie that venerated directors—like Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13) to name only one—had also made, yet she was vilified while they were excused; as a woman, her participation in the making of a film like Slumber Party Massacre was inexcusable.
But is it as bad as all that? Can it be characterized as a feminist take on the Slasher? And, most importantly, is it a film worth watching?
At first glance, it’s difficult to see exactly how Slumber Party Massacre could ever be described as a feminist film. There are three scenes of nudity, which is no surprise for this type of film, but the nudity is notable in its gratuitousness. The longest scene takes place in a school shower, the camera moving from one bare backside to another, pausing here and there to show the odd breast. It’s almost mechanical in its execution and head-scratchingly pointless—until one realizes that, well, that was the point.
The film was financed by one Roger Corman, a man less interested in producing a good film than in producing one that sells, and, as any good shclockmeister can tell you, T&A sells. Nudity was not just expected in a Corman film—especially one with a title like Slumber Party Massacre—it was required. And so Jones gave the money man what he wanted, going from bum to breast, to bum to breast, then moved on. There’re three nude scenes in Slumber Party Massacre (they’re all in the trailer) and each is filmed in the same way: by the numbers.
So what of the violence? The movie does involve an escaped lunatic bent on literally drilling women to death, after all; it must be misogynistic. Well, let’s first be clear that the term misogyny connotes an active hatred of women and there’s really none of that here. But, like sexism, misogyny is not always blatant. The graphic portrayal of violence against women can be endemic of a more subtle, even subconscious misogyny.
Yet, as Jones points out, the violence perpetrated against women in Slumber Party Massacre is, almost without exception, done off screen. The graphic scenes of violence all feature the male characters as victims. In fact, the single most gruesome sequence is the killer’s death scene. He is absolutely brutalized.
In the film, women are featured in numerous traditionally male roles; the male characters are the first to panic while the girls are the athletes, more capable and reliable; the film also features not one but three Final Girls, and they actually work together to dispatch the Driller Killer.
Still, it’s not a feminist version of the Slasher, despite it having been written by Rita Mae Brown (author of The Rubyfruit Jungle, though she now writes cozy mysteries). But there’s little indication that it was meant to be. It is a bit of a spoof on the genre, but not quite a parody. It’s simply a fun film, not meant to be taken too seriously, that includes a few feminist twists on typical Slasher conventions.
So did Jones betray all of womankind by including some fairly tame and actually quite tasteful shots of female bums and boobs in her film? For creating a film that features a madman with a drill chasing after young men and women? Can we blame her for accepting to make a film like The Slumber Party Massacre?
Given that, until then, Jones had worked as an editor for Corman and that this was her first shot at directing a picture—no, we really can’t. As any struggling director will tell you, when you get the chance to direct your first movie, you take it, regardless of the subject matter, and do with it the best you can. I honestly think Jones and her crew did exactly that: the best they could, and, really, their best was actually pretty good.
Slumber Party Massacre includes some genuine tension, fun kills, and surprisingly well-constructed sequences. It’s a darkly funny film and certainly worth a watch.
Length: 77 min