Spoiler warnings for both The Slumber Party Massacre and Slumber Party Massacre II.
There are a near-infinite number of slasher films out there. After the success of Halloween and Friday The 13th, everyone wanted a piece of that pie. You can make one fairly cheaply, and they work almost like Madlibs. Creepy dude with a pipe in a sorority house. Or maybe a guy wearing a welders mask in an amusement park with a butane torch? Hollywood, hit me up. I could do this all day.
That’s not to say that I don’t love these kinds of movies! There’s something comforting about the predictability of most slashers. You’ll get some interesting kill scenes, and maybe a final girl will survive the rampage. It’s like the fast-food of horror. Sure, there’s not a lot of substance, but boy, sometimes you just want a hamburger. They make for great movie nights with friends.
Plus, there’s something to be said for the Slumber Party Massacre series being the very first horror franchise to be entirely directed and written by women. In a heavily male-dominated genre, it’s great to see. (I, unfortunately, haven’t seen the third film in the franchise, but I will make sure to rectify that posthaste!)
The Slumber Party Massacre is basically what it says on the box: A group of teenage girls holds a sleepover, but unknown to them an escaped mass murderer is out for blood. His weapon of choice being a power drill is a nice change from the usual slasher go-tos, even if it does feel a bit impractical. The killer, named Russ Thorn (Michael Villela), first murders a repairwoman and steals her van. Surely it’s full of tools he could use on his spree. Why not swap through them? Well, I guess that already exists and you want to differentiate yourself. “The copycat toolbox killer” doesn’t have as much of a ring to it as the “Power Drill Murderer.”
More specifically, I believe this weapon was chosen due to the obvious phallic nature. Reportedly written as a parody of slashers, I theorize this is a carry-over from that even though the rest of the film plays out very stereotypically. The way Thorn thrusts the power drill or raises it over his head dramatically before bringing it crashing down on his victims, with some shots even having it between his legs. His overall demeanor, stalking, and peeping on the slumber party is very disturbing. The fact that these types of cases are all too real (minus the drill) should not be lost on the audience. All the while he says nothing, completely detached from the violence he unleashes.
Villella does a superb job as the killer and is extremely menacing throughout the film. Villella’s facial expressions are just…creepy. He feels very determined and single-minded, having fixated on these girls. Plus, he’s wearing a Canadian Tuxedo, so he gets points for style. At the climax of the film, he tells the girls they are very pretty, and that he loves them. “Takes a lot of love to do this.” Once again, remind me of some truly horrible instances of men becoming overly attached to women. “I don’t even know you,” Trish tells him.
Thankfully Valerie (Robin Stille) shows up with a machete and hacks at the power drill, breaking it in half. Thorn is taken down by a combined effort of the three girls (Trish, Valerie, and Courtney) but the damage is done. They sit and weep, clearly scarred from the experience.
Another interesting aspect is the mention of female sexuality. Valerie and her younger sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyers), are shown reading a Playgirl magazine. Valerie teases Courtney because she knows she’s been masturbating for a few years. To have masturbation mentioned so casually like this, between two sisters teasing each other, and have the girls look at naked pictures of boys feels like something I don’t see a lot in movies, in general. It’s usually shown from a teenage boy’s perspective and seems to be either an indicator of a character being a creep or a negative trait. To have it be just another normal aspect of being a teen, especially a teen girl, is nice. (Courtney also calls a friend later to chat about her first experience with French kissing.)
My favorite scene is the girls answering the door to find their pizza boy with his eyes gouged out. They drag him inside, and, after waiting for the killer to show up, realize they’re hungry. They then put the still warm box of pizza on the dead body and start eating. “Well, life goes on after all!” one of them says. True facts.
Slumber Party Massacre II
Moving on to the sequel, Slumber Party Massacre II immediately has a dreamlike quality to both the story and visuals. Courtney (Crystal Bernard) is back (played by a different actress) and is still understandably affected by the events of the first film. She’s haunted in her dreams by The Driller Killer and seems to have trouble differentiating these dreams from reality. The colors in this film are quite frankly, gorgeous, with beautiful pastels smoke machines, and soft lighting, giving it a Vaporwave aesthetic years before that term came into being.
Courtney, now a senior in high school, pleads with her mother to let her go away for the weekend with her friends/bandmates. It’s her birthday and she just wants to be a normal teenager and have fun despite her difficulties. As the film progresses, the waking dreams get worse and worse, with the killer seeming to cross over into the real world.
Things transform in Courtney’s eyes: a sandwich has a severed hand in it, a raw chicken leaps at her from the fridge, and when she goes to have sex with her new boyfriend, Matt (Patrick Lowe), the killer shows up and drills through his chest. Unlike the first movie where the weapon was a normal power drill, this one is a cross between a drill and a guitar. The prop is equal parts ridiculous and amazingly over the top. There are some parts where you can clearly see it’s not metal, as the drill part “wobbles,” but I don’t think any of us are here for the realism.
Quite different from the antagonist in the first film, this Driller Killer is a stylish greaser with more flair than I’ll ever have. He dances and sings and seems to be having the time of his life. This is all a game to him, with the prize being Courtney. He chases the girls around while doing his best Elvis moves, playing his power drill guitar and it’s honestly a delight to watch coupled with the over-the-top rockabilly song. Also, most of his lines are just straight-up quotes from rock songs.
It’s unfortunate that The Driller Killer’s actor, Atanas Ilitch, was only in two films after this. He brings a lot of charisma and swagger to the film and I would have loved to see more of him! Atanas was the first to audition for the role and clearly, it was made for him.
References to other horror franchises and icons are here as well, with many characters being named things like Bates, Craven, and the two police officers: Voorhies and Krueger. I personally love when movies do this—it’s a very cute homage.
After Courtney is chased around a bunch and basically, all of her friends die, she manages to set him on fire with a torch found at a construction site. She wakes up later only to realize, yes, everything WAS a dream and she is in fact in a mental institution. While this trope has become tired and cliché in more recent years, I think it works well in this instance because of the very obvious dreamlike quality of the entire film.
Logic doesn’t always need to exist in movies, especially horror, but throughout the story, I kept thinking about how there really was no other conclusion. The killer was very obviously dead at the end of the first one. Perhaps her love of rock music (being in a band after all) and her memories of the events warped things somehow, turning it into the funkiest killer known to man?
If you like slashers and haven’t checked them out yet, I think The Slumber Party Massacre and its sequel could make for an excellent double feature. I’ll bring the popcorn!
The Slumber Party Massacre and Slumber Party Massacre II are currently streaming on Shudder.