As a horror fan, calling a slasher “fun” is par for the course. I distinctly remember the first time I tried to describe a slasher as “fun” to someone and the reaction I got was less than friendly. “How can a movie full of screaming and unprovoked attacks be ‘fun’?” Then we watched Slumber Party Massacre II. And my friend conceded, “Yeah, that was pretty fun.” Now, is this film good? Debatable. Is the writing atrocious? Yes. Does the directing lack any consistency or imagination? Sure does. But does it deliver one of the most absurd, head-turning, canonically wilder sequels of a horror franchise? Unquestionable.
Slumber Party Massacre was the failed Scream of the ’80s. It’s a great slasher flick, that gets down and dirty, while still having moments of levity. Slumber Party Massacre was intended to be a parody of the slasher subgenre, while the intention was to film it as a straightforward slasher film. Where Slumber Party Massacre II differs is that Deborah Brock must not have gotten that message. SPMII feels like it’s trying to do something that no one involved had the talent to pull off. It’s sloppy, paced horribly, and has acting that even Lloyd Kauffman would raise an eyebrow at. So why do I like it so much? And more importantly, why is there such a cult following behind it?
Slumber Party Massacre II takes place years after the events of the first film and follows the sister of Valerie (Robin Stille and played by Cynthia Eilbacher in this film), Courtney (Crystal Bernard), and her friends. Courtney is in a pop rock band with her friends, who sing the afternoons away after school. The girls decide to take a weekend trip to their friend’s condo for the weekend with hopes of partying, hanging with their crushes, practicing their music, and…running from a deranged killer?!
Really starting off my first Slasher Saturday on a positive note here, but my enjoyment of this film overshadows how technically awful I think it is. First, the setting. The setting in the first film wasn’t really anything to really mention and was not really a focus of the film. In the second film, the setting is just beyond bland, making the setting in After Last Season look professional. This is probably pedantic to even care about, it’s just the condo the girls spend their weekend in looks like four pieces of plywood set up on a sound stage with harsh overhead lights shining directly down. If this was a real house, that makes it even worse.
Setting aside, the true issue of this film is how ill-conceived the story is. Deborah Brock seems to have a knack for writing/directing sequels of beloved cult films and not being able to pull it off. In fairness, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever could never live up to the first film. Brock’s script for Slumber Party Massacre II is so disjointed it could give you whiplash. Part of it feels like Brock had an extremely different script written and then was told to rewrite half of it. It has the hallmarks of an ’80s slasher, with none of the proper finesse in its execution. Where the film really falls apart is how Brock created something so ambiguously inconsistent, that trying to come up with your own interpretation is rather pointless. Part of me wants to believe The Driller Killer (Atanas Ilitch) is real, and part of me wants to believe Courtney killed all her friends. But the final few minutes are just dream sequence after dream sequence and by the end, I didn’t really care which interpretation I walked away with.
Wow, I’m really making this movie sound fun. Here’s what I do like. Let’s start with the soundtrack. From the opening song “Tokyo Convertible” to “Can’t Stop (Lovin’ You)” every song is totally tubular and injects this film with a level of energy it desperately needs. Even the song the band sings is solid, even if it is pretty generic. This would be a great soundtrack to have on vinyl or to blast over your boombox during a pool party with friends. If you’ve seen the film you’re probably screaming at your screen right now because I haven’t mentioned that song. Don’t fret, we’ll get there.
“Introducing Atanas Ilitch” is the final acting credit during the opening credits. Man, what a shame that wasn’t true. The glue that holds this haphazard puzzle together is the antagonist himself, The Driller Killer. With just three credits to his name, Atanas Ilitch chews the scenery up and spits it back in our face. A chainsmoking, leather-clad, Danny Zuko wannabe, The Driller Killer slices his way into horror history with his performance. For the majority of the film, TDK haunts Courtney’s dreams, which turns this into a woman who cried wolf situation. Eventually, he makes his way into the real world (up for interpretation) and kills Courtney’s friends one by one (again, up for interpretation). Setting aside a drill you’d find in Home Depot, TDK upgrades for a B.C.Rich Warlock style guitar affixed with a working drill where the headstock should be.
The Driller Killer has his Krueger quips and delivers them with horrifyingly badass charisma. Rather than stalking, like the typical slasher antagonist, TDK dances around the house as he chases his victims. Being stalked by a slow walking eight foot tall Jason Vorhees would be scary, but being chased by someone who has a drill attached to their guitar, always seems to have a lit cigarette in their mouth, and dances as he’s chasing you is a lot scarier.
“Now it’s time for the fun part,” The Driller Killer says as he looks down the barrel of the camera and takes a swig of champagne. Walking over toward the front door he flips a switch. The room goes from dark to being washed in reds, yellows, and greens. John Juke Logan’s “Let’s Buzz” starts to play, and we get one of the greatest scenes in horror. Accompanied by a fully choreographed dance, TDK taunts his victims to the pop song. The juxtaposition between TDK dancing and Sally Barnes (Heidi Kozak) desperately trying to get into a locked room to make her escape is haunting and, well, fun. When I saw this film for the first time I cannot even properly state how taken aback I was, I didn’t think I had seen anything like this before, and I still don’t think I have. The “Let’s Buzz” scene makes the entire wait up to that point worth it, and it adds a level of excited anticipation whenever I go back to rewatch the film. Yeah, you could watch the scene on YouTube, but whenever I want to experience that scene again I feel I have to earn it by watching the entire film.
The kills are fine, but nothing to write home about. While this may be a slasher film, I find the real horror within the psychological aspect of it. Like all great horror films, I do think there is a deeper message to Slumber Party Massacre II, though I will maintain I think the writing is sloppy. Whether you want to believe the killer was real or not is up to you, and whatever conclusion you arrive at is fine. The commentary Brock attempts to make is about the idea of shared trauma, kinder trauma, and subconscious projection. We know Courtney was tangentially connected to the first film when she was younger, and it makes sense that a situation like that would make you lose it.
Courtney is approaching the age of her sister when she went through the events of the first film, and with recurring nightmares of the killings, it is clear Courtney needs to seek medical assistance. I think the killer represents the “killing” of Courtney’s innocence. Before she joins her friends for the weekend she has visions of the killer and her sister telling her not to “go all the way.” On top of that, there’s no legitimate reason for this killer to be coming after these band members with a killer guitar. The theory I’m running with after my latest viewing is that Courtney did indeed kill her friends, and used the nightmare man she’d been dreaming of as a conduit to dissociate herself from the killings. When you look at it that way I think it brings a new level to the film, even if it wasn’t handled properly.
Slumber Party Massacre II is a film I love to hate, and hate to love. It was poorly executed in most aspects, but there are so many small details and ideas that I can’t help but love; it’s the true definition of a cult film. I find it truly to be a shame that Atanas Ilitch didn’t do much after this film, as I think he could have had such a fantastic career in the genre. He really seemed as if he could jump back and forth between protagonist and antagonist roles. This film is different enough from the first film that makes it a fun double feature that won’t make you feel like you’re just watching a rehashing of the first one. At the end of the day I’m glad this film exists, it’s a guilty pleasure that I find myself going back to once every few months and it definitely deserves the cult status it has cultivated for itself.