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Slumber Party Massacre Collection, The
- Amy Holden-Jones, director
If you ever doubted that the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy was written and directed by women (that locker room shower scene and the phallic drill could only come from the male mind, right?!), I have one word for you: bras. To my continued shock, the curvaceous characters actually wear them most of the time in these three films (exclamation heard in my head throughout this trilogy: "Wow...good for her!"). Sure, they end up shedding them to bare their perky breasts for the camera--but for a small 1982 slasher, the bras were a pretty bold baby step in the female empowerment direction.
The original in particular also injected a healthy dose of humor into the genre, although if you aren't paying close enough attention you might not "get" a lot of it, dismissing the obvious stabs at comedy as bad writing or bad acting. Thankfully, that isn't the case--and the original Slumber Party has aged well, proving to be one of the smarter slashers of its time and a highly underrated effort from the genre's Golden Era. It's a fun mix of comedy and carnage, with better acting, characterization and pacing than you might remember.
And thankfully, the awesome people at Shout Factory have given new life to this trilogy under its "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" label with this two disc set (Part 1 and the documentary are on one disc, Parts II and III on the second). What kind of world do we live in where the SPM films are given such glorious treatment, featuring three audio commentaries (!) and an hour-long retrospective? I'll tell you what kind of world: a tremendous-stupendous-amazing one (thank you, Paula Abdul)! Did I mention that the first two films are also presented--for the first time--in their original anamorphic widescreen formats, besting the VHS tapes and the "Massacre Collection" DVDs from New Concord in 2000? Yeah, I need a moment to collect my giddy self, too...anyone have some Maui Wowie, cause it's time to celebrate!
Would you believe that it all started with a script by famed feminist Rita Mae Brown?! Thanks to the great essay from Jason Paul Collum--a Slumber Party expert and genre filmmaker--included in the insert, we learn that editor/aspiring director Amy Jones grabbed the script (then titled Don't Open the Door) off of executive producer Corman's shelf. A few name changes later, the Massacre was born. And while it makes a few mistakes and mimics some obvious influences (Halloween POV stalk shots of All-American girl walking down the sidewalk? Check! Carrie-inspired girls' gym class scene filled with awful '80s shorts and even awfuler ball-handling skills? Check!), this gem holds up exceptionally well on repeat viewings, the obvious sexual undertones reaching drilltastic proportions.
Popular Venice, California high schooler Trish (Michelle Michaels) is no longer a little girl. She's packing up the toys of her youth as she approaches womanhood, and when her parents head out for the weekend she plans a slumber party for her friends. They includes sports loving Kim (Debra Deliso), buxom Jackie (Andree Honore) and snobby ball hog Diane (Gina Mari), who likes to talk trash about Val (Robin Stille), the beautiful and nice new girl in town. A neighbor to Trish, the transfer student lives with younger sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers)--a lovable brat who likes to give her sister a hard time when she isn't reading Playgirl (Sylvester Stallone naked?! Oh, it's an interview...boo! Baseball superstar Dan Ford takes it all off? Awesome!):
"How come you weren't invited to the party?"
"I was...I just turned them down so I could take care of my darling little sister!"
"As the famed Jim Jones once said, shut up and drink your Kool-Aid!"
Ouch! Despite the antagonizing, the sisters really love each other--and the actresses turn in surprisingly natural and believable performances . Courtney desperately wants to invite herself to the party and talk about boys. Also wanting to crash are Trish's creepy neighbor Mr. Contant (Rigg Kennedy), Diane's boyfriend John (Jim Boyce) and horny pals Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson, one of the older cast members trying to pass as a high schooler) and Jeff (David Millbern), who likes to hit on telephone repairwomen in his spare time: "You know, I've been having some ringing in my, um, ear...I mean in my phone, and I thought maybe a phone woman could help me. Are all phone women this pretty?" (You also get a female carpenter, the filmmakers placing women in traditional male roles to have some fun).
Cute Linda (B-movie scream queen Brinke Stevens in her first real role) was also invited to the party, but she won't be making it. You see, earlier in the day she caught locked into the school's gym and was drilled to death by escaped maniac Russ Horn (Michael Villella). If the Venice gals read the newspaper or paid attention to the radio, they might realize they should be on the lookout for the escaped lunatic, who went on a killing spree in 1969 (awww, yeah! Cue the porn music!). But the friends have other things in mind, like talking about their boobs ("You know, I think your tits are getting bigger!"), oral sex ("It's not how big your mouth is, it's what's in it that counts!"), the Dodgers, taking NoDoz and talking about boys. Take it away, Trish:
"Hey Linda! Do you like watching basketball on TV?"
"Yeah, I love all those great big guys in their cute little shorts! How bout you?"
"Yeah, I do...but I love football!"
"Brian Sipe...he's a doll!"
"Yeah, I know what you mean!"
"I wish he took his helmet off more often!"
Yes, Brian Sipe is a doll. Laugh all you want, but exchanges like this are probably not that far off base for early '80s teenage girl conversation (and anything else is clearly tongue-in-cheek). As the night settles in and our killer starts to stalk his innocent victims, more winks surface. There are still some highly entertaining comedic sequences here that--thankfully--are played straight, perhaps leaving some viewers to wonder whether they were intentional or not.
In addition to the requisite sex talk ("I love it, too! Do you think I'm getting better?" says dirty liar Diane), there's a signature refrigerator shot, a hysterical mishap with a buzz saw, some funny signs ("Take it slow and enjoy it!"), some great little jokes (listen to how much the pizza costs), a gory-slash-funny scene involving a trunk and the best use of a banana peel for a laugh ever. And while Jackie doesn't get much dialogue, she has the best line in the film (hands down!) when hunger strikes at an inopportune time. One of my favorite scenes, it's performed--like much of the film--just well enough that you have to acknowledge and appreciate the effort everyone takes as they straddle the line between humor and horror.
And how about that conversation between Diane and Mr. Contant, who sneaks up on the unsuspecting teenager in the dark...with a cleaver:
"Hope I didn't startle you!"
"No, not at all! You're on a snail hunt?"
"Uh huh! That makes 53 tonight! This is the only good way to get 'em! They come out after dark and eat up my vegetable garden!"
If that scene was a Facebook page, I'd "Like!" it three decades ago. Clearly, this film is having a good time with itself (the aforementioned carpenter's introduction is another chuckler, and I have to wonder if the platter of Twinkies was intentional), and even the false alarm jolts (there are plenty) play like a tribute to the genre. And while some viewers may be disappointed that it doesn't fully commit to either full-on horror or no-holds-barred satire, it manages to take both of its sides seriously. As a horror film, it starts off weak--the van kill is pretty tame and lacks any suspense, partially due to its daytime setting and clumsy choreography (but that's part of the film's humor). SPM makes its biggest mistake with its killer. We never really know anything about him or his motives, which I'm okay with. What I'm not okay with is how Villella's face is constantly shown, not helped by the fact that the actor doesn't really inspire much fear in his expressions or stride (watching him run away after one of his kills shows he's kind of an unconfident coward).
The film could have easily kept him (and us) a little more in the dark (literally and figuratively); I really don't need to see his face or his skinny jeans (!) this much. In Collum's essay, we also learn that Jones landed the role of director by impressing Corman with a short film meant as a prologue that portrayed Thorn's original killing spree. Unfortunately, it's apparently lost--and it wasn't re-shot for this movie. That's a shame, because it would have served as a much more powerful opening to the film--and would have made the 75-minute effort a little more robust and complete.
But if you can get over the slight mishandling of the villain, the film manages to get creepier in its second half. The set-up to the house showdown is actually believable enough, and the teens make a few smart decisions to go along with their terrible ones. The subplots of the sisters and the gym coach separately stumbling upon the scene intersect nicely with the main storyline--Coach Jana (Pamela Roylance, soon to be seen on Little House on the Prairie!) gets a few cool sequences (she's like this film's Betty Buckley). Stille and Meyers are the movie's biggest strength--their connection and chemistry with each other is natural and believable, lending some authenticity to the film (making it all the more tragic when we learn of Stille's death during the bonus features). These are all likeable, fun characters in a likable, fun movie.
Case in point? Trish's conspiracy theory (she divulges it to Kim as the two are locked in the bedroom hiding from the killer) that sheds doubt on Val:
"You think she's in with that guy?"
"I can't believe that...kind of an extreme reaction to not being invited to the party, wouldn't you say?"
See, that's funny (and I could actually see myself saying that). It's little touches like this that show this Slumber Party is a lot smarter than its given credit for, a little ahead of its time with the humor elements and--and at the end of the day--a pretty darn entertaining slasher that picks up the pace. The gore here is mostly sparse and cheap, but the film does a surprisingly well with what it has, using just enough blood, editing and choreography to sell it. And the final standoff that starts in the living room and ends by the pool? Love. It manages to make us laugh and scream at the same time, packing a surprisingly bloody punch--one you probably didn't think the film had in it.
-- Amy Holden-Jones
The Slumber Party Massacre Photo Essay
Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
I wish I held the same enthusiasm for Slumber Party Massacre II, which--save for a very limited theatrical run in 1987--you would swear was a direct-to-video entry. Written and directed by first-timer Deborah Brock, it takes place five years later and continues the story with Courtney and (to a much lesser extent) Val, who is now in a loony bin. Unfortunately, both characters are played by different actresses...and I'm not sure what Crystal Bernard was thinking. Just four years removed from a brief stint on Happy Days and just three years before her long stint on NBC's Wings, it's an odd choice for her--especially considering the script's frequent demands that she cry simply highlight her shortcomings (at least then) as an actress (her "tears" sound more like laughter...maybe she was just overcome with giggles at the absurdity of it all?).
But her performance is the least of this sequel's worries. The film is about as far away from horror as you can get--unless the quintessential '80s clothing and hairstyles make your skin crawl. Part II has a pretty big cult following and sizable fan base, and to be fair the film is a curiosity for being so weird. While it fails to scare or impress with satire, it does stick out as a loud and colorful piece of '80s indulgence/excess/awfulness (check out the wallpaper in Courtney's kitchen!) that can be a hoot if you're in the right frame of mind--you just have to know what you're getting yourself into before taking the plunge. Otherwise, this could be the longest 71 minutes of your life.
Now part of an all-girl "rock" band, Courtney heads with mates Sheila (Juliette Cummins of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and Psycho III), Amy (Kimberly McArthur) and Sally (Heidi Kozak of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) to an empty condo (look for the hideous pink paint) belonging to Sheila's dad. They're joined by horny dudes T.J. (Joel Hoffman of Slaughterhouse and Pumpkinhead) and Jeff (Scott Westmoreland), soon to be followed by Matt (Patrick Lowe of Primal Rage)--the object of Courtney's "shower nozzle masturbation" dreams (thank you, Heathers!). Sounds like fun, but Courtney's obvious fear of sex is having some unfortunate consequences that are threatening her sanity--namely nightmares filled with warnings ("Don't go all the way!"), premonitions, gruesome images and a tall, handsome, terrorizing singer (Atanas Ilitch) with a "drill" guitar.
Wait...what?! Coming across like Elvis Presley and The Big Bopper mixed with Alice Cooper and Freddy Krueger (Slumber Party II was released eight months after Dream Warriors, and the influence is obvious), this Driller Killer (like the film) is one giant jaw-dropper--yet the sole reason the film is adored by many. Donned in a fringed leather jacket and draped in black from greasy head to pointy-toed boots, he is brought to life through Courtney's paranoia to slaughter her friends. He also emits plenty shrill Riddler-like laughs and throws in an endless array of lame one-liners ("Hey baby! Love the one you're with!", "It's party time, kiddies!", "I can't get no...satisfaction!") and ...oh dear God...struts his way through a few dancing musical numbers (?!) that--like a record scratch from hell--grind the film to a halt. ("Baby do you like my sound? Let's buzz! You say 'Why'" I say 'Because!' Let's buzz!")
I repeat...what?! Part II is also heavy into visual and verbal product placement (Slice! Easy Cheese! Oxy 10!), and also thinks it's hip by having the actors often look directly into the camera ("Now it's time for the fun part!" says Mr. Killer, pre-spree) and inserting a Scooby-Doo inspired character named "Mr. Damnkids" (guess what his only line of dialogue is?). The script also creates a big to-do over a novel named Hot, Wet and Wild (so risqué!), having a cop doing his best Rod Serling impression (check out the mullet on his partner!) and by throwing genre winking last names at us (Craven! Krueger! Bates! Voorhees!).
Part of the problem is that Slumber Party II is really a good girl in bad girl's clothing. The least naked and least profane of the trio, it exists in a less realistic "normal" world where the characters snicker at the most childish hints of sex. It has no genuine bite with its script or themes--it's just a puppy dog that too easily amuses itself. Need some proof? Here's a snippet from one of the girl band's songs, sung by Sally:
I want a sugar daddy with a candy shop!
I want a lot of things that a money can't buy,
But what I want most is a pie in the sky!"
Aww, how Josie and the Pussycats of them! Cute! Slumber Party II isn't a fully realized film; it's a music video ("I wanna be, your Tokyo convertible!"). It takes a really long time to get going...only the last 20 minutes are even mildly amusing (and I use the term "mildly" extremely mildly), and the confusing ending isn't even worth discussing (Courtney's battle with the Killer is also shockingly short and unsatisfying). I require a modicum of sense with my slashers, and this film doesn't have an ounce of it. Maybe if I was drunk while watching, it would have been more entertaining. But no matter what way you drill it, Slumber Party II isn't scary, and it certainly isn't funny. It's just random, odd and pointless, an agonizing effort that will try your patience. The few "signature" scenes--the pimple explosion, the devil chicken, the hand sandwich, the bloody tub--just highlight the film's low budget and lack of originality (Freddy's Revenge did killer poultry so much better two years prior...and that film had better subtext).
The editing doesn't help; two sequences in particular--one where Sheila and T.J. met their end and one where the killer first appears in front of the group (and everyone apparently adheres to an unspoken "Let's abandon Sally!" plan)--are poorly executed. ("Where'd everybody go?!" I asked myself.) Then again, I guess that's part of the fun of the flick...and maybe I'm being too harsh, especially considering I got a few laughs (sure, at the film's expense...but laughs nonetheless!): Jeff attacking the killer with a halogen lamp, Jeff letting the women run out of the door (and into danger) first, Sheila's Pollack-inspired "dress"...hmm, maybe this effort isn't as awful as I'm making it out to be.
But then there's T.J., one of the most annoying characters in the history of slasherdom. I can overlook his lame love of the blow-up sex doll, his horniness and his immaturity. What I can't overlook is Hoffman's delivery and performance, which reaches epic proportions of annoyance (complete with a nervous laugh that will test your patience). But he does get the most memorable (and telling) line halfway through the film, when Courtney becomes convinced that Sally has been stuffed into the trash compactor after her killer zit erupts: "This is getting too stupid..."
Word, T.J.! (Hey Sheila! Pass me those tranks when you're done...)
Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)
A tiny bit of order and respect is restored in the better (but ultimately still bad) Slumber Party Massacre III (can I call you SPMIII?), but I'm sad to report that the ball-handling skills here (volley) are still a travesty (double contacts and lifts galore!). This film apparently received a theatrical release, although the full-frame presentation makes me think they were playing a little fast and loose with the word "limited". It's more a retelling of the original story rather than a sequel (none of the characters are carried over), helmed by one-and-done director Sally Mattison and written by (wow!) Harvard grad Catherine Cyran (also a director, she has filmed movies for Disney Channel and ABC Family...how's that for versatility?!).
With just one year left in high school, beach babe Jackie (Naomi Watts lookalike Keely Christian) is bummed when her parents decide to move. She plans one last hurrah while they're out of town, inviting over her gal pals for a night of food, fun and boy talk. Along for the ride (in the largest cast of the series) are best friend Diane (Brandi Burkett of the 1991 CBS Schoolbreak Special But He Loves Me); Maria (Maria Ford), a stripper who's dating a 50-year old and can best be described by Kramer from Seinfeld: "A pretty woman, you know, kinda short, big wall of hair, face like a frying pan..."; the "smart one"/killjoy Suzanne (Maria Claire of Society), who spends a lot of time being annoying complaining about her body ("I always thought that I needed big hair to balance my hips"); Janine (Hope Marie Carlton of Nightmare on Elm Street 4), who gets orgasms from eating chocolate; and Juliette (Lulu Wilson, an alias), the only one to get lucky in the whole movie.
Her pleasure comes from former classmate/water polo star Ken (Brittain Frye of the awesome Hide and Go Shriek), who she runs into on the beach and invites over. Also crashing the part is another horny trio of dudes on the prowl: Frank (David Lawrence of the DTV entry Blood Orgy of the Damned), who actually has feelings for Jackie; studly Michael (Garon Grigsby), the object of Diane's affection; and Tom (David Kriegel), who sets his sights on an unsuspecting target.
But damn that no-show Sarah (Devon Jenkin)! She was supposed to bring the food, so now the girls are left with just desserts (tee hee!). Oh, my bad...she got drilled through the back of the stomach by that maniac. But there's no shortage of suspects: There's the oddball voyeuristic neighbor doctor Morgan (Michael Harris), who already took a tour of Jackie's house (one of the film's lamest sequences) and likes to read books on the human anatomy; tagalong dork Duncan (David Greenlee of TV show Fame...and no, he won't be living forever), who none of the guys like; and that silent voyeuristic freak from the beach, appropriately referred to (and credited as) "Weirdo" (Yan Birch, the "Stairmaster" from People Under the Stairs). It's a running gag the script acknowledges ("Another weird guy?!" says one of the weird guys), although this entry isn't nearly as funny as the original.
For a while, SPMIII is actually pretty decent, especially compared to Part II--the actors and script are far better, creating a much more believable setup that is soon shattered (and product placement was nowhere to be found here...don't ya just love "Beer" brand beer?). The characters' words and actions make sense for a while, and the film sets itself up nicely with a solid (if cheap and still flawed) first half (including a cameo by Freddy Krueger, sort of). The problems surface halfway through with two major (and highly unnecessary) errors, ones I'm surprised a film with such a low budget would make. First, we're let in on who the killer is--the apparent "mystery" a plot point the film doesn't care about any more (you'll know who it is anyway, but still...try a little harder, SPMIII!). That introduces a whole lot of silly into the film, its tone starting to shift.
Secondly, the gang discovers the first body early on--meaning everyone is aware that they're in danger. It's an inexcusable mistake that only sets the film up for stupidity--SPMIII has no hope of logically handling large group scenes, from both a story and a filming standpoint. Why it wasn't content to keep the killer in the shadows and slowly pick off the friends on by one without them knowing, I have no idea. That would have been a far more effective use of the decent talent and minimal resources--it actually had something good going. Instead, we're treated to a series of inexplicably awful sequences where the large group of victims refuses to band together t o actually fight back (sadly, it kept reminding me of the 1966 Richard Speck case), starting with the scene where the driller killer enters the front door in front of seven (!) friends...who scatter like ants. (Hello? Safety in numbers? Anyone...?). The film simply can't handle the speed and choreography required to pull this off, collapsing under its own ambition.
Other scenes have the girls watching as a friend fights for her life, content to just cower as opposed to throwing something heavy at the maniac or stabbing him in the back (the extended Maria sequence near the end is particularly inexplicable...a little help, ladies!). Even worse, they actually knock out or temporarily disorient the killer at least three times (!) without sealing the deal (OMG, Jackie...you even had a functioning harpoon in your hands!!!), including the climax--where this exchange takes place (remember, this guy has killed about 10 people at this point):
"Let's just kill him and the he'll never get away!"
"We can't just kill him!"
"Because you don't kill somebody that's just lying there!"
Then there's stupid Tom, who deserves all he gets after falling for every trick in the slasher's handbook ("Let's just stop off at this lumber yard before we get help!"), while Suzanne does the worst Jamie Lee Curtis impression ever (at least for the wire hanger!). Lord, just slaughter these idiots already, Mr. Driller Killer. SPMIII, why do you needlessly put yourself in this situation?! I know slasher films are stupid, but there are easy ways to prevent them from being colossally so.
For a 1990 effort, this one should have been a lot smarter (the negligent police offer scenes make the Black Christmas cops look like saints). The kills and the gore are about as cheap as you would expect, but at least the dangerous game of Marco Polo made me laugh (ditto the realty sign and the paranoia over a pizza stain). But seriously, SPMIII...if you're gonna foreshadow kills with a vibrator and a swordfish (I'm drooling at the possibilities!), don't give me the weak payoffs we get here...unforgivable! (And did you really have to make the one gay character a child molester?! Shame on you, SPMIII!)
Still, this film is immensely better than Part II--it's a lot darker and a little uncomfortable in a few spots--and it even features better music than its predecessor (take that, SPMII!). Exhibit A: "Love 69" (awww, yeah!) by High Class Trash, a tune co-written by a guy named "Psycho" Freddy Trash. Now there's a ditty to drill to!
Bow chicka wow wow!
- Jason Paul Collum
Part 1 is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer for the first time, its 1.78:1 presentation an improvement over the non-anamorphic image from the New Concorde's "Massacre Collection" from 2000. Part II also gets the same upgrade with its anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, while Part 3 is presented in its original full-frame mode. None of the pictures here are going to light up your screen, so keeping your expectations in check is important (each installment looks like it had a lower budget than the last). Part 1 has plenty of grain and is very dim overall, with darker scenes not coming across quite as sharp; you'll also notice more dirt and specs in some of the exterior scenes and in the opening credits, but that isn't the norm. Many shots--where the crew could obviously control its surroundings a little better--have nice detail (things like hair and the shine in Jennifer Meyers' lip gloss) that surprised me considering the 1982 origins.
Part II is similar in its strengths and weaknesses; it's a dim picture that still manages to have some nice detail in hair and clothing texture (and I know I'm going to hell for this, but in one shot you can make out a very light mustache above Crystal Bernard's upper lip...meow!). Night scenes also suffer from more speckling and poor black levels and detail, and many of the interior shots come across soft (this picture is a lot brighter in its color scheme, which makes some of the image's weaknesses stand out more). And even though Part III is the most recent, it's in many ways the least impressive and looks like a cheaper direct-to-video effort. Specs and dirt show up, and once again it's a dim and dark looking picture--one that didn't have as many "Wow, that looks surprisingly detailed!" moments for me (like Part II, it also had a very brief image shake or two in random frames). Still, considering the source material, overall this collection should please fans, and I can't image how much better the films could possibly look.
Just meager 2.0 efforts on all of the discs, and once again I'm not sure how strong we could ever expect these films to sound. There were never any major problems that hindered the dialogue, although of the three Part II seemed to have a little more white noise/hissing in a few spots if the volume was high enough, while Part III was low in a few spots (primarily the opening outdoor scenes).
An hour-long retrospective and three full-length audio commentaries on the Slumber Party Massacre series?! What are you waiting for?! Housed on Disc 1, Sleepless Nights: Revisiting The Slumber Party Massacre (its 58 minutes are somewhat evenly divided among the three films) gets things started. The strongest segment is the opening one on the original, entitled "Don't Open the Door" (one of the films alternate titles). Chiming in are director Amy Holden-Jones; Driller Killer Michael Villella; victims Debra Deliso (Kim) and Brinke Stevens (Linda); author/director/fan Jason Paul Collum; and webmaster/fan Tony Brown of hockstatter.com, who is seen in the unforgettably hysterical opening.
With musings on the source material, the shoot and the cast, it makes the most of its 23 minutes and will leave you wanting more. "I still think there's some people who think that I did something horrible by directing a slasher movie," notes Holden-Jones. "I guess they haven't seen it and maybe they missed the fact that it's a comedy...which it is. It's both a slasher film and a comedy." The director talks about Roger Corman, her experience leading up to the opportunity (including working with Martin Scorsese) and about the double standard she faced as a woman behind the exploitation lens: "That's the kind of thing women always face." (Says Deliso of the infamous shower scene: "For her, having to direct a film and to be behind the camera directing the shots and asking us to take off our clothes--probably hard on her...I think I did regret it at first...I did penance for awhile.")
Holden-Jones also ponders the opportunity she passed up to sit behind the director's chair for the first time: an editing job on an upcoming film from Steven Spielberg: "I had turned down E.T. to do this movie, and some part of me was a little like, 'Oh no...'," she says of the modest but raucous premiere, where the audience went ape. "I went out into the lobby and Roger was there listening, and I said, 'My God, Roger...what did we do?' He said, 'We've done the best preview in New World history.'"
Stevens has nothing but positive memories of the experience ("I saw an ad in Drama-Logue that needed a lot of pretty girls to get naked and die horribly...so I thought, 'Well, I can do that!'"), and recalls how Villella distanced himself from the cast on set to get into character: "Michael Villella would sit off to the side at lunch and wouldn't mingle with the rest of us, and one time I saw him putting Vaseline on his drill bit and I turned to one of the girls and I said, 'What is he doing?' And she said, 'Oh, he's a method actor.'" Villella also shares one of his skills from the Strasberg school--that of "animalization", which he adapted to his character. His animal of choice? I don't want to spoil it...see if you can figure it out (fans of NBC's Parks and Recreation will probably get an extra chuckle).
Given that most of the principle cast was probably too embarrassed to participate, it's particularly great to see Deliso--now a successful and respected teacher at USC--on board. "Here I am, 53 years old, having had a very rich life--with many years to go--and that's just a really kind of colorful little landmark along the way in my life...it's very unique. Not very many people have done a low-budget slasher film," she says. Deliso also delights in recalling the refrigerator scene (she was holding on to a light bulb for balance), which is also visited in the audio commentary. She also touches upon the tragic suicide of Robin Stille in 1996, a shock to everyone: "Robin was probably the kindest person on the set; she never acted like she had the lead role...she was like her character in the movie. I never would have guessed that she would take her own life." (More on the beauty is also discussed in the commentary.)
Perhaps the coolest segment has fan Devon Whitehead picking up his video camera as he goes in search of the original house used for the movie--and guess what? The same couple still lives there, although they are getting set to sell the home after 40 years. An earthquake destroyed the fireplace, which was reconstructed, but the pool is still there. The unidentified man seems more than happy to talk about the experience: "We had a brand new refrigerator and they promised they wouldn't touch the kitchen," he says. "Instead, they stuffed a dead body in there!" (How awesome is he?!)
Up next, "Don't Let Go" tackles Part II. The main contributors here are writer/director Deborah Brock, who notes Corman initially sold the film in Europe on the salacious title alone, sans script...allowing her to do what her heart desired ("I know it was just a horror movie, but I loved it like a child"); and production coordinator Kathleen Courtney, who notes that they used the less memorable title during shooting to garner more product placement deals (Kettle Chips!). They are joined by assistant director Don Daniel (who also played Mr. Deadkids), makeup man James McPherson and actors Heidi Kozak (Sally), Scott Westmoreland (Jeff) and Jennifer Rhodes (Mrs. Bates), who brags about her role in Night of the Demons 2 as Sister Gloria, the Ninja Nun.
Sadly, no Crystal Bernard (did you really expect her to be here?). McPherson notes the actress initially refused to get into bed with her onscreen boyfriend for a scene, wanting to set an example worthy of her Baptist upbringing ("She said that her character wouldn't do that"). But there appear to be no hard feelings--Rhodes (the "You two!" mom from Heathers!) relates a cute story about the time she had a guest spot on Wings.
Kozak is the most entertaining and engaging one here, whether talking about learning how to at least look like she knew how to play the drums, "dying" on her birthday or her killer acne (also listen for McPherson's funny story about her jean shorts). We learn that actress Kimberly McArthur (Amy) would only do the film with her clothes on, an interesting tidbit considering she was Playboy's Miss January 1982. (Says Brock of nudity, which happens the least in her installment: "We didn't pressure people about that because it wasn't that important").
Also contributing is singer Kristi Callan of the band Wednesday Week, whose music was used for the girl band's songs in the film: "It was very interesting to see our music played by these people...it was exciting, too," she says. "There are a lot of people who discovered us that way, which is pretty neat." Not here is driller killer Atanas Ilitch, but the contributors talk about his casting, performance and musical background...and the fact that he isn't nearly as tall as the camera made him appear (and would you believe that Brock sold the infamous guitar on ebay?!).
Up next comes "Stab in the Dark" and the look at Part III, with director Sally Mattison taking center stage. The director is the most diplomatic contributor here, and it quickly becomes clear that she viewed the film as an opportunity and a training ground. She speaks honestly but carefully, and you have to appreciate her contributions considering she's not beaming about the film. "I like Hitchcock scary. This is not the kind of scary that appeals to me, but it appeals to a lot of people, apparently," she says. "When I watch the film, that scene with Maria is the one that makes me feel the most uncomfortable, because it so clearly ties together the sexuality and violence against women, and I don't like that. I didn't like it then. It's not the thing that I'm the most happy about," she says, nothing the controversial sequence was added in later to pad the running time. "One the one hand, I think it's sort of silly to say that it's a female empowerment franchise because of female directors. Frankly, I didn't have teenage slumber parties where girls were stripping and dancing around...sorry." But Mattison makes it clear she appreciated getting the chance, and notes she intended to make her entry a little darker. "It was an adventure...it was a good experience overall."
Also on board are Hope Marie Carlton (Janine), Brandi Burkett (Diane), Garon Grigsby (Michael) and Yan Birch ("Weirdo"). Carlton seems genuinely happy recalling all of the fun on set, and talks about her stunt through the glass door; Burkett notes that she didn't realize her character died until she saw the film in the theater; while Grigsby (who has aged very well) notes that his wife was in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood ("We do movies with numbers in them," he says with a smile; I'm assuming his wife isn't Heidi Kozak--he probably would have told us of that coincidence).
Up next, the Part I audio commentary features director Jones and actors Deliso and Villella joined by moderator/franchise fan Tony Brown (who spearheads all three tracks). Some of the stories from the retrospective are expanded upon here, and plenty new nuggets are discussed. It starts out a little stiff, but quickly relaxes. Note that all three commentaries do not have the film's audio track playing--not even the speakers can hear it ("It's strange seeing it with no sound," says Deliso, to which Holden-Jones responds with a laugh, "It is. Actually...you kinda don't need it!"). It stinks that specific lines of dialogue aren't isolated, but the gang has a pretty good memory and this is a very entertaining effort.
They all wonder what became of the cast members they couldn't track down, primarily Michelle Michaels and Jennifer Meyers (who apparently was older in real life than "big sister" Robin Stille). They also note that Gina Mari (now Gina Smika Hunter) seems to have distanced herself from the project (they also note that she wouldn't do nudity--that's Michaels' "stunt boob" you see in the car). They also delve more into the suicide of Stille, who left behind twin sons (ugh...could this get any more depressing?). Brown shares that the actress apparently had issues with alcohol, and relates a sad story told by Brinke Stevens (who briefly appears in the track during her scene) from the set of 1988's Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.
The locations and music are frequently discussed, the sparse but effective soundtrack composed for free by Holden-Jones' brother Ralph on a small Casio synthesizer (!). The director also notes that she doesn't recall Brown's original script as being funny, but credits Rita Mae for the drill idea (also watch for one of Brown's novels as an insert at the end, a wink I missed the first time...ditto the hysterical flyer on the gym wall). Holden-Jones and Deliso discuss the nudity some more: the director notes her discomfort in filming the shots, but never wastes an opportunity to complement the rockin' bods; while the actress shares some funny stories about finally allowing her daughter to watch the film--and the reaction to some of her students at USC and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In addition to the required nudity, the director recalls some more of Corman's budgetary challenges: "Periodically, Roger would deny us a generator to run the lights...he would say things like, 'You can make do. Amy, I remember I had a scene once and we just circled the cars and turned on the headlights!'" (The electricians apparently sapped some local power one night to compensate.) Holden-Jones was often restricted by the narrow hallways and rooms of the houses used, but loved the freedom of the gymnasium and locker room--where the smooth floors meant they could actually move the camera (this was before the Steadicam was commonplace).
Villella delves more into his motivation and preparation (he still has the notes he took for each scene), expanding upon his "animalization" process and how he justified his character's behavior ("That's a great acting technique," praises Holden-Jones, "to always be on the side of your character, whatever that character is about to do"). He hated the pool, making the finale a bit of a challenge. Speaking of, we learn the film's most powerful sequence was actually a reshoot...can you image the film without that ending?! That's just one of the cut/alternative scenes that we hear about; it's a shame that the deleted scenes aren't available (the one with the Ouija board sounds pretty cool). There isn't a really good explanation as to why they were cut at all, and Holden-Jones seems to forget how short the film actually is (although I'm glad they left out Villella's dying word).
Other random factoids and stories pop up along the way, including how excited co-producer/production manager Aaron Lipstadt was to play the pizza boy, Andree Honore frequently jumping the gun during her death scene, the director researching the Dodgers, the basketball sequences ("I wonder how long it took for us to get that basket...") and a memorable story from Deliso (who is still close friends with Joseph Alan Johnson) about the extra in the purple shirt during the gym scene (as for David Millbern? He's doing pretty well for himself...I'll have to go re-watch Gods & Monsters). The gang also has a blast delving into the film's metaphors and its role reversals for men and women. Jones is also happy to point out that the majority of gore comes from the deaths of the male characters. Neil's violet demise--which was also trimmed--is explored, the director happy with how the scene intercut with Val watching Joe Dante's Hollywood Boulevard, a film Holden-Jones helped edit.
Brown also mentions Cheerleader Massacre, the 2003 direct-to-video entry that was originally intended to be the fourth film in the franchise--and even had Brinke Stevens reprising her role in a cameo (Linda somehow miraculously survived). Initially conceived by Collum as a true continuation of the franchise, the story was changed by the producers. It's one of a few films (including Sorority House Massacre II) that re-uses SPM footage.
Brown returns to lead the Part II audio commentary, which is dominated by writer/director Brock and producer Daniel. Sadly, the effervescent Heidi Kozak (despite appearing in the retrospective) is not here, but the good news is that Juliette Cummins (Sheila) is here (although oddly was not in the retrospective; ditto story editor Beverly Gray, who also joins in). Once again, the music is discussed at length, and Daniel notes the real-life plight of driller killer Atanas Ilitch--whose parents (can you believe this?) founded Little Caesars Pizza and Ilitch Holdings Inc., whose enterprises include the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers. The actor overcame a serious battle with bone cancer and now runs a successful recording studio (he was also the former VP of the Red Wings...does this guy have the coolest resume ever, or what?!).
Brock also relates more of Corman's attempts at tightening her budget, including cutting back on catering--a battle she fought and won (although she did have to lie about that crane shot). "We lived in fear of Roger coming to the set," she says, adding that Daniel came up with a code word ("Jennifer") to warn the crew of the executive producer's arrival. They also had to contend with an angry stuntman who tried to get them in trouble by informing the Screen Actors Guild that the production would be filming a fight scene with the actresses--but without stunt people. "So the SAG guy comes to the set to catch us doing this 'bad thing' with the actors and protect the actors...Don told him it was a pillow fight. Then he wanted to hang around when he heard there might be nudity."
The general consensus seems to be that the cast got along great ("No one had an attitude, no temper tantrums," notes Cummins), although Brock provides one juicy detail that may be nothing: "Kimberly McArthur...there was some fight between her and Crystal at one point. Kimberly supposedly hit Crystal with her brush. I don't know what that was about, if that was an accident or what. That's when we were shooting all night."
Cummins proves to be the most entertaining contributor, which makes it a little frustrating that she doesn't get enough opportunities to speak earlier in the track--she probably had plenty more to share about her specific scenes, but she doesn't get much of a word in (it does get better as the track progresses). She loved playing alongside Joel Hoffman ("This guy was so much fun to play with cause he was just so raw. We were just having fun; we weren't really acting"), and it's great to hear how gleeful she gets when the carnage hits the screen at the end ("Eww! That was so great...the flesh turning around at the end of the drill bit!"). You can also hear her cringing during her naked scene (ditto her grinding on the lamp pole), although she loved dancing in the feathers. As for the sex sounds she had to make later? "Were you uncomfortable having to film all the moaning noise and everything?" asks Brown. "I was off camera," she replies. "Those were fun!" (Also listen as the credits roll for a story about her at a wrap party.)
We also hear more about the locations (including a cockroach infestation of giant Madagascar hissing roaches courtesy of The Nest, being filmed at the same time), stunt work, product placement, testing the zit puss, a frozen bird, an assistant cameraman roller skating backward for a shot, Ilitch's dancing (he could mouth the words to famous songs but not sing them) and the instructions Brock gave the FX man on the deadly chicken: "I kept saying, 'It's gotta move! It's gotta move! It can't just be a chicken that she's holding!'" (Adds Daniel: "Articulate that chicken!")
Gray notes that she was surprised at how little T&A there actually was in the film. She doesn't have much to say, but she gets perhaps the best line of the commentary: "I do remember the language of some of the various contracts...I had to work on a few. In one case, there were very specific instructions about how much pubic hair should be shown." ("We didn't have any pubic hair!" defends Daniel.)
Moving right along, the funniest and most entertaining track comes with the Part III audio commentary. That's because in addition to moderator Brown, director Mattison and story editor Grey (who is again very quiet, but points out her son in the film), it is the only track that has two of the actresses--in this case Brandi Burkett (Diane) and Hope Marie Carlton (Janine). That results in some great sidetracks and laughs as the two reminisce, the jokes and laughs piling up along the way. Hairstyles ("Look at that poofy hair!"), dancing ("I look like I'm doing an aerobics workout"), vocals ("I sound like a Valley Girl...") and wardrobes ("Those boxers are just too much on me!") are a constant source of material, and Burkett gets a lot of mileage out of a frustration she felt on set--this was her first film, and she was stunned when she realized movies don't always shoot scenes in order : "I was not prepared for things to be shot out of sequence...I was like, 'How are we doing this?! Aren't we supposed to be at the beach?!'" The actress also causes some unintended laughs when she mistakenly uses the words "microscope" and "pogo stick", while her enthusiasm for the characters is particularly infectious ("Look at her, Little Champion!" she says of the tenacious Susie).
The two are a riot, and the listen is filled with genuinely funny moments--not only do they break us down, they bring Brown and the stoic Mattison along for the ride. Two exchanges in particular are riotous, starting with the strip tease scene where actress Maria Ford takes off her top:
Hope: "...I just remember she had the strangest breasts. I kept looking at them going, 'Hmm...'"
Tony: "I didn't want to say anything, but...yeah."
Hope: "I did it even then [on camera]! I was like, 'Wow, they're different!'"
Tony: "She had work done..."
Hope: "Well, I was a playmate and so I saw a lot of breasts back then, you know?"
Fast forward to the halfway mark, where a sex toy makes its appearance:
Tony: "Why would somebody have a vibrator that plugs into the wall?"
Hope: "Back in those days, you did."
Brandi: "Did you really?! Seriously?! I've never thought about that..."
Sally: "I don't remember them having to make that..."
Tony: "It's been a while...so that was probably the case."
Brandi: "Now I'm gonna have to go do an internet search on that..."
Carlton gets deserved kudos for her through-the-glass-window stunt (which looks great on camera), and notes how much fun she had breaking things ("One of my favorite things about doing these movies was hitting people over the head with fake glass"). The group also frequently discusses actress Lulu Wilson, an alias for the actress who played Juliette (the director isn't allowed to say her real name). The performer apparently changed her mind after being cast, deciding she wouldn't do nudity. That necessitated a breast/body double for a few scenes, including one where her hair clearly isn't the same ("Her hair is in a state of arousal," Mattison explains).
The group reminisces about their co-stars, recalling that Ford was eccentric and always wore wigs ("In retrospect, I should not have let her wear the wig," notes Mattison); that David Greenlee--at the time the best known of the cast--was "even a dork off screen...he was funny"; and that Brittain Frye "loved being dramatic. He was just as dramatic off camera as he was on camera...do you remember how funny he walked?" (Stop it Hope! I'm dying!) Burkett recalls the actor getting miffed with her while filming one of the final scenes after she hit him too hard with her polo stick (not "pogo", honey!) because she didn't have any experience with "faux hitting".
Brown also likes to point out the on-screen mistakes and lapses in continuity in the film, which at one point seem to slightly irk the quiet Mattison. But after a while, even she has to laugh at some of the errors. In addition to the changing color of a towel, an unfinished light fixture in the kitchen ceiling and a reappearing light bulb, the funniest guffaw (right before the 46-minute mark) captures writer Catherine Cyran standing in the kitchen in the background of one scene (oops!). The director also acknowledges the complete lack of logic in the final confrontation: "Why you guys aren't running out the door right now, I don't know." She also notes that the Maria kill was extended afterward, necessitating added footage that ultimately made the other characters' inaction look nonsensical: "When you watch it now, Diane and Jackie are standing there watching her get killed for a painfully long time and you're thinking, 'Why aren't they doing anything?!' And that was added, the whole thing with her pleading." And the best quote of the track may very well be after the director notices a bevy of potential weapons at the damsels disposal: "A lot of crockery there they could have thrown, too..."
We also learn that the director wrote and sang two of the film's songs, and that she hasn't seen many of the scenes added back into the film since its initial release (this is the longest version, and the only one ever available on DVD).
Also included (on Disc 1) are trailers for each film (all full frame; I'm guessing they weren't official theatrical trailers) and (on both discs) still galleries for each film (Part II also has an extra still gallery for the poster shoot).
- Amy Holden-Jones
In the (slightly modified) words of the original Driller Killer, "Boobs, butts and blood...I guess that was the way it went." But to write off the original Slumber Party Massacre as cheap exploitation is doing it a great disservice. This underrated gem is far smarter and funnier than casual observers give it credit for, and it's actually got some pretty cool suspense scenes, too. Fun and frightening, it's got beauty and brains. Throw in both sequels--including the awfully odd Part II (Singing! Dancing! Exploding zits! Killer chicken! That chick from Wings!) and the flawed yet respectable Part III--and some great bonus features (three audio commentaries and an hour-long retrospective?!), and this modestly priced collection gives you plenty of boob...excuse me...bang for your buck, making it an essential addition to the library of slasher and cult film fans. Highly Recommended.