Wednesday 1 December 2021

Slumber Party Massacre (Danishka Esterhazy, 2021)

Like many a Roger Corman production, 1982's The Slumber Party Massacre certainly possesses a ragged charm, and the same could be said of its two sequels.  Each film in the trilogy has a different director—nothing too unusual about that, but it's the fact that all three directors are female that makes the series stand out from the typical horror fare that peppered the 1980s.  There's a sly wit at play in all three films, yet it's the ludicrously unhinged (and NSFW) "Let's Buzz" sequence in the second instalment that always sticks in my mind; it's a marvellously OTT scene, one that provides a tantalising glimpse of what Grease may have looked like had it been directed by Abel Ferrara.  The guitar featured in "Let's Buzz" makes a fleeting appearance in the new Slumber Party Massacre—which drops the definite article from the title—and the inclusion of this deadly instrument provides welcome proof that those behind the remake are tuned in to both the content and humour of the original films.  

While the 2021 version of Slumber Party Massacre—which will be available digitally on 13 December—is a work that's described as a "modern reimagining" of the original movie, in truth it probably sits halfway between homage and straight-up remake.  A good comparison might be the 2019 take on Black Christmas, which put a contemporary spin on both Bob Clark's horror classic and its crass 2006 remake.  Although 1974's Black Christmas is a far more accomplished film than the original Slumber Party Massacre, it's actually the latter that has benefitted more from the remake treatment; while the 2019 Black Christmas was not without its moments, it was a bit too on the nose, whereas the 2021 Slumber Party Massacre employs a subtlety that isn't immediately obvious amidst all the blood and chaos.  Even if its limited budget occasionally shines through—it's quite evident that not all of the death scenes could feature top-drawer effects, so some judicious editing has been employed—director Danishka Esterhazy has mounted a fairly handsome production, one that was filmed entirely in South Africa with a local cast.

Beginning in 1993 with a cabin slumber party in which almost all of the attendees come to a grisly end, the film then moves to the present day and the home of sole survivor Trish (Schelaine Bennett), whose daughter Dana (Hannah Gonera) is about to join her friends for a girls' weekend in the country.  As is to be expected, Trish is most nervous about Dana heading off to a gathering that sounds remarkably similar to one that concluded with several young women being butchered.  Equally unsurprisingly, Dana seems very relaxed about it all, and her friends Maeve (Frances Sholto-Douglas), Breanie (Alex McGregor) and Ashley (Reze-Tiana Wessels) soon arrive to pick her up; en route, the girls discover a stowaway in the form of Maeve's younger sister Alix (Mila Rayne), and it isn't long after this drama that the car breaks down on account of a problem with its radiator hose.  Forced to rethink their plans in order to salvage the weekend, the girls organise a new rental property at another campground, which is actually the site of the 1993 massacre operating under a (slightly) different name.

To say any more would be to spoil the twisty narrative that ensues, as Slumber Party Massacre manages, with some style, to pull the rug from under the audience's feet on more than one occasion.  Esterhazy has some experience in repurposing fondly remembered, decades-old material, given that she previously directed The Banana Splits Movie, and with Slumber Party Massacre she has fashioned a lively, smart slasher movie that manages to acknowledge its roots while feeling fairly fresh.  That the film—like all the entries in the original trilogy—comes in at well under 90 minutes is also a real positive, especially in the age of the bloated running time, and the film moves along at a nice clip.  Slumber Party Massacre may not be a perfect film, but it comes off especially well when you consider the glut of 80s horror remakes that have fallen flat; the likes of Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, The Fog and Poltergeist are among those titles remade to mediocre effect.  Perhaps it helps that Slumber Party Massacre, like the series it's based on, is made on a budget that precludes anything too elaborate; should it maintain this level of quality, another instalment (or even two) would be no bad thing. 

Darren Arnold

Images: Strike Media