Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

JULY 10, 2022


One of the downsides of traveling to only *part* of a film festival is that you might end up missing the movie you were most excited to see. That was the case with last year's Fantastic Fest; as always I could only attend the first few days instead of the whole thing (I believe it runs for just over a week) and sure enough, the Slumber Party Massacre remake that had been on my radar since it was announced was slotted for Monday night, and I was leaving Monday morning. I still got to see some stuff I was excited for (The Black Phone, Titane), of course, but I knew there would be other opportunities to see those with a crowd. SPM, however, was made for the Syfy channel, which meant future theatrical showings would be rare, if they existed at all.

So alas I had to settle for home, with no one to laugh with or, if my "blind to horror references" wife was with me, explain why I was laughing at the sight of a telephone truck. I still had a pretty good time, but during every crowd-pleasing moment I couldn't help but sigh that I missed my chance to see it with, well, a crowd. The pandemic has made me cherish a good crowd more than ever, and at the same time they're harder to find (watching movies at home for a year or two has left even more people unaware of how to properly behave in a theater), but at Fantastic Fest that wouldn't have been an issue. Anyone being a jerk in a Drafthouse would have been removed, theoretically (their LA location doesn't enforce the policy, I've noticed - not sure if that's a company wide relaxation).

Anyway, it's the kind of remake I always appreciate, in that it has the same basic premise (the one promised in the title) and a few nods but is otherwise its own movie, so that it can succeed on its own merits and, in turn, make its own mistakes. I always think about the Halloween remake and how it actually had its own identity for the first half, to the extent that maybe I could grow to like it on a second viewing now that the shock had worn off, only for Rob Zombie to not only start copying Carpenter's film scene for scene, but even keep the dumb sister twist from the sequel, rather than course correct something even Carpenter himself said was a bad idea. By creating their own story, writer Suzanne Keilly and director Danishka Esterhazy can't use the 1982 film as a scapegoat if something doesn't work.

(Obviously, one thing they've retained is keeping the tradition set by the original, of women writing and directing these films. And it's nice that nowadays it's (slightly) less novel to see.)

Luckily, for the most part it works just fine. After a 1990s set opening where all but one girl is killed, we flash forward to the present, where the survivor's daughter is about to make a girls trip of her own (right off the bat they're doing something different even in the cold open - it's a rented cabin in the woods as opposed to their "safe" suburban home), and said mom is understandably nervous - real "Keri Tate" energy about her nearly adult child being away from her for a couple days. And due to some well-worn horror movie traditions (i.e. their car breaks down) they end up not at their intended destination but... the same cabin/lake where her mom was attacked! What are the odds?


Well the odds are, as they say, stacked, because one girl's teen sister who tagged along for the ride finds a bloody corpse almost instantly, and then tells the others that the original killer must be back. It's only like 20-25 minutes into the movie at this point, so any astute fan would know that's far too quick for everyone to be on the alert - but then Reilly and Esterhazy show their cards. All the girls pull out weapons, and reveal to the younger sister that this was their plan all along: to pose as the usual group of oblivious girls and lure Thorn out so they can kill him. The reveal is slightly hampered by some forced awkward writing (the main girl, Dana, is introduced listening to a podcast about her mother's attack, so she knows where it happened, but also has no reaction when they "find out" they have to stay there), but it's such a great idea that I let it slide.

Naturally, things don't go fully as planned. The other cabin across the lake is being rented by a group of dudes who are fans of the podcast, and they think the girls are "man-haters" who might kill them. So there's some mild paranoia, not to mention some hilarious role reversal stuff (the guys have a shirtless pillow fight) and a running gag about how two of the guys are named Guy, keeping the energy level high to make up for the fact that there isn't much in the way of actual stalk n' slash kind of material. With everyone knowing that Thorn is around, they obviously aren't going to go off to have sex or any of the other F13-y kind of things you'd expect when a group of girls meets up with a group of guys (the credits even copy F13 3D's font/style, so they clearly want to get the viewer in that kind of headspace). I wouldn't have minded some of that early on before their true motive was revealed, but as with the mother's backstory thing I mentioned, I can see how it would strain credulity even further.

Plus there are more reveals/surprises that I won't spoil, making it a pretty enjoyable 90 minutes overall. Not all the humor lands (there are at least three too many "the drill is his penis" visual gags) and more could have been done with the idea that the girls are fully prepared to take on a slasher killer, but it's rare to watch a remake and also have the "I'm not sure what will happen next" kind of thinking, so it's forgivable. And I appreciated that they gave a little love to Slumber Party Massacre II as well, with one of the guys finding a familiar guitar and trying to use it as a weapon (if there's anything specific to the third film, I missed it). The references to the original were also largely subtle instead of grating (the phone van I mentioned doesn't even get a closeup, it's just in the background of a shot for those who can get it - no one else will feel they're "missing something"). They recycled a few character names (and Thorn himself is basically the same guy, but not ACTUALLY the same guy) but I think the most overt "remake" moment was actually just kind of goofing on one of my favorite parts of the original, where the girl comes running out of the house and stabs the killer even though he's already dead.

I also liked that it was just Russ Thorn again. Not the actual same guy, it's definitely a remake, but there's no real whodunit aspect to the proceedings nor does he wear a disguise. Post Scream, there was talk that you couldn't even do a slasher anymore, and while that isn't true, there has definitely been a sharp decline in the number of named killer types (i.e. "Michael Myers") beyond sequels. Most prefer to do it as a mystery now, and while I like those too, there's something charming in just having a random psycho again. I recently watched another newish slasher called Varsity Blood (which ALSO had everyone clued into the killer's presence too early - is it too much to ask to let these kids party for a while?) and the backstory was super convoluted; one of the would-be victims explains the obligatory past tragedy while dropping the names of people we hadn't even met yet, making me feel like I needed to take notes. As a result, the killer's reveal meant almost nothing to me, as it was someone who I had mostly just heard about instead of seeing. Not the case here. It's just Russ Thorn, and all we need to know is that he's a fan of drills and denim jackets.

As it was made for Syfy it isn't too explicit in any department, though there are some nice prosthetic gags here and there. The disc has an alternate ending that is more of an extended epilogue (unnecessary) and a director commentary that I started listening to but she is a soft spoken type and I have the AC on all the time in this hellscape, so I will have to get to it when the house is otherwise quiet (or when my idiot cats stop thinking that a headphone wire is something they need to attack). But the movie itself is one I can see myself throwing on every few years when I'm in the mood for a few cheap slasher thrills with a below modern average number of things making my eyes roll.

What say you?


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