Tuesday, October 19, 2010

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION

The essential "Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection" soldiers on with this new release from Shout! Factory - a two-disc, three-film collection of the exploitation master's contributions to the 80's stalk 'n slay cycle: THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION.

1982's SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is an early attempt at bringing some black humor to the slasher genre, and is, in my opinion, a solid, if unspectacular slasher. The plot, such as it is: the high school girls' basketball team is having a slumber party. An escaped homicidal maniac with a large power drill shows up. Girls die.

Much has been made (mostly by Corman's own PR department) of the fact that SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE was directed by a woman, Amy Holden Jones, and based on a script by feminist mystery writer Rita Mae Brown, the implication being that the movie is somehow a "feminist take" on the genre. In truth, it's a pretty standard bodycount film, competently directed, and possessing a certain amount of humor - something that was pretty rare in the genre in the early 80s. (Later, of course, the whole genre would become something of a parody of itself.) The production was clearly shot on the cheap, using real locations and a cast of unknowns. In fact, the film is known primarily for containing cult film actress Brinke Stevens' first prominent screen role, and for the tragic fate of star Robin Stille (SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA), who committed suicide in 1996 at age 35.

1987's SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II is a different breed of horror film, and it's either an absurdist classic or one of the worst movies in the genre, ever. Crystal Bernard (three years before WINGS) assumes the role of one of the previous entry's two survivors, now 17 and suffering from horrific dreams and flashbacks to the murders five years before. For her birthday, she and the other members of her all-girl rock-n-roll garage band head off to a condo in an unfinished development for some unsupervised partying. Unfortunately, her dreams - and the rockabilly driller killer that haunts them - somehow become real, and she and her friends are attacked by the bizarre, wisecracking dream rocker, who dresses like he escaped from Sha-na-na, sings and dances as he chases after his prey, and slaughters his victims with a Satanic guitar equipped with a deadly steel drillbit.

Written and directed by Deborah Brock, the second MASSACRE is a completely inexplicable trip into NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET-styled supernatural camp, with an utterly nonsensical plot, lots of dream sequences and musical interludes, and one of the most head-scratching finales of the genre. The cast isn't bad, considering what they have to work with. Bernard is quite appealing, and the other girls are gorgeous and likable. Once again, the film looks about as cheap as it is, but it's never boring, and the songs are actually pretty decent.

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III had a limited theatrical release in 1990 before becoming a VHS rental favorite. Once again, the plot revolves around a bunch of young women having a slumber party and being menaced by a drill-wielding maniac, but there is no narrative connection with either of the previous films. It's also considerably more grim and violent than its predecessors, with some truly brutal and disturbing moments.

Once again, Corman recruited a female creative team; in this case, writer Catherine Cyran and director Cynthia Mattison. While the first film was solid, and the second insane, this third installment just seems tired and dull. Certainly, by 1990, there wasn't much life left in the formula anyway, and while III scores a few points by a.) trying to make it's killer's identity a mystery for most of the film and b). giving the character some sort of vague motivation, it's still a pretty lackluster affair. The mostly unknown and now-forgotten cast of cuties does include Andy Sidaris mainstay Hope Marie Carlton (HARD TICKET TO HAWAII, SAVAGE BEACH) and popular Corman starlet Maria Ford (NAKED OBSESSION, ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION).

Interestingly, unlike most other slasher franchises, the SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE trilogy isn't built around a single, iconic killer like Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, but rather, a signature weapon - in this case, the blatantly phallic power drill. There's certainly nothing subtle about these films' sexual subtext.

Shout! has assembled all three films into a two-disc special edition, with matted, widescreen transfers (on I and II) that are a slight improvement over the out-of-print (and pricey) 2000 New Horizons discs.

Disc One contains SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and original mono sound. There is an audio commentary by director Amy Holden Jones and several cast and crew members, moderated by SPM uber-fan Tony Brown (proprietor of www.hockstatter.com, a franchise fansite), as well as a three-part retrospective documentary covering the making of all three films. This disc also includes a still gallery for the first movie, and the original trailers for the entire trilogy.

Disc Two holds parts II (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) and III (1.33:1 full-frame). Each film is provided with an audio commentary by their respective directors and cast members, both moderated by Brown. A still gallery also accompanies each film. There is also a 12-page booklet with exhaustive liner notes by author and SPM fan Jason Paul Collum (who also produced the documentaries).

Shout! has once again assembled and exhaustive special edition that should satisfy any aficionado. The transfers are all satisfactory and the bonus material is informative and entertaining. For fans of the franchise - and there are a surprising number -THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION is a must-have. For more casual fans of 80s slash n'stalk flicks, they're at least worth checking out.

BUY: The Slumber Party Massacre Collection (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)