Some people call a guitar an ‘axe.’ This guy prefers to think of it as a drill.
This October, I attempted ill-advised viewing of (at least) thirty-one horror movies. I tried to watch one movie a day, after which I wrote some things about said movies on this website. I didn’t quite make it in time, but here it is: my thirty-first horror movie review of the month(ish). Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers! The honour of the final film goes to a slasher parody of sorts, Slumber Party Massacre 2 (1987), directed by the only female director of my project, Deborah Brock. The movie was suggested by friend and author Dina Del Bucchia, because – and I quote – ‘of the murder guitar and also ’80s negligee.’ Del Bucchia is the very funny, very smart author of Coping with Emotions and Otters and, more recently, Blind Items.
As (almost) always, a special thanks to Queen Video for providing me with the DVD of Slumber Party Massacre 2. The DVD came in a special sleepover package with Slumber Party Massacre and Slumber Party Massacre 3. I have so far resisted temptation and have yet to watch either other film in the trilogy.
I’ve never seen Slumber Party Massacre: Original Recipe, but I think I’ve got a general idea of what happens in it: there’s slumber party, it turns into a massacre … I’m sure there are a couple subplots in there, as well. (Though after seeing Slumber Party Massacre 2, I might be giving it too much credit with the subplots.) But I was more intrigued about this movie than I’d normally be after spotting it in a Flavorwire article on ‘50 Must-See Horror Films Directed by Women.’
The camera pans over a young woman, sleeping in bed as the Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week-esque credits run. The woman smiles as she dreams of a shirtless hunk catching a football, but the dream soon turns dark, featuring nightmare images of blood, drills, and a dead bird. She wakes up with a start, then later discusses the bad dream with her mother over breakfast. The young woman is Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard), the younger sister of a/the survivor of the first Slumber Party Massacre, Valerie. Her mother says that dreams are a way of coping with trauma, and asks if Courtney would want to see someone: a doctor or therapist. Courtney, somewhat ashamed of her sister Valerie, who is now institutionalized, declines. Running late for school, she jogs down the block but is stopped cold when she sees a dead dove on the sidewalk – just like she saw in her dream.
Her friend Amy rolls up in her Oldsmobile and gives her a lift to school. They then – in a clear predecessor to the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ scene in Wayne’s World – sing along to a bizarre new wave song with the chorus, ‘I wanna’ be your Tokyo convertible.’ Speaking of convertibles, one pulls up alongside them with a very special occupant: Matt Arbicost (Patrick Lowe), the hunk from Courtney’s dreams. Amy encourages Courtney to talk to him, and Courtney invites him to check out her and Amy’s band practice. (Did I not mention that Courtney and Amy are in a band?) Next we see the young women, they’re jamming in a garage. Courtney plays guitar and Amy lays down the bass line (of course I have a crush on the bassist; I’m so predictable), and two women we’ve never seen before – Sheila and Sally – are vocalist and drummer, respectively. While they rock out, Matt drives up and sits there as an audience of one, as if it’s not the strangest thing in the world a person could do. (Matt gets away with so much just because he’s handsome.)
At the end of practice, Courtney invites Matt to Shelia’s dad’s condominium for the weekend. Sheila’s dad recently bought a condo (this was probably a brand-new thing in 1987), and the band members are going to spend the entire weekend there, alone (no parental supervision!) to practice and write songs. Matt is very eager to join Courtney, but there’s just one hurdle: Courtney has to convince her mom first. Over an awkward dinner, Courtney talks about Sheila’s dad’s condo, but her mom has already made plans for them to take a trip to visit Valerie at the mental institution. Courtney pulls rank, complaining, ‘Sunday is my birthday and I don’t want to spend it in a mental hospital.’ Her mom (who seemingly forgot about her birthday) relents and allows Courtney to spend the weekend with her friends, especially once Courtney falsely informs her that Sheila’s parents will be there and they’re ‘a little strict.’
Matt Arbicost, subject of one of the very rare examples of ‘female gaze’ in film history.
That night, Courtney’s nightmares continue. She has visions of a man in black rockabilly gear and steel-toed boots, sees her sister Valeire warning her of something. Even when she falls asleep on their road trip, she has terrible dreams. When they stop in a parking lot to pick up food, she hallucinates that Valerie, covered in blood, slams herself against her passenger-side window. Eventually, they arrive in the condo development, which is still in the process of being built. Few of the other neighbours have even moved into the condominiums yet. They go through the house, settling in. The women find a plastic blow-up doll left by Sheila’s brother in one of the beds, and Sheila uncovers where her father hides the alcohol. ‘Some people have wine cellars; my dad has a booze closet,’ she says. They turn on the TV, which happens to be playing a movie called Rock ‘n’ Roll from Hell. Really feeling the song on the soundtrack, they crank it and start to dance. Getting wilder, they spray each other with champagne and Shelia takes her shirt off.
Two young men – T.J. and Jeff – who weren’t supposed to arrive until the following night, show up at the condominium and spy the revelry through the window, which has turned into a full-blown pillow fight. ‘I didn’t know girls really did this stuff,’ Jeff marvels, in perhaps the most self-reflexive line of the movie. The band members hear noises and go to investigate, finding T.J. (an Adam Devine type who dresses kind of like the early-era Beastie Boys) and Jeff (who dresses like one of the Socs from The Outsiders) scare them with their arrival. That night, Courtney tries to sleep but is woken by the raucous lovemaking of Shelia and T.J. in the next room. It’s for the best, though, as when she does fall asleep, she just has more nightmares about drills and her sister. The next morning, at the side of the condo’s pool, Courtney confides in Amy about her nightmares, and Amy responds by talking about the psychological phenomenon of subconscious projection (which, I’ll admit, I definitely wasn’t expecting). T.J., creep that he is, starts manhandling Courtney and tosses her into the pool. (At this point, I really relished T.J.’s inevitable death.) Courtney sinks to the bottom, lost in nightmares, and Jeff dives in to rescue her. Despite this near-drowning, things go back to normal, with everyone joking about a ‘dirty’ book that Sally brought from home: Hot, Wet, and Wild.
The super-rad weekend continues, replete with swimming, car-washing, and impromptu band performances. T.J. does a dramatic reading from Hot, Wet, and Wild in an attempt to arouse Sheila – which, incredibly, works – and Courtney imagines the chicken in the refrigerator attacks her. Amy encourages Courtney to relax by taking a hot bath, so Courtney takes her friend’s advice. But she has visions of the bath filling with blood, so she screams and runs down to Sally, currently hard at work on a new song. (She’s a Phil Collins type.) Sally follows her upstairs but finds no blood in the bathroom, just an overflowing tub. Sally then starts complaining about a big zit she has, and when she turns to Courtney, her face is deformed by a hideous monster pimple, which then bursts spectacularly. (It’s really disgusting.) Courtney freaks out, running almost directly into Matt Arbicost in her escape from the bathroom. (So, I guess Matt arrived at the condo unannounced, as well.) T.J. suggests Courtney is totally ruining his weekend, but Jeff and Matt are much more sympathetic. And Sally does seem to be missing. They then look to the trash compactor, which none of them can remember turning on. Is Sally in the trash compactor?
T.J. does a dramatic reading of Hot, Wet, and Wild for Sheila.
Instead of looking into the trash compactor, they call the police, and officers Krueger and Voorhees (get it?) aren’t overly impressed by their story. When Sally walks in the front door – she stepped out to buy some Oxy 10 – they warn the teenagers how little they like having their chains jerked. They depart to Denny’s where the staff is holding a booth for them. When things calm down, Matt surprises Courtney with a birthday cake. While the others are out for dinner they start to make out in Courtney’s guest bedroom. Things begin to get hot and heavy, and the others return from dinner and begin to goof around on the instruments downstairs. Courtney is just about to confess to Matt that she’s never gone ‘all the way’ with someone before when a large drill pierces his chest from the other side and blood spurts all over. Behind him stands a man – the rockabilly killer from her dreams – wielding a large red guitar that’s part drill, a weapon probably never seen outside of an Iron Maiden album cover before. Courtney screams and tries to reassure herself it’s only a dream, but the driller killer shouts, ‘Does this look like a dream to you?’ as gore flies off the spinning drill and he throws Matt’s gory severed arm behind him.
Courtney runs downstairs, the guitar killer in hot pursuit. Courtney’s friends are shocked when the killer comes down the stairs. T.J. first attempts to battle him with a regular guitar, but realizing he’s outgunned, falls back. Some of the group run outside, while others run to the kitchen to call 911. Sally, trapped behind her drum kit, remains imprisoned with the murderer. As Jeff begins to dial the police, a bloody drill bit bursts through the wall, destroying the phone (and probably killing Sally on the other side). They escape the house. Down the street, T.J. and Sheila, separated from the others, try to flag down a car to no avail. Courtney, Jeff, and Amy decide they have to go back into the house to retrieve the car keys. They should also check on Sally, though they fear the worst. The trio sneaks back, grabs the keys, and find Sally very much dead. They hop into the car and, after a few false starts, are driving down the road out of the condo development. It isn’t long, though, before a drill pierces Jeff’s torso from behind. The guitar killer was hiding in the backseat! Amy and Courtney escape the car and run for their lives.
Meanwhile, Sheila is dragging T.J. around, as his leg has been somehow injured – I missed whether he fell or was actually wounded by the drill. They knock on the house of another condo, but the owner, blasting classical music (red flag?), won’t answer. They’re left outside as the driller killer arrives to gore Sheila’s arm and make short work of the injured T.J. Courtney and Amy have returned to Sheila’s dad’s condo and found another phone in a bedroom, but when they call the police, it’s Officer Krueger who answers and refuses to help, believing it another of Courtney’s hoaxes. Sheila also returns to her dad’s condo and hides in the upstairs hallway. The driller killer arrives and begins to – and this is real – strut around and dance, even breakdancing at one point (!), despite his very rockabilly appearance. After this dance routine, he drills Sheila to death as Amy and Courtney shore up furniture against the door of the bedroom they’ve hidden in. The killer drills through the door and the two women escape out the window, leaping over the closely positioned rooftops of the condos.
The killer catches up with our two heroines and grazes Amy across the face with his guitar drill. The chase continues into a condo construction site (is there a more metaphorical ’80s setting for a film climax?) and Amy is again tagged with the drill. It seems like Amy can go on no longer when she falls from the upper storey of the partially constructed building. Courtney grabs her arms but she’s unable to hold on when the killer arrives and thrusts his guitar drill at her. Amy falls to the ground (and possibly her death). The killer then follows Courtney and sings a confusing song of heartbreak, as if Courtney is being punished for breaking her heart, despite them having never met before this night. Courtney flees to the roof and finds an oxygen tank. She handily turns it into a blow torch and – with a maniacal look on her face – sets the killer ablaze. He drops, like a flaming meteorite, to the ground, three storeys below.
In the morning, we see Courtney in one of those shock blankets as police and paramedics swarm the construction site. Two EMTs bring by a stretcher holding her friend Amy, who is just barely alive. She turns to Courtney and laughs with the guitar killer’s laugh. Courtney awakes from a start in bed beside Matt, alive and intact. Was the whole thing a terrible nightmare? She kisses Matt, but when she pulls away sees that it’s not Matt, but the guitar killer again. Then she screams, and either she or Valerie (it was hard to tell) is seen screaming in the mental institution as a massive drill comes up through the floor.
The band, in happier times, when it was just a Slumber Party Madcap Romp.
- If you know anything about film, you know that, due to the ingrained misogyny of the entertainment industry and various other factors, female directors are a pretty rare breed. Female horror directors, perhaps even moreso – though the relatively small budgets of horror movies might allow a bit more opportunity for independent female directors to flourish than in other genres. (Near the end of my Horror Movie Watch, I came across this Flavorwire list of horror movies by female directors, which gives me a guide for next October. Did you know there’s a horror movie directed by Cindy Sherman that stars Molly Ringwald?! How did I not know about this before now?) While Slumber Party Massacre (the first) is often discussed as being particularly smart and a kind of sly critique on the slasher genre. But Slumber Party Massacre 2 has none of that cleverness. It seems just like a cheap, kind-of-quirky slasher movie, largely indistinguishable from those directed by men. There are two things that make it somewhat different from your average male-directed slasher pic. (1) The quartet of female protagonists are in a band, which is awesome. Most of the female victims in horror movies have absolutely no hobbies, no personality outside of an interest in one of the lead male characters. So, you actually like these women as people, not as future corpses. And (2) there’s actually a bit of female gaze (though I know that’s kind of impossible). Obviously, there’s a lot of male gaze, too – there is, after, all a partially topless pillow fight in the movie – but we also see a lot of a sweaty, shirtless Matt Arbicost, filmed in a similar fashion to how women are typically filmed in horror movies.
- This may be taking things a bit far, but I’m a strong believer that no thesis is too outlandish if it’s supported by the ‘text’: is the entire movie about the fear of male-female penetrative sex? Or, to be totally heteronormative, is it about fear of losing your virginity? The guitar killer (whose name we never learn) often threatens Courtney in her nightmares about ‘going all the way.’ And it’s only just as Courtney is about to confess to Matt that she’s never had intercourse before that the killer strikes. And how does he kill? With a drill-guitar. Has an object more phallic ever been envisioned than a drill-guitar? It’s kind of a stroke (no pun intended) of genius. After finally defeating the killer, Courtney awakes in a post-coital embrace with Matt. Did she just have sex? Was the entire murder spree a kind of nightmare metaphor for her first time? Some subconscious projection? Is Slumber Party Massacre 2 a screed against penetrative sex? A cautionary tale against heterosexuality? (If that’s the case, perhaps this is one of the most feminist horror movies of all time!) I mean, it’s getting a bit Cronenbergian here, but I think that’s almost the only way to read Slumber Party Massacre 2. That is, if you try to read it any way other than just a stupid movie where people get killed for no reason.
- The prime weakness of Slumber Party Massacre 2 is the lack of motivation. Who is this guitar killer? Where did he come from? Why is he killing these people? Where did he learn to breakdance? Obviously, there’s something to be said for the unknown, mysterious, remorseless killer, but when he’s given so much personality, as he is here, it feels like there should be a back story. Then again, if this movie is a manifestation of sexual fears, as I suggest above, maybe he doesn’t have a back story.
Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: Truly terrible. The movie is saved by a few bits of entertaining strangeness, and my innate love of all movies featuring all-girl bands, but it’s not a good movie, and there’s not much story to speak of. The fact that I was able to write several paragraphs on the plot was a real feat. (The Wikipedia plot summary is barely two paragraphs.) And it’s not scary at all, though a couple of the scenes are really gory – notably, the ‘meat’ that sometimes spins around on the guitar killer’s weapon.
Too many incredible outfits in this band shot to handle. (Also note the conspicuous can of Slice.)
Best outfit: As I hinted at before, I developed a little crush on bassist Amy, and that’s probably because she has the best outfits. Her band practice look (you know I love ties) is incredible. But I also have to give points to Courtney’s pink-and-white striped short-sleeved sweater which she pairs with white suspenders.
Best line: ‘Could you get me a Slice?’ – Sally, when asked if she wants anything from the kitchen. This may be the only filmic reference to this forgotten soft drink.
Best kill: For a movie about a guy who kills people with a guitar/drill hybrid, the murders are largely unremarkable. The first kill, when Matt is murdered during an intimate moment with Courtney, is my favourite. I don’t think they had the special effects budget for the rest of the kills.
Unexpected cameo: I totally didn’t realize this until the movie was over, but our protagonist, Courtney, is portrayed by Crystal Bernard, who delighted us for six seasons as Helen Chapel on your favourite television sitcom about an upstart airline, Wings. Also, you might recognize T.J. (Joel Hoffman) from another horror movie role: Steve in Pumpkinhead.
Unexpected lesson learned: Playing drums makes you an easy target for murderers who stumble into your band practice. We need to think of an easy escape hatch for the poor summers of the world.
Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Hot, Wet, and Wild
Next up: Nothing! The Horror Movie Watch is over, folks!