FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 19, 2014

Juliette Cummins Week Day 1: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II

I tell ya, it's been a long, long time since I had a theme week around these parts. Given my recent re-obsessioning with Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, it seems like the perfect time for a Juliette Cummins Week, doesn't it? You know, because she played Robin in that movie? And also because it's always the perfect time for a Juliette Cummins Week, amirite? I mean, come on now!

She dominated the mid-late 80s horror scene, appearing in three franchises as well as some delightfully craptacular cult faves. She was never the Final Girl, oh no; rather, she was the one who reliably took her top off and as we all know, Final Girls are never that much fun. She managed to make even minor characters memorable (such as the doomed "Red" in Psycho III, which I'll be talking about later this week), and let's face it- she's got one of the best screams in the genre.

What higher honor is there to bestow upon so deserving an actress than a Final Girl theme week? Okay, there are probably like 10-15 honors that are way higher but hey, this is all I've got.

The first time I saw Slumber Party Massacre II (1987), I came away from the experience confused, bewildered, and perhaps even a bit angry. I felt as if I'd woken up pantsless in a strange place, or I was suddenly trapped in a Talking Heads song, or maybe I was somehow living some combination of the two: this is not my beautiful house. How did I get here, and why is it so cold? I went in anticipating a run-of-the-mill slasher flick, you see, and while Slumber Party Massacre II certainly is a run-of-the-mill slasher flick, it's a run-of-the-mill slasher flick wrapped up in a big tortilla of music and dancing and what the fuckery. Expectations vs results, man, they mess with your mind! Just like that time I took a big gulp out of a glass thinking it was orange juice, only to discover too late that it was lukewarm milk. Never had I had a more jarring experience until SPM II came along.

Time heals all wounds, though, right? It must, because now I know exactly what to expect from this movie, and now I love it. I still find milk (lukewarm or otherwise) super gross, however, so I guess it'd be more accurate to say that time heals some wounds and ignores all others. The point is, Slumber Party Massacre II is pretty great.

Five years after surviving an attack by the sweaty, jean jacket-wearing Driller Killer, 17-year-old Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard) is plagued by nightmares comprising footage from Slumber Party Massacre as well as events yet to come. Visions of topless hunks playing football, greasy rock n' roll types, and blood dance through her head.

Still, Courtney's got it pretty good. After all, she's in a rock band, while her sister, fellow massacre survivor Valerie, is in an institution.

To celebrate Courtney's imminent birthday, she and pals/bandmates Amy (Kimberly McArthur), Sally (Friday the 13th Part VII's Heidi Kozak), and Sheila (Cummins) head to an empty condo in the desert - recently purchased by Sheila's dad- to celebrate and to practice. It's slumber party time!

This is where writer/director Deborah Brock begins to tinker with genre tropes: nudity is neither as prevalent nor as salacious as you might expect, as only Sheila briefly doffs her top after too many corn dogs and too much champagne (just go with it). Though it's still not a realistic portrayal of what girls do at slumber parties (not in my experience, anyway; we all would have rather died than strip in front of each other), it's playful and fun more than it is exploitative or lascivious.

As per the Slumber Party Massacre formula, boys show up and invade the space, although for once they're actually invited. Then comes a long stretch of Courtney freaking out as she can no longer discern dreams from reality. Is she crazy? Is she asleep? Is her sandwich really a severed hand ("My burger's...weird.")? Does a chicken really attack her and spurt purple goo? In those heady post-Nightmare on Elm Street days, horror movies- such as Deadly Dreams, starring Juliette Cummins! Review coming later this week!- sure loved to pile on dreams within dreams within so many dreams that even Christopher Nolan is like holy shit, okay, enough, we get it, stop.

Sure, all of this is tied to the trauma Courtney experienced five years ago (and hasn't dealt with as much as she claims)...but it's also tied to her burgeoning sexuality, you see. Courtney is such a good, innocent girl that she not only has stuffed animals in her bedroom, she also has household goods fashioned from stuffed animals.

But! She is on the cusp of womanhood and thus she is confronted with all of the things that womanhood ushers in: sex, corn dogs, etc. In Courtney's dreams, Valerie warns her not to "go all the way" as "good guy" Matt (Patrick Lowe) and the "bad boy" Driller Killer battle for her affections.

It's only when Courtney decides that maybe she would like to, you know, go all the way with the good guy that the bad boy gets out of her dreams and into her...well, life...with his drill guitar.

If you're thinking "That kissing is some Hays Code puritanical shit!", well, you're not far off. First of all, it's another way that Brock plays with expectations: there's not much sex in Slumber Party Massacre II, and whatever sex there is occurs offscreen. Additionally, star Crystal Bernard is the daughter of a preacher man; she didn't even want Courtney lying in bed with Matt, never mind partaking in onscreen sexnanigans. Incidentally, her unwillingness to be naughty is also the reason the film's poster and promo pictures feature Heidi Kozak, Juliette Cummins, "Driller Killer" Atanas Illitch, and...mystery underwear lady.

Once he's corporeal, the Driller Killer dispatches nearly everyone in quick, bloody succession.


There is no doubt that it is the biggest WTF sequence in not only the history of horror, but perhaps in the history of the world. If you are not on board with it or you weren't expecting it, you will have that pantsless feeling I talked about earlier. If you are expecting it and totally on board with it, you'll still have that pantsless feeling...but it'll be enjoyable, like maybe noticing that while your pants are gone, the wind on your bare legs feels kind of refreshing and nice.

In the end, we're left wondering if it was all a dream or if it was Courtney, in fact, who was committed to the asylum...or maybe it's both. Slumberception!

this is a forced-perspective shot with miniature furniture and stuff, super dope

Look guys, Slumber Party Massacre II has a lot going for it. The FX may not be copious, but what's there is totally bonkers and well-done. I mean, there's a giant zit! And if you don't want to hurl when that giant zit explodes, you're made of far stronger stuff than I.

Aesthetically, the movie is such an impeccable time capsule of the pastel-hued, gauzy year it was made. Sheila's dress alone is a perfect example of how SPM II looks like 1987 walked in and barfed all over everything. It's glorious.

Then there's all the choice, eminently quotable dialogue:

"Sunday's my birthday and I don't wanna go to a mental hospital!"
"Smoke your head!"
"This is getting too stupid."
"Anybody got any tranqs?"
"I'd sing 'Happy Birthday' to you, but my singing would gross you out."
"Maybe...just maybe...there is a psycho running around here."

The characters are what make the movie so lovable. As corny and traveling pants-y as a term like "female bonding" may be, it's the bonding that makes the entire Slumber Party Massacre series unique. The characters band together before and, more importantly, throughout the ordeal. You get the idea that these girls are actually friends, that they genuinely like each other...and that is completely refreshing in the world of slasher flicks. You actually don't want to see them die, even though you know they must. And while they're barely more than the paper-thin characters we're used to in horror movies, the actresses imbue them with enough quirks to make then seem a bit real. Whether it's Sally's zit cream and daydreams of songwriting fame or Sheila proudly proclaiming she's an unabashed "perv", they're downright charming.

Yeah, Slumber Party Massacre II has its problems. Pacing is a major issue; the killer doesn't really show up until nearly an hour in, and there's an extended chase sequence later that feels like padding (and don't forget "Let's Buzz", which brings the proceedings to a screeching halt). It's cheap- a Roger Corman production, after all- and the film suffers for the sparse, limited sets. Still, Deborah Brock makes the most out of very little and keeps things as interesting as they can be thanks to lights, unique camera angles, shadows, and the obligatory fog machine.

Listen, Slumber Party Massacre II is a movie you love or you hate. Or, if you're like me, you hate it and then you love it. A lot. Looking back, I wonder how I could have ever felt differently. This breeze feels great!


originalslugboy said...

"My burger's...weird."

Story of my life, Slumber Party Massacre II. Story. Of. My. Life.

Stacie Ponder said...

Right? This movie is chock full of universal truths. I mean, maybe...just maybe...there is a psycho running around here. How do we know there's not?

William Quiterio said...

Which Talking Heads song did you feel you were stuck within? Don't say Psycho Killer, that would be too obvious.

SPM2 is just a really special experience. Why it never launched an entire sub-genre of rockabilly musical slasher films I will never understand. Weird burgers, Let's Buzz, designer discount Bangles, Let's Buzz, exploding faces, Let's Buzz, dramatic readings of cheap paperback erotica, Let's Buzz, a big ass guitar drill, and Let's Buzz, this movie has it all.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh heavens no, not "Psycho Killer". I was loosely referencing "Once in a Lifetime".

I love those designer impostor Bangles. For high schoolers, they're pretty damn entertaining...even if they don't have a name! :D

William Quiterio said...

Of course, 'Once in a Lifetime'! "Well, how did I get here?" I should have figured that out.

Steve said...

One of the few 80's horror films where the killer was hot!! He could "drill" me anytime, metaphors be damned!!