We’re in a golden age of horror remakes and reboots — Chucky! Michael Myers! Ghostface! — and now thanks to Syfy execs with their finger on the pop culture pulse, we’re also getting a new Slumber Party Massacre. The 1982 original is already something of a response to the genre with its female writer/director duo going over the top in certain areas to show slashers weren’t solely a male domain. It’s 2021, though, and today’s reboots typically come with some degree of subversion. This new incarnation follows suit, and more often than not it succeeds at delivering a combination of slasher fun and modern commentary.
A simpler time. A bygone era. The early 90s. Four friends are spending the night at a lake house to talk shit about boys, eat brownies, and dance in their pjs. A driller killer named Russ Thorne (Rob van Vuuren) comes calling to turn the night red, and only Trish survives after knocking him into the lake. His body is never found, though, and years later it’s Trish’s twentysomething daughter Dana (Hannah Gonera) who’s heading to a cabin by a lake for a weekend of pizza, drugs, and skimpy sleepwear. Car trouble, missing dogs, and creepy locals pave the way for another night of terror and drill bits, but things are going to be a little bit different this time around.
While Slumber Party Massacre‘s pre-title sequence plays out in familiar fashion, director Danishka Esterhazy and writer Suzanne Keilly soon make it clear they’ve got a few tweaks up their sleeves. Expectations are upended, laughs are had, sexual dynamics are flipped, and a killer with a phallic-themed weapon of choice still finds release at the end of his giant drill. The third act can’t quite keep it up, though, as the film falls back a step or two amid showers of regressive behaviors, filler, and digitally assisted carnage.
The film’s at its best in the second act as Slumber Party Massacre reveals its wit and finds a fun detour with a group of true crime-obsessed guys across the lake. They banter, they pillow fight topless, they shower — two of them are named Guy 1 and Guy 2! — and it’s a terrifically playful middle finger to some overly familiar slasher victim tropes. One finds a certain nod to 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II, and the girls even take a gender-swapped moment to watch the boys dancing through a window. Keilly’s script ensures the dialogue stays snappy throughout even as some exchanges are overly on the nose and threaten to halt the fun momentum, but it’s usually a brief pause before things pick up again.
Things stumble a bit in the back half, though, and by things I mean both the writing and the characters. The energy peaks around the midpoint, and the film seems unsure what to do with the remaining time. That’s fine as the script has more in store for viewers, but an eighty-six-minute movie should never feel as if its dragging. Unfortunately, once the momentum returns it’s seemingly at the expense of the young women’s intelligence as they start tripping over themselves and making inconsistent choices. Dumb fun is fine, but they’re suddenly absolutely stupid after having just proven themselves pretty damn capable. One peeks through a window, is almost killed, says “that was close,” and then immediately peeks again. Credit Esterhazy and Keilly for subverting their own subversion, I guess?
Slumber Party Massacre being a Syfy movie means there are the expected limitations and shortcomings in the form of budgetary/TV restrictions — gore is minimal and too often highlighted by CG, action beats are simplistic, a bare butt is pixelated out, and the occasional fade to black for commercial is something of a mood killer. Still, these issues and the back half slowdown are salvaged by an energetic finale, a mostly smart script, and some fun performances. Van Vuuren plays Russ with a wide-eyed, high-pitched glee, and while he’s obviously never scary he makes for a memorable weirdo. Gonera delivers with a determined but still just goofy enough lead, and she gets strong, similarly minded backup from Frances Sholto-Douglas, Alex McGregor, Reze-Tiana Wessels, and a sassy Mila Rayne.
While ultimately far more of a comedy than a horror film, the new Slumber Party Massacre finds a comfortable spot alongside the original franchise in its skewering of the genre norm. It’s pretty great when it’s aiming for dumb fun but less so when it’s just being dumb. Happily for all involved — aside from those who die a horrible death along the way, of course — there’s more of the former than the latter.
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