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'Slumber Party Massacre' Review: A sensationally subversive remake

Danishka Esterhazy's 'Slumber Party Massacre' is a modern slasher update that does a whole lot right, and that's where I'll leave it to avoid spoilers.

There's a killer on the loose in 'Slumber Party Massacre.'
(Image: © Fantastic Fest)

Our Verdict

'Slumber Party Massacre' will please fans old and new with this updated take on another Driller Killer massacre that's loaded with killer gore and sharp humor.

For

  • 🍕 Fun approach
  • 🍕 A smart retelling
  • 🍕 Goofy and deadly
  • 🍕 Packs a modernized punch

Against

  • 🍕 Feels its SYFY restrictions in spurts
  • 🍕 A few jokes don't land

This review comes from coverage of Fantastic Fest 2021.

In an age where modern horror remakes range from recycled stagnancy to brilliant retoolings, Slumber Party Massacre ranks damn high on the right side of that spectrum. Writer Suzanne Keilly handles the 1982’s reincarnation with expressive reverence and yet demonstrates how evolutions in horror cinema become the film’s glorious signature. Director Danishka Esterhazy understands the assignment — deaths are overkill, sleepover giggles are shared and subversion becomes the big-swinging conquest of this updated slasher game. It’s a The Slumber Party Massacre for a new reclamation age, where horror isn’t just about scantily clad or topless women getting “drilled’ by a phallic weapon, and is laugh-out-loud uproarious to boot.

Keilly doesn’t rock any boats initially. The introduction opens on Holly Springs, 1993 (because that’s the new stone age). As four girls eat pizza and dish gossip while waiting for brownies to bake, serial killer Russ Thorne (Rob van Vuuren) peers through their lakeside cabin window. When the oven buzzer signifies dessert time, Russ enters the vacation home and murders all but defensive Trish (Schelaine Bennett). Her scars are both mental and physical — a hole drilled through her hand damages nerve receptors — but that doesn’t stop Trish’s daughter Dana (Hannah Gonera) from returning to “Jolly” Springs with her girl gang. Such are the designs of another vacation slumber party that hopefully won’t end in bloodshed.

Frilly nightwear? Toxic masculinity? A killer who fetishizes violence and preys upon pillow-fighting, free-spirited coeds? We’ve seen this before; what’s the point, you may be asking. I promise Slumber Party Massacre wants you to presume exactly that falsified sense of replication early and often.

Esterhazy and cinematographer Trevor Calverley use the camera with such lurid intentionality as a call-and-response to the way '80s horror would ogle bare breasts or soapy buttocks in locker room showers. Slumber Party Massacre recreates those leery sequences from The Slumber Party Massacre, but levels the playing field — it’s the musclebound, tattooed shy boy who’s nude in the shower this time. Archetypal failings of the “bimbo sexpot” generation become a point of skewering for Keilly’s curveball screenplay, but never to assassinate Amy Holden Jones’ The Slumber Party Massacre. Any commentary on outdated gender representations that were primarily gratuitous titillation is a direct reaction. More importantly, these moments exemplify how you can still script outrageous slice-’em-up fun without dehumanizing characters who boast a specific chromosome set.

There are multiple prime-cut examples in Slumber Party Massacre that embrace the female gaze instead of the male-dominated years of sexualizing women’s stories. Between “Guy 1” and “Guy 2’s” beer pong banter — their actual names [chef’s kiss] — to the group of five true-crime podcast bros accepting the storied tradition of an out-of-nowhere shirtless pillow fight, Keilly uses trademarks of midnight horror that objectified women to turn the tables in gut-busting scenarios. Dana’s squad are the ones who gather around windows Animal House-style or coolly compose themselves under slasher stressors that show how far machismo truthfully gets you against psychopath killers. The tides turn, and it’s quite a rush of both hilarity and concise storytelling.

Slumber Party Massacre crams franchise references like a father utilizing every square foot of trunk space, as any good remake does. Expect anything as decorative as costume nods like “Space Baby” or meticulously composed shot-for-shot callbacks that slice overcompensating drill bits. There are boundless surprises that await those who sing “Let’s Buzz” in the shower or would also eat a dead delivery guy’s pizza despite mounting dread like Jackie. Esterhazy’s adoration of The Slumber Party Massacre is essential to balancing the appropriate modernization of throwback horror through scathing protest that, in turn, laughs as much at itself as the subgenre it’s taking to task.

Rob van Vuuren’s bug-eyed interpretation of the “Driller Killer” clicks 10 more notches higher to characterize a maniac (voice is pitchier, motions twitchier), which brings us to the gore discussion. Slumber Party Massacre is indeed a SYFY production, but it’s more akin to Steven Kostanski’s hack-and-slash Leprechaun Returns. Esterhazy’s special effects department does fall back on computerized violence in some instances, but still works plenty of mangled facial deconstructions and screw-head demises that earn their graphic nature. It’s the cherry on top of an already wicked tale that weaves in and out of metatextual horror — fatalities are still brutally unforgiving, which grounds high-stakes terror in an otherwise laughier narrative.

Slumber Party Massacre is a remake that gets just about everything right, powered by a cast of final girls who have a few things to say about horror’s canonical treatment of women decades prior. The younger ensemble rewrites farcical rules and flips a finger to misguided tropes while operating on a reinvigorating level well above what some might prejudge as “made-for-television” quality. Danishka Esterhazy hits this one out of the park with a megaton of mangler moxie and such welcome reinvention when it comes to horror remakes, which is really all I can or want to reveal. Long live the new breed of horror filmmakers and creators unafraid to kick the hornet’s nest of nostalgia — may Slumber Party Massacre blaze the way forward for horror remakes henceforth.

Slumber Party Massacre will debut on SYFY on Oct. 16.