Fantastic Fest 2021: The Slumber Party Massacre — Movie Review

The Slumber Party Massacre (2021) is screening as part of the 2021 Fantastic Fest.

The original The Slumber Party Massacre, written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, holds a special place in my heart, as it does for a number of slasher fans. The 1982 cult film was delightfully subversive, coming in the midst of the glut of slashers from the 1970s-80s

Needless to say then, that there are big shoes to fill for this remake (from my perspective, at least). This said, a remake does not need to rise to the level of its source material in every case. It just needs to justify its own existence and be quality on its own terms. Danishka Esterhazy’s 2021 reboot of Slumber Party Massacre certainly sets itself apart, justifying its existence by replicating the formula with noteworthy changes. However, whether this film is good on those new terms is more debatable.

The film begins abruptly, a false start of sorts which sets up a backstory in the same breath that it sets up a bunch of cannon fodder for the film’s killer to knock down like bowling pins. The premise that stems from this backstory is predicated on a plot twist which I struggled to buy into. It is trying to do something different, which is commendable in spirit, but the “plan” which these characters concoct in the face of the franchise’s driller-wielding killer, I don’t know if that holds up to scrutiny. It certainly doesn’t come off particularly sane.

I won’t spoil the sharp left turn of this twist. But there is a messiness to the proceedings which makes it difficult to hang much weight on plot, anyway.

The Slumber Party Massacre is a parody of the slasher, more or less. It takes pains to wink at the audience—turning the tables on the male gaze, undercutting standard horror cliches, and making a number of overt jokes regarding horror character archetypes. But this jokey tone feels wooden, and it isn’t helped by the joke-writing itself.

Esterhazy’s The Banana Splits Movie works better for me in terms of horror comedy. That film felt relatively more grounded in the severity of its horror situations, but it nevertheless came off as darkly humorous, a more pitch black humor that didn’t rely on almost fourth wall-breaking winks.

The characters in Slumber Party Massacre, on the other hand, don’t react commensurate to their dire situation. At one point, a character says something along the lines of, “now is not the time for jokes.” And she’s exactly right. The character’s are overly self-aware, to the detriment of the film’s desired stakes and tensions. The original Slumber Party Massacre also pokes fun at slasher conventions, but it is more coy about it. It also plays the terror straight. It isn’t subtle in its imagery (which is replicated in some key instances in this reboot), but its tone is nuanced in comparison to this film.

Whether you compare it to its source material or not (or the zanier second film, for that matter), Slumber Party Massacre 2021 is a clunky film whose awkward attempts at humor struggle to land. Maybe this humorous tone will work for some—I’m a horror comedy fan; I recognize that the balancing act of tone at that cross-section is extremely difficult to achieve. But even when I found myself appreciating a moment of genre subversion–such as the role-reversal of the “slumber party fantasy” cliche–it came off out of place or awkwardly delivered.

All the same, I can’t criticize the attempt at revitalizing this IP with a new angle. It is a valiant effort that just misses the mark.

Slumber Party Massacre: C

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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