Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

Just when we had abandoned all hope of getting a decent slasher flick this year, our last-minute saviour comes along in the most unexpected of places: a South African-produced SyFy Channel remake of The Slumber Party Massacre.

It helps that the 1982 version had failed to deliver on its subversive promise, denounced by screenwriter Rita Mae Brown for missing her intended parody. So it makes sense (for a change) to reach again for the spirit in which it was intended, keeping more of Brown’s feminism, sarcasm and lesbianism intact.

Shot in South Africa over 18 days, the film follows Dana (Hannah Gonera) and her friends to the isolated California cabin where “Driller Killer” Russ Thorn (Rob Van Vuuren, a fun improvement on the original) attacked Dana’s mother (Schelaine Bennett) some 30 years prior. The ensuing 86 minutes subverts this nuts-and-bolts setup by drilling home the slasher movie fascination with gender, second only to its obsession with sex.

Like Tucker & Dale vsEvil there is no great revision of the genre’s content, it merely shifts the perspective to show the usual tropes from a different viewpoint. This suggests something intrinsically feminist in the material that lies dormant until the right filmmakers come along and examine it.

As in the original there are women behind the camera, but this time writer Suzanne Keilly and director Danishka Esterhazy swap the male gaze for a female one by introducing another cabin across the lake where a group of boys are having a slumber party. They are the ones objectified and dumbified, not only making every stupid horror movie decision known to man but speaking over the capable women whose plans might actually save them.

Clearer delineation between the Cabin in the Woods-esque archetypes might boost the character definition and the third act veers into more predictable territory (not helped by the SyFy-mandated ad breaks and nudity pixellation), but Slumber Party Massacre succeeds as both parody and empowerment. Its themes of motherhood, misjudgement and misogyny make mincemeat of the earlier trilogy, while paying homage aplenty (including a gender-swapped nod to the first film’s shower scene).

What the remake lacks in scares it makes up for in witty kills and even diversity, resulting in a surprising slasher about sisterhood unsullied by sorority-style sexism.

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