Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

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I am not as averse to remakes as many are.

Sure, for every tense and action-packed Dawn of the Dead (Snyder’s best film; come at me dude-bros) you’re as likely to find a Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, a film so devoid of an original idea that it causes the viewer physical pain to laboriously grind their way to its conclusion. Sometimes remakes will tackle a property that is in desperate need of a reinvention and a fresh take, whilst other times they might tackle an original that simply failed on its own merits the first time around.

Girls in the pyjamas smile and laugh while sitting on the couch and some on the floor. Still from Slumber Party Massacre.

With Slumber Party Massacre, director Danishka Esterhazy takes on a much loved, but very much ridiculed property and turns the entire concept on its head in a meta, genre skewering movie that is filled with great gags, silly gore and some really fun performances.

The film opens on Holly Lake in the distant past of 1993… even typing that sentence I can feel my skin fossilising as I succumb to the ravages of my old age. A slumber party, replete with scantily clad teens frolicking in the night, is interrupted by demented lunatic Russ Thorn (Rob van Vuuren giving a wonderfully offbeat and loony performance) and his absurdly phallic mega-drill. The killer makes short work of the young women before final girl Trish (Masali Baduza in 1993, Schelaine Bennett in present day) manages to send him plummeting to the icy depths of Holly Lake itself.

Three girls stand on a porch looking in the distance with a frightened look on their faces. Still from Slumber Party Massacre.

The film then fast-forwards to the present day as Trish’s teenage daughter Dana (Hannah Gonera) and her friends, in true horror cliché style, travel off to that very same venue for their own slumber party. Needless to say, long dead killer Russ might not be as long dead as first thought and another murderous frenzy erupts on the beautiful shores of Holly Lake, though most certainly not in the manner that you would imagine.

Slumber Party Massacre is a terrific amount of fun. A wry, knowing and very playful slasher, writer Suzanne Keilly delivers a terrific script that to delve too deep into would rob the film of its wonderful surprises. Packed with terrific jokes (the continual Guy 1 and Guy 2 mix ups had me genuinely spluttering with laughter), the writing provides plenty of savvy commentary on the slasher genre that birthed the 1982 original.

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Esterhazy reframes the property as a feminist tale that revels in poking fun at the dreaded male-gaze that proliferated the genre in the 80’s; oh sure, there will be gratuitous ass shots and lingering shower scenes, but perhaps not entirely what you’re used to. The nature of the killer’s ludicrously phallic drilling weapon moves from subtext to text very quickly, with the script unafraid to poke fun at the original through a modern lens. While the film is clearly a love-letter to the genre it is savvy enough to reframe some of the more unseemly aspects that have not aged quite so well.

Four girls stand facing another girl outside in the dark. Still from Slumber Party Massacre.

Hannah Gonera is terrific as Dana, a tough and determined young heroine who manages to both embody and avoid many of the final girl tropes that we all know so well. By surrounding her with a cast full of talented ‘final girls’, Slumber Party Massacre reinvents the trope for the 2020’s audience.

And thankfully the entire cast is well pitched; our central group of slumber party attendees all have terrific chemistry and their relationships really help ground the more outlandishly silly aspects of the story. Also, the “himbro’s” who have rented out the original murder house across the lake from the girls are admirably adept at undercutting their genre stereotypes.

Fans of the original will find much to love here too; several knowing nods land well throughout the film, but aren’t to the detriment of those who may have missed the charming cheese of the 80’s originals. The film pulls no punches when the gore starts flying and the body count starts rising, with some really neat practical effects standing side by side with some seamless digital touch ups that cake the screen in a crimson mess.

A girl stands smiling with blood on her face. Still from Slumber Party Massacre.

And like the best slashers, just when you think the story might be lurching towards its conclusion there are some terrific last act reveals that keep the horror going that little bit longer. Anyone with a PhD in Slasher Film 101 will see the film’s final reveals coming a mile away (which admittedly, is part of the fun of their inclusion) but will have a lot of joy watching them play out.

Slumber Party Massacre is a fantastic reinvention of the slasher genre. Turning expectations on their head with a healthy dose of irony and wit, the film pays homage to the 1980’s classic while creating something completely new and original. Esterhazy is a talented director who I can’t wait to see more from.

Slumber Party Massacre is coming to Digital 13 December and DVD 10 January.

By: Hugh McStay