“All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to… do this. You know you want it. You’ll like it.”
The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982 (Michele Michaels), New World Pictures
I’m going to have to get analytical now. I knew this day would come, where I would have to do a write-up of Slumber Party Massacre, taking into account the effect of slasher films on the market and then how this movie impacted slasher films moving forward. If you read descriptions of the movie on other pages, they will, more often than not, point to Amy Jones, the director, and Rita Mae Brown, the writer as they attempted to deconstruct the subgenre and provide a parody of the material in it’s place. While the movie succeeds in aping the formula, a very thick tongue is planted firmly in-cheek, but only for those who can appreciate it.
We start with the bold red titles, and the sound of organs not out-of-place in a Vincent Price movie. Mom and Dad are off on a vacation, or something, leaving Trish (Michele Michaels) in charge of the house, so she decides to throw a party (or a “slumber” party, as the case may be – according to my research, slumber parties usually involve pizza and lesbian experimentation, but I can’t be sure). Meanwhile, a lunatic (who uses a power drill) is on the loose, killing women everywhere he goes. I wonder what brand of drill he uses. We get fleeting glimpses of the horrible man as he watches Trish and her friends. He seriously looks like a sex offender. He has the glazed-over look of a man who recently had a vasectomy.
After basketball, there is an extended shower sequence with all the girls, and Jones spends an impressive amount of time lingering on naked female flesh (more than in any other slasher movie I’ve seen). I suspect Jones and Brown set out to indict the male-dominated industry of slasher movies, or possibly call our attention to the amount of violence perpetrated against women in most movies. Poor Brinke Stevens (Haunting Fear), who won’t be going to the party, gets locked inside the school and has to run from our driller-killer while her friends remain blissfully ignorant and on their way to the coolest slumber party ever! I’m kidding, of course. It’s really kind of boring.
Par for the course, we have a couple of fake-out gags, where the purpose seems to be to frighten young women with ridiculous situations. A hand comes out of nowhere to frighten a female pedestrian. A drill breaks through a front door because another young lady is installing a peep-hole (come on!). A shadowy figure walks slowly down stairs and frightens another young woman. All of these gags occur within minutes. What’s the point of that? To show that women are easily horrified? I get it. As a matter of fact, I’m easily horrified. In fact, I’m horrified right now writing this. Aaagh! I will say Jones has a great photographer’s eye. The compositions and colors of interior shots are deep, dark, and rich with atmospheric lighting, but when accompanied by the Vincent Price organ, the whole thing seems incredibly silly.
First order of business is weed. The girls smoke up and talk about sex, and who the sluttiest girl is, and how to get to first base, and how their menstrual cycles line up, or something like that. Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention in between fake-out gags (we’re up to two hundred by this point in the running time). It’s weird that I like the idea of the movie more than the actual movie. We have extremely dark night shots (I’ve always preferred that realistic lighting to this new-fangled modern lighting where you can see everything in any given exterior shot), sounds of dogs barking in the background, some heavy breathing and POV shots. The Slumber Party Massacre has all the trappings of a great slasher film (great photography, great editing), but Brown’s premise is lost in the thick, choking fog of social commentary, not unlike many movies produced today. We need more entertainment, less moralizing!
Second order of business is pizza (no anchovies!). The pizza guy shows up, in the midst of all the female confessionals and make-overs, but he has bloody holes in his eyes so I’m guessing he won’t be getting a tip. My favorite bit in the movie has one of the girls eating the pizza while they try to figure out their next move. A particularly telling scene has a girl collapse to the garage floor and the killer brandishes his extra-long drill bit between his legs. Brian De Palma would imitate this shot two years later in Body Double, but to much better effect. The killer cuts the phone line, and off we go! We’re more than halfway through the movie before these dim-wits get a clue. I can’t blame the girls, though. Rita Mae Brown is the true killer of this promising story. In the end, one of our heroines uses a machete to chop the end off of the killer’s drill-bit, effectively castrating him. There are some very interesting ideas at play here, but Brown and Jones are more interested in making a bold political statement than in entertaining or scaring their audience, and that’s unfortunate.
Next time, we take a look at the (allegedly) final chapter in the Friday the 13th franchise. As we know, it doesn’t really work out that way. Thank you, Corey Feldman!
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.
Andrew and I talk about men and women. We discuss the phenomenon of “man-shaming” – the idea being that men feel bad that they are men. They will go to great lengths to apologize for being men, for their enjoyment of grilling, for their willingness to allow their wives to pursue open marriages.
We talk about a woman’s inability to pass judgement on other women who engage in dangerous sexual activities, while, most tellingly, disconnecting from the same practices. We talk about Moria Greyland, and really the less said about that, the better. Enjoy!
It should go without saying (at this point) that Andrew and I have fairly loose tongues and we tend to pepper our speech with obscenity and profanity. This is because we record a podcast in an atmosphere where we like to be comfortable. If you are easily offended by harsh or foul language and terse pronouncements, don’t listen.
I hate the concept of “trigger warnings” – REALLY hate them, but you might not want to read these articles on a full stomach, and you also might want to take a long shower and gargle with Lysol! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
This is the second part of my talk with actress/writer/new mother, Eve Kerrigan. Tonight we talk about the New Feminism, “Sociology of Style”, the myth of “white male privilege”, and the controversy surrounding the fraudulent Rolling Stone article and the University of Virginia.
“I didn’t peruse the site (“Sociology of Style”) that much, only when your writing was involved. It’s much more interesting for me to read people I know when they aren’t incredible celebrity icon-types, like say – I enjoy science fiction, so I read a lot of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlen, Arthur C. Clarke. I read bat-shit crazy stuff too like David Foster Wallace, but he’s very much Thomas Pynchon for me. He’s very hard to read and get – which, I think, would be a deficiency for a writer when the very act of reading you can be painful. He didn’t write books to be read for pleasure, unless it was some kind of pleasure I was not introduced to. I’ve enjoyed Stephen King for years. Dean Koontz isn’t terrible, he’s derivative, he’s lazy but he can be entertaining. ”
“I feel that women are fighting other women. They fight over beauty, over the concept of aging, over perceived youth, over their respective abilities. Just as all minorities tend to fight each other. Sometimes, in my libertarian mind, I feel that each supposed minority is fighting the other for the LOSER SWEEPSTAKES, like the old Yiddish joke about the Rabbi in the schul who tells his congregation, ‘we are nothing’ and the black janitor in the back of the Temple says, ‘yeah I’m nothing, too’ and the Rabbi points to him and says, ‘look who wants to be nothing!’ It’s an enormous persecution orgy, where everybody wants to feel as though they’ve been slighted in life and they’re competing to be the most oppressed.”
“My politics changed when my daughter was born. It was a slow erosion of my liberalism. I didn’t become a conservative. I don’t value any particular political party. I’m Pro-Choice. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe abortion is murder. I’m for gay marriage, but I believe homosexuality is wrong. I’m for the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, but I don’t use drugs, nor would I encourage or promote such usage. I think we can discourage the behavior without banning it. That’s what tolerance is about, for me.”
The audio clips that precede and follow the episode are once again, from the brilliant documentary about Harlan Ellison, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth”. There are two clips of Anne Rice and Stephen King speaking about their experiences writing.
by Eve M. Kerrigan
Ravnel Valpole is a hairy man, hirsute to the point of appearing wolfish. He has tried every method under the sun of hair removal and has a regular habit of attending electrolysis appointments which leave him with minor pimpling and scarring at his jaw line. He has heard of something they do with lasers that is supposed to work well but he needs to do more research on that.
This scarring, coupled with the size of his head gives Ravnel a tough appearance, but he is a kind man. His mud brown eyes do not, in themselves, endear him through a shine or attractive shape, but they do convey a warmth. He has crow’s feet when he smiles, which is often, and the thicket of hair on his head is combed to a Frederick Douglas-like coif. Ravnel is 6 foot 1 but he stoops, so he is 6 feet.
Ravnel works in the industrial design plant that makes Scrabble games. The letters from a Scrabble game require an influx of Vermont Maple on a daily basis that would dwarf the lumber stores of Home Depot. Once chopped, shaped, scored and lacquered by machine, the letters come out on a conveyor belt and uniformed workers sort them into bins.
Ravnel Valpole collects the letter S. He has over 500 Ss. He hopes to tile a floor with them someday.
He has been doing this job for 15 years. 15 years ago, he was in the military. 15 years before that he was in school. It was in that school he met is wife, Serafina. 10 years later they had a child, a boy named Stephen. It was 10 years later that his wife and child were killed.
They were camping in the White Mountains. Camping is the vacation retreat of the child-rearing poor and middle class. It’s free, it’s full of beauty, it’s peaceful and kids can run wild while they learn a thing or two. Meanwhile, the grown-ups can get a little nookie in the tent.
Unfortunately, on the Valpole camping trip, there was an unusual amount of rain when an unforcasted storm hit the mountain range. The three wet campers were hiking the 8 miles back down the mountain to get the hell out of the weather when a flash flood swelled the river and rose between them. Ravnel stood on one side of the rushing torrent and his wife and child struggled to stay standing on the other. The bank they were on broke off and turned to liquid before Ravnel’s eyes. They were gone.
Ravnel nearly drowned himself searching for them. A couple of rangers dragged his nearly unconscious body from the torrent. It was hard to say how he had lived. Often, as he stood sorting A’s from B’s and stealing S’s, he wondered why he had lived.
S for Serafina
S for Stephen
S for Squander
S for Sadness
S for Suicide
But today, Ravnel was not wondering why he had lived. Today, Ravnel was excited because it was the first day of cicada season. It had been 17 years since the cicadas had last hatched and inundated his unremarkable Pennsylvania town with their music.
Ravnel’s hobby (other than collecting S’s) was insects. He loved them. Bees were his favorite. He kept a hive of honeybees in a breezeway behind his apartment building. None of the neighbors knew it was there. He collected honey twice a season and left enough for the bees when the cold weather rolled in. He put honey in everything; tea, coffee, on toast, in warm milk, on pancakes, even in spaghetti sauce. He read about using honey for hair removal and wondered about it. That suited him. One day he would figure out how to shed his pelt with honey.
Another insect he loved was the mystical and mysterious butterfly. Butterflies began as caterpillars, small and fat as pinky toes. They did nothing while in that state but eat and eat and eat some more, munching all the leaves their slow, peristaltic journeys would deliver them to. Then, they sleepily spun their little cocoons and entered a prolonged sleep state. It was here that the Imaginal cells did their work. (Imaginal!) It was then that the caterpillar ceased to exist, preferring instead to become a gooey liquid inside the cocoon.
If you held one of these cocoons up to a light during this stage (and Ravnel had) you would not see the tightly swaddled invertebrate snuggling there like a tiny bound foot. You would see the shadow of a silvery ooze simmering at the bottom, hovering in possibility. And then, slowly, an entirely new creature would begin to create itself, eventually filling the cocoon to bursting. Only then would the resulting butterfly emerge.
Once its wings were dry, this newcomer would proceed to careen wildly through the air, drunk on pollen and nectar, copulating madly, picking up speed on its suicide mission. The whole thing made Ravnel shake his big, shaggy head. He didn’t know if it was crazier that it happened at all or that people went about their lives as though everything were normal.
And cicadas… The cicada also emerges from a cocoon after undergoing a maturation process within. It comes into the world with an insatiable appetite and a song to sing.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
So indelible was the sound of thousands of cicadas playing their strange tymbals that, even though he hadn’t actually heard it in years, summer always had a soundtrack of cicada song in Ravnel’s mind.
And they were coming! For the first time in 17 years! He read in Real Life Bugs & Insects that conditions were correct. So, Ravnel would be making the pilgrimage to a grove of Sycamores hidden in the middle of the ancient little wood that spread out behind his apartment building.
He deposited an S into the pocket of his regulation navy blue Dickies and shut down the belt. He punched out. He climbed into his Datsun and headed home where he ate a simple dinner of sardines, crackers and cheese. He put on the khaki fishing jacket he liked to wear when he was engaging in entomological activities because it held plenty of small specimen jars and a tiny net and still left room for a few pony-sized bottles of beer.
Ravnel grabbed his flashlight and headed out. The lightning bugs helped to show him the way down the path. He breathed deep and sighed at the evening’s dew on his skin. He disappeared into the night in a way he would never be permitted to disappear in his daily life. It felt good to not exist. He wondered if this is how an owl felt, observing from the trees with luminous eyes and a head that revolved to take in everything…
When he got to the grove of sycamores, he sat down and leaned up against one of the old trees. He opened a bottle of beer and looked at the sky full of stars.
Ravnel read once about a sailor out in the middle of the ocean at night who encountered an uncharacteristic calmness there. The sea, said the sailor, went utterly motionless and shimmered with the reflection of a million stars on its glassy surface. The sailor forgot which way was up, so surrounded was he by stars peppering the blackness, and he thought, for a few blissful moments, that he was floating in outer space.
Ravnel thought of this and decided it would be completely worthwhile to brave the mercurial ocean and all its dangers if you could be guaranteed that feeling for one moment.
He slipped his hand in his pocket and traced the curve of the beveled s on the smooth wooden square there. He closed his eyes and conjured the twin faces of Serafina and Stephen. They floated before him and suddenly there was a swell of song. It was a sound strung between symphony and tribal drumming. It beat like a heart and, rattled like a maraca (chchch cicada chchch cicada) and it cried for something out there…out there…out there… …
Ravnel woke with dew covering him, his fishing jacket chilly and heavy with the damp.
S for sunrise.
He stretched his stiff joints and got his bearings. He looked around, slipped his hand into his pocket.
He was about to stand when he felt a pain at his jawline, not unlike an electrolysis needle. He nearly slapped his own face in reflex but somehow had the presence of mind not to. Instead, he reached up and gingerly felt the place where the piercing was. His hand came back holding a creature, stubby and no bigger than a Scrabble tile. If it sat there long enough, a young cicada would sometimes mistake the landscape of human flesh for the nourishing surface of vegetation and insert its proboscis. In other words, it might bite you. It wasn’t an aggressive stinging, just a misplaced hunger.
Ravnel thought he knew something about that.
The two creatures surveyed each other, Ravnel with his mud brown eyes, mottled jaw and electrified shock of black and silver hair and, in his palm, this tiny pilgrim gazing back with large eyes and veinous wings still wet, translucent and green like a new spring leaf.
They stayed like that for a long time. Finally, Ravnel carefully placed the cicada onto a nearby blade of grass. He stood, breathed in deeply the scent of late spring and turned toward home. After all, he had to get to work. He instinctively reached for the S in his pocket and worried it with his fingers as he whistled his way through the woods.
S for Surprise
S for Satisfaction
S for Spellbound
S for Sentience
S for Spirit