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This might sound sarcastic, but I love the haphazard world-building in your average horror film series, especially during the 80s, where an originally semi-grounded flick seemed to be under contract to introduce some comedy or a new supernatural element (or both) in its sequels. Any character could have a previously unmentioned sibling or child, and if you had an unmade horror script just laying around, you could always just move stuff around to fit it into a series on the fly. I fucking dig it. Somewhere out there in slasher-land is a bunch of unlucky families, quite a few cursed objects and oddly enough, a ton of homicidal people who can't be killed a single time. Films frequently bend over backward to do something like reviving a slain killer, that is if they acknowledge the death at all or refrain from retconning it. “Reaching” for a sequel is a tradition that lives on in modern horror, a staple of the straight to video market. A film like Wrong Turn (2003) comes out in theatres with little fanfare or unexplored concepts, and eleven years later we have five follow-up movies and one fucked up timeline of manic elaboration. The movies are mostly horrid shit, but just the time I have spent thinking of ways to make sense of the defecated upon, expanded canon is entertainment enough for me to feel like I got my money's worth out of the 6-pack from Walmart. At this point, the unnecessary sequel (or prequel) is a time-honored art in the genre (or just movies in general) right next to re-titling which is it's own (long) conversation. There are a lot of ways a film series can go about this, but few heavily utilized methods. He wasn't the very first, but I feel like Jason Voorhees set a precedent for left turns into murky supernatural madness. In fact, the Friday the Thirteenth series has utilized several of the common methods in it's eleven(ish) films (if it didn't pioneer them), having to think of new ways to keep unkilling Jason (or ways not to) each time. Along with the Prom Night films, which just shoved in a two-part ghost story in-between unrelated films (which I have touched on before), the Slumber Party Massacre films are some of my favorite examples of fuck-it worldbuilding. In the first Slumber Party movie (1982), an escaped serial killer named Russ Thorn wreaks havoc on a group of girls during a slumber party using a large power drill, simple enough--but it doesn't leave a lot of loose ends to tie up in future films. The next film (Slumber Party Massacre II 1987) also featured a slumber party, a power drill of sorts, and includes the younger sisters of one of the first film’s victims. It resurrects a dead killer to jump-start its story as well, only not the guy from the first film. Instead, we get an unrelated 50s rockabilly ghost that attempts to mix the essence of Andrew Dice Clay and Freddy Krueger. I enjoy it. But from what I hear, it kind of splits a crowd, and in all honesty, makes absolutely no sense. Following that, I guess they were out of ghosts and blood relatives, so they dialed it back a little bit, stuck to the basics and didn't worry too much about the in story’s connection to rest of the series, outside of making sure to include a drill and skimpy bed wear. That gave us today's subject, Slumber Party Massacre III (1990).
The film opens with a montage of family photos (which may have been laying around from some failed 90s tv pilot) that fade in and out like a PowerPoint presentation alongside the credits. Afterward, we come in on a very chaotic but competitively lax game of beach volleyball already in progress. During the game, we find out that one of the girls, Jackie (Keely Christian), is planning a slumber party because her parents have gone out of town and she has the house to herself. Between turns at the net, the females in the group discuss party favors and who they are crushing on currently. The festivities are slightly disrupted by the uninvited appearance of a lone dark, overdressed stranger (Yan Birch) with a staring problem, but he just kind of sits in the sand and disappears before too long. Since not all strangers are created equal, Juliette (Lulu Wilson) introduces herself to fellow beachgoers with a bowl cut (Brittain Frye) who she invites to the party. When a little of the romantic logistics of the group have been discussed, and everyone gets sick of taking turns serving, they leave the beach with plans to go to Jackie's house later for the get-together. Everyone except Sarah (Devon Jenkin), who instead gets killed by an unknown assailant, in her back seat with a large power drill.  The rest fair much much better as they all carpool together in Frank's convertible, for a scenic montage to pop music through sunny California (why the dead chick wasn't invited, I don't remember, maybe not enough seats). Frank (David Lawrence) drops off Jackie last, so the two can awkwardly flirt and confusingly lay out a few ground rules about their blossoming relationship. When she arrives at her parent-free home, she is startled to find her tall lurching neighbor (Michael Harris) has already invited himself inside. He tells her that the door was open, and he came inside because he saw the house was for sale. She tells him to show himself around, (because that's an okay thing to let creepy neighbors do). He pretends to check out the place, then before leaving, informs her that he owns a telescope. Sooner or later Jackie’s female friends arrive, and the gang quickly starts drinking and talking about boys again. Only like a half beer later, the girls are cheering each other on, in an impromptu striptease. The male half of the friend group decides the best way to make an entrance is to break into Jackie's house with masks and scare the girls-- mid inexplicable dance scene (in a nod to the original). After that goes as well as it sounds, and the girls have forgiven them, the real party begins, which really just means they pair off every so often to cuddle.  When the weird proto-Hot Topic kid from the beach pops up again, Jackie tries to call the cops, but the officer down-plays the situation as drunken sleepover antics, so they all go back to eating pizza, wearing pajamas and splitting up to get killed. Normal sleepover slasher madness follows as a body count builds behind the clueless group of grown-up looking kids. At some point, enough people are found dead, so that everyone starts to panic. Finding that the cops are still no help, the leftover gang is left to fend for themselves and figure out exactly who is drilling large holes in every one of their friends, before they all suffer the same fate. Oh, and someone gets electrocuted to death by a wet dildo in there somewhere.
Slumber party massacre III pulls back from the stylization that the second brought to the series. It also does away with any supernatural or fantasy elements (other than whatever makes the jackhammer drill-thing run with no power). A paint by numbers slasher, it has none of the wit or satire that the first film was built around. In fact, when taken at face value, it would seem to be exactly the type of film Slumber Party Massacre originally sought to lampoon, falling back on standard slasher roles without commentary. Strangely, it is presented with a straight face and plays it seriously, even at its most laughable moments. It's hard to believe it is not in on at least some of the joke, being part of a series which, up to that point, had been adorned in a variety of tongue in cheek horror tropes and table-turning. There are still the comedic cliches like the first two had, but they come off as less intentional. Further deviating from the flimsy brand of its predecessors, it employs a level of mystery to its antagonist. Part III opts to substitute the larger than life bad-guy for some stray creepy characters and dead-end plot points to keep the killer’s identity a guessing game up until till the latter third of the movie. Amidst the cliches and despite the fact that the writers ( possibly more the editors) didn't quite understand foreshadowing, it actually manages to pull off a low rent classic whodunnit vibe at times. I had fun trying to pick out the killer from its unblended red herrings the first time around (even with no real build up for it). With its shallow, bargain basement, Clue-like elements and it's focus on suspense, it puts more into audience participation than it does any kind of aesthetic. Our killer barely gets a backstory, although there are a few unexamined hints at some kind of plot thrown in at random ( eg the photos in the credits). Without spoiling it for those yet to experience the film, I'll just say-- all we end up knowing about the guy with the drill, is that he's a crazy douchebag with a bad haircut, and he possibly, maybe comes from a family with a history of crazy douchebags (although I'm not sure about the haircut part). The cartoon side characters are more vivid and spirited than the main cast, even just being undeveloped diversions. It kind of (just kind of) rubs up against a 70s giallo murder mystery vibe with its telescope equipped, creeper neighbor and the angsty dark outsider, conveniently hanging around (although no one has a cool scar or disfigurement, which would have helped). It keeps a lively pace that ramps up a little after the mystery has dissolved and has a bountiful (bloody) payoff of sorts. It's mostly basic stuff, but there may be a well stocked, somewhat engaging slasher in there. If nothing else, those who don't appreciate its attempts at a thriller-like atmosphere can get something out of the unintentional humor.
On a technical level, the film is mostly solid, if not a little on the mediocre side. It plays it safe with colors and lighting, not employing any of the music video-like effects that part II used. For better or worse, it's a very brightly lit film and seems to have chosen white as the center pallet theme. There is very little intentional aesthetic for the style’s sake at all, somehow falling into a flavorless hole between the gritty neon late 80s and Trapper Keeper art of the 90s. It's a neatly wrapped B movie and easy to watch, although it feels a little too clean without the grime. The editing is quick and helps keep it's involved pace during the less violent acts. The sparse crazy-ex-cop uncle shit and the other fragments of backstory suggest something was left on the cutting room floor, but the cut doesn't feel broken, and it glides over the holes with the help of the simple plot. Shot placement gets the job done but brings nothing special to the table, outside of avoiding some of the slapstick feel the first two had. A lot of the suburban feel from the other “massacre” films is absent, in its place a cliche California beach town atmosphere. The beginning scenes verged on Saved by the Bell College Years type stuff (minus any flashy paper cup art), especially the convertible sing along montage. I'm not sure, but I think the supplied pop music would have sounded dated even in 1990. The rest of the soundtrack reminded me of bad educational PC games and KidVision VHS tapes. It features some good gore effects but pulls away from some of the action in the earlier kills. People still get drilled frequently, the body count is high, but it's just not quite as gruesome as it could have been at times, partly due to the squeaky clean technical aspects. Of course, to fulfill the requirements placed by the film’s title and subgenre (and I think Roger Corman at that point), there are several scenes of pointless booby action if you get bored (naked dance time is standard at sleepovers right?). There is even some nudity and violence at the same time to kick it up a level during the latter rampage. Its formulaic mean spirit comes through in its production and blends well with the comedy.
I would be a liar if I said the acting was good, it’s mostly awful. Some of its characters are so off, it's easier to believe that the effect was intentional. That being said, it has a great cast in my opinion. Among the ill-fated slumber partiers, we have Playmate Hope Marie Carlton as Janine, who along with being a card-carrying member of Andy Sidaris L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies, has appeared in a few other goofy horror flicks, including Ghoulies Go to College the following year. B-movie legend Maria Ford appears as... Maria, while wearing an oversized red wig for some reason. She's not given anything at all to work with (other than the wig, I guess) but she is always fun to watch even in the most awful of shit. Keely Christian plays Jackie Cassidy who I assume is the lead because she gets a last name. She brings the series into the 90s by playing Jackie with the (possibly slow) careless valley girl trope and a variety of dim stares for the dramatic moments. The rest of the female gang is made up of familiar faces from genre films and tv. As the lurking neighbor Morgan, Michael Harris was one of the highlights of the film. You know he is not the killer from his overcooked introduction, but it's an entertaining addition that reminded me of classic murder mystery films, and he really had the creep thing down. The douchey young male victims are expertly played by people with funny hair and very punchable faces. They are all just fucking shit actors and chronically less interesting than the female cast, but it works pretty well (although one had a lopsided unibrow that was distracting).
The film is the only directorial credit for Sally Mattison who produced classic garbage like The New Gladiators (1988) and Silk 2 (1989). It was written by Catherine Cyran who continues to write for straight to video flicks to this day. It was the third and last official entry into the Slumber Party Massacre film series. The trilogy is often noted for being both written and directed entirely by women. Like the first two, Slumber Party Massacre III was produced under the (reportedly menacing) eye of Roger Corman and can be considered part of the larger “Massacre” series which includes the Sorority House Massacre films (1987, 1990) and Hard to Die (1990 my review here).
It is served a little dryly, but Slumber Party Massacre III has most of the ingredients needed for some fun slasher sleaze. While not super creative, the movie shows up to kill some, mostly, attractive people with a drill, and it does just that.  The added murder mystery and supplied suspects are fun additions. It has its own vibe, but in the end, if you enjoyed what the other two had to offer, you will probably be satisfied (or possibly even relieved, if Elvis impersonation dream ghosts aren't really your thing). Still, it's a complete U-turn to close out the trilogy. Essentially, it’s an updated but brainless remake of the first, with added beach sand and a killer that uses a mask for the first half. It could have gone a lot of ways, following the ode to Meatloaf's character from Rocky Horror that proceeds it. In this case, it avoids trying to explain something like, how the killer came back, or that the murder-gene (or curse etc) had been passed on to someone's sibling (or whatever). Instead it just links the three films a with similar taste in power tools and the appearance of pajamas at some point. On screen, it paints a world where almost anything can happen but hardly anything does--beyond a lot of showering and some murder. In reality, it's just the relateable growing pains of an exploitation horror series akin to realizing you didn't die in your twenties like you thought you were going to, so you’d better get serious and get a real job. You have to keep moving forward, and sometimes that means not mentioning your colorful rock n roll ghosts.
 Director: Sally Mattison
Writer: Catherine Cyran


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