Month of Horror 2018: A/S/L – Amy Holden Jones: The Slumber Party Massacre

10/8/2018 –Amy Holden Jones: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Directed by Amy Holden Jones

Thankfully, we don’t have to travel nearly so far to get to our next major horror title from a female director, hopping only two years this time from 1980’s Humanoids from the Deep.  While attending Wellesley College to study Art History (and taking film classes at MIT), Amy Holden Jones entered her student short film A Weekend Home in the AFI National Student Festival and took home first place.  The film also got her as an assistant on Taxi Driver since Martin Scorsese was one of the judges and he would later employ her as an editor on one of his documentaries, American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince.  Meanwhile, Jones would become our third director to work with Roger Corman when she took a job editing Hollywood Boulevard, an ultra-cheap (even for Corman) leftover footage filled collaboration between first-time directors Allan Arkush and Joe Dante.

She would also go on to edit the post-Star Wars, Mark Hamill-starring Corvette Summer and the Hal Ashby comedy Second-Hand Hearts.  However, Jones wanted to direct (which would ultimately cost her a job editing E.T.) and was given a handful of scripts by Frances Doel to look through.  The one she chose was a slasher script Don’t Open the Door which had started its life as a slasher parody by feminist author and activist Rita Mae Brown called Sleepless Nights.  With her own money and the help of film equipment that was acquired by her husband, Michael Chapman (who earned Oscar noms for Raging Bull and The Fugitive in cinematography), she shot the first three scenes of the film on a crew of four people and pitched it to Roger Corman.

While The Slumber Party Massacre was successful and lead to the first horror series to be directed entirely women as the sequels would be helmed by Deborah Brock (in 1987) and Sally Mattison (in 1990), Jones did not see the directing offers roll in. Still, she was able to get Corman to let her write and direct Love Letters, starring Jamie Lee Curtis in 1986 before leaving the studio to make 1987’s Ally Sheedy and Beverly D’Angelo starring Maid to Order, her final directorial effort. She turned to scriptwriting full-time, handling the scripts for the Julia Roberts starring Mystic Pizza, doggy family film Beethoven, the Razzie-winning (yes, I know it’s a garbage award) Indecent Proposal, The Getaway, The Rich Man’s Wife, and her final script being a return to horror with the lousy The Relic.  She also created the quickly forgotten one season show medical show Black Box and co-created the by all accounts terrible medical show The Resident.

The titular slumber party is an all-girls affair involving a group of high school friends.  One of the girls left out is Trish, an 18-year-old girl whose parents leave her (and her obnoxious, younger, Playgirl-loving sister) home alone for the weekend.  Granted, some boys inevitably show up anyway, but for the most part, this is a movie by and starring women.  That’s not to say it is some feminist work of art.  The objectification runs rampant including an extended scene in the girls’ shower that pans down a naked woman’s body and gets a nice lingering shot of her tuchus.   The characters also all feel indistinguishable, largely existing to get mowed down by the killer.

The killer here is no secret.  Russ Thorn, a mass murderer of five, escapes in the opening shot (according to a newspaper) and as a result, there’s no mysteries.  The film tries to add in a brief tease of an in-universe subplot about the girls suspecting another because one of them was mean to her, but since the film doesn’t even bother trying to play with this angle nor did I particularly care about the specific characters, it fell flat, and the movie moved on quick.  The killer has a thing for an oversized drill which may be impractical and situational, but he makes the most of it and it looks cool (I hope the sequels never explained why he started using it).

This is about the purest experience of a slasher you can get.  It’s kept at a lean 77 minutes with plenty of murders thrown in throughout and little else.  There’s a whole lot of nothing that happens between the murders and no character development.  The only thing I can tell you about any of them is that Jackie (whose name I looked up for the purpose of this write up) is awesome for having the sole character trait of being cold blooded enough to eat the pizza after someone died on top of the box (and being simultaneously over and underdressed for the occasion).  There’s a number of false jump scares, but generally it’s just a very standard and competently executed slasher film from a production standpoint.  The biggest issue came from the over the top organ music that sounded like a poor imitation of a giallo film.  If you’re into slashers, it’s worth a look, but otherwise, it’s not adding anything new to the genre.

 

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Bonus Episode #13 – A – 1930s: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Directed by Sidney Lanfield

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes may be the most famous creation of the mystery genre, but of the four novels he wrote, one has a distinct horror feel.  The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted countless times starting with the Der Hund von Baskerville in 1914 (which spawned a series of its own of five additional films).  This 1939 adaptation starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson is generally considered to be one of if not the best adaptations of the work and would serve as the first of fourteen collaborations between the two in that role (I’ve seen The Woman in Green and Dressed to Kill before and they were both solid) as well as the radio show The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

The story would most notably be redone by Terence Fisher in 1959 for Hammer (it was fine) starring Peter Cushing and André Morell in the lead roles (as well as Christopher Lee), the 1981 Soviet adaptation starring Vasiliy Livanov and Vitali Solomin, and the 1988 version Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke.

Set in 1889 (the only Rathbone/Bruce Holmes film to not be modernized) in Dartmoor, England, a homeless man, or at least a man who appears to be such, discovers a dead body and robs the pocket watch.  Someone sees them and screams, scarring him and forcing him to flee.  The body belongs to the current resident of Baskerville Hall, Sir Charles Baskerville.  His is the latest in a long line of deaths related to the family dating back to the 1600s, when the owner of the family manor, Sir Hugo Baskerville (in a scene depicted as inset a book and semi-transparent) went out looking for a woman (who he seems to have abducted) who had run off.  When he and his party find her, they looked up to find hounds who would kill Sir Hugo and leave the Baskervilles cursed to this day.

With the heir Henry Baskerville arriving from, Dr. Mortimer, a family friend, hires Sherlock Holmes to protect him.  For Sir Charles had been found with a look of terror on his face and the prints of a hound around him.  It quickly becomes clear that something is coming for Sir Henry as someone (who claims to be Sherlock Holmes) appears to be following him, stealing his shoes, and even nearly getting a shot off before Sherlock scares him.  Watson, Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer head to the Baskerville Hall and it the wonderful gothic setting.  The exterior has a fog cover that never seems to lift day or night (of which it is frequently the latter), filled with the ruins of old civilizations of which the manor seems destined to soon join them while the interiors cast deep shadows.

Rathbone is excellent however as Sherlock, conveying someone who is casually dismissive of Watson’s inferior intelligence (while not smugly) and effortlessly brilliant with some sharp dialogue.  He’s anticipated every action and knows what you are going to think and do before you do.  Despite his reputation for bumbling, Bruce merely portrays Watson as not particularly bright here which is fine.  It gets worse though as the movie gets on it which doesn’t help with the repetition at the hall.  The film starts strong and ends strong, but it does struggle sustaining some of the suspense, especially when it tries introducing a token love interest for Sir Henry.  Despite that, it’s still one of the best cinematic depictions of Holmes that I’ve seen to date (Mr. Holmes is probably the only one that’s stood out in the past to me) and though not top tier classic era horror title, it’s certainly in the next one.

 

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Bonus Episode #14 – A – 1990s: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore) (1994)
Directed by Michele Soavi

Based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi (the creator of Dylan Dog), Cemetery Man is an Italian, French, and German co-production made in Italy.  I watched it in English since by all accounts it was dubbed into both English and Italian.  It opens with a watchman of the cemetery shooting a pale man in the head casually and in one scene, the film perfectly established Francesco Dellamorte (played by Rupert Everett who was the basis for Dylan Dog) as someone whose been dealing with this for a long time with a dry, sarcastic wit.  He’s been dealing with an unknown zombie issue in his cemetery that causes some people to return after seven days who can only be killed by splitting their heads open.  Together with his large mentally challenged (he can only speak one word, “Gna”) assistant and gravedigger, they have been reburying the bodies and keeping things under wraps from the rest of the town that they rarely go out in.

One day, he meets a young woman (played melodramatically by Anna Falchi) who is mourning the death of her much older husband and seems fascinated by the ossuary.  Something compelling her in it, tearing at her clothes and seducing her.  It’s from here that the film starts to pick up more unusual elements.  It’s full of artistic touches including plenty of slow-motion shots of fabric and other things floating about.

It can be hard to tell exactly how much of the movie is really happening and how much his lying (and mostly getting away with it) and quipping is real.  No one views him as a threat despite how obvious he starts to get with his actions in public.  When you introduce the walking dead, it is clear that the film is unrealistic to our real world already, but SPOILERS1, it is then that the movie starts to blur the line about what is realistic to his.

Cemetery Man is an incredibly messy movie, bringing to mind the early bits of Braindead in more ways than one.  It shares the same darkly humorous tone, the same bursts of over the top action, and the same uneven feeling of low budget production.  It’s also weighed down by ponderous voiceover musings by Everett that don’t add anything.  Any negatives, however, don’t change that the film is worth seeing at the very least for its more interesting and unique elements with enough hits to make it into something good.

 

Next up: A look at Iranian horror with Fish & Cat.

2018 Schedule