SyFy’s “Slumber Party Massacre” is Better Than it Should Be (Review)

The original Slumber Party Massacre was by no means a masterpiece.  But its early 80s camp and overall ridiculousness led it to not only become a cult classic, but spawn an entire franchise. This included a trilogy of films, as well as a loosely connected Sorority House Massacre series.

So in looking at this campy gem of 80s excess, it’s hard to see why a remake would even be necessary, other than the obvious brand recognition and financial incentive.  But then SyFy went ahead and released a remake that’s not only just as fun in its own way, but that also subverts expectations and kind of becomes something brilliant in the process.

Trauma of the Past
Opening decades ago, we watch what feels like a tongue-in-cheek remake of the original Slumber Party Massacre.  A group of young women are having their party in a house by the lake as the iconic and unmasked Driller Killer makes  his way through them.

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He definitely looks like a deranged killer!

After watching her friends die one by one, Trish manages to push the Driller Killer over the pier and into the lake where he is presumed dead, having drowned.  The police officially close the case.  But the trauma still lives with her for years, even into adulthood as she’s paranoid for her own daughter.

Years later, Trish’s daughter Dana (Hannah Gonera) and her friends Maeve (Frances Sholto-Douglas), Alix (Mila Rayne), Ashley (Reze-Tiana Wessels), and Breanie (Alex McGregor) go away for a slumber party at the very same house on the very same lake.  They even get the same car trouble and it seems that everything is playing out exactly as it did in the past.

They’re quite upset that Alix stowed away in the car, and we find out why later.

It ultimately extends into the return of the Driller Killer himself, Russ Thorne (Rob van Vuuren).  Much like the original, he doesn’t bother hiding his identity and does a great job playing an absolute creep who seems to have issues with basic socialization.

However, after Alix discovers the first dead body of a gas station owner they ran into earlier, things start to get interesting and this Slumber Party Massacre remake shows off just how creative and clever it can be.

Subverting Expectations (Spoilers)
Just when we think Dana and her friends are going to suffer the same fate, the movie takes a hard but intriguing left turn as we discover that they’ve brought weapons to defend themselves.  Not only do they anticipate the Driller Killer to return, but in fact they’re counting on it.

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The house isn’t a trap for them…

Their plan from the very beginning was to recreate that night of the original massacre and trap the Driller Killer in order to finally put an end to him as well as ease Trish’s trauma after all these years.  From here on out, the movie gets welcomely meta and leans heavily into strong feminist ideas, while not getting too heavy-handed (the way that 2019’s Black Christmas did).

Slasher films (particularly those made in the 80s) certainly had a reputation for being made through the male gaze where female nudity was regular and while women usually survived to the end as the final girl, they were often put through a great deal of suffering.

And the way that suffering was portrayed was very often done in an exploitative manner.  So to see a slasher actively go against that in a commentary to try to do something different is refreshing.

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We still get fun callbacks like the guitar!

There’s absolutely no shortage of mediocre and unnecessary horror remakes, and honestly, I judged this to be one of them upon first hearing that it was being made.  However this new take on an old story was a genuinely clever and creative way to remake a story like this.

By having the main characters set this trap, it not only makes them more active protagonists to the plot (driving the plot rather than just reacting to things happening), but it almost makes them like the audience, aware of all the tropes.

It’s a movie that empowers its final girl(s) to more than just a survivor.  Add this to the numerous callbacks to the original movie that are done in a fun, subtle way, and you get a remake that’s way better than anyone would have expected from it.

It’s only real issue is that the movie seems to be over around the 1 hour mark, and with another 30 minutes to go, it changes from a meta slasher to a more traditional one.  Technically there’s nothing wrong with being a straightforward slasher, it’s just from a tonal perspective, it doesn’t all mesh well.

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The final 30 minutes feel like a completely different movie. Not a bad movie, just different from the previous hour.

That said, the final act contains some of the more fun and interesting kills, getting away from just the drill being used for everything.  It goes for another twist in the final few minutes, but honestly that 2nd act twist is so subversive and original that anything after that is just pale in comparison.

SyFy’s Slumber Party Massacre is a perfect example of the idea that if you’re going to remake something, you need to try something new or different to make it worth making to begin with.  And this movie very much does!

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