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Slumber Party Massacre and the Male Gaze

A bunch of girls sit on a bed in Slumber Party Massacre

Slumber Party Massacre comes off as yet another sensationalistic and gory ‘80s slasher. I picked it up recently mainly due to its ridiculous title and the fact that most of the characters were female. Upon viewing it, what shocked me was not so much the gore and violence, but the film’s clever humor, the funny characters, and most of all the incredibly veiled feminist satire.

Slumber Party Massacre was written to be a mock parody of exploitation movies, as well as a satire of masculinity in the slasher genre. However, the movie was marketed as a straight slasher movie, which ended up causing a lot of mixed opinions: while reading through reviews, some critics brushed off the movie as a boring slasher with gratuitous T&A, while others actually caught the humor and satire, and revered its feminist perspective. Slumber Party Massacre is actually a very feminist movie and it’s a biting satire of the male gaze that exists in cinema. Through its witty and clever humor, the movie deconstructs the prevailing sexism and masculinity in the slasher genre, offering one of the most entertaining feminist exploitation movies ever made.

Slumber Party Massacre is very women-centric: both in the characters and the women behind the scenes. The film was directed by Amy Holden Jones, one of the few female directors to delve into the exploitation genre, and written by feminist Rita Mae Brown. This fact alone should make you want to pay attention to the small details, which in this movie are actually not that small but thrown right into your face.

The story revolves around Trish, a young high school girl who throws a slumber party at her house, and Valerie, Trish’s neighbor, who doesn’t attend the party and spends a boring evening at home. As you can already guess, the girls at the slumber party are eventually harassed by a silent killer. The movie begins in a typical suburban neighborhood, and we are introduced to Trish’s bedroom. Trish is the stereotypical image of innocence and femininity: her bedroom is full of plush toys and fluffy pinkness. We then move to a school setting in which we are introduced to Valerie, who is somewhat of an outsider to the popular group of girls led by Trish, but is an essential character in the story.

One of the first scenes that made me raise an eyebrow was the shower scene: after gym class, the girls are in the school showers, where we see a lot of T&A, and not even in a clever or artistic way.

The film's main characters look about to disrobe in a school locker room

The women of Slumber Party Massacre.

That scene confused me—I couldn’t understand why a movie directed and written by women would objectify the female body in such a demeaning way. Maybe, at the end of the day, the director just wanted to make a buck? And didn’t really care? I later realized that nudity (and objectification) is actually a very important element in the story, along with sexual innuendos. An example is the killer’s weapon of choice, a 12-inch drill which he sometimes holds in suggestive places (like his crotch, as a phallic metaphor).

The movie poster has a giant drill poised above four scantily clad women

Do you guys think this drill is a metaphor?

Also, there are countless instances in which boys from Trish’s high school and the killer himself are staring, spying, or quietly watching the girls. I realized that the gratuitous nudity was not so much for the gratuity, but to directly point out how this group of girls is the target of a voyeuristic threat, and are purposely being objectified through these male character’s gazes to show that they are in fact the victims of the killer’s drill, but also of the male gaze. There is a scene that says it all, in which the kids walk past a dumpster where the body of one of the victims is lying in the trash, unnoticed. The movie is about what we see and what we don’t see, or more specifically, knowingly watching and unknowingly being watched. This is the basis for the concept of the male gaze in cinema, which is finding pleasure in looking at a person as an object, who becomes the unwilling or unknowing victim of the gaze. 

What makes this movie such a clever satire is the twist placed on the male gaze, which we see in Valerie. The objectification of Trish and her friends is emphasized by the contrast with Valerie and her younger sister Courtney (probably the most interesting female character in the whole movie) who are actually the ones doing the objectifying. During the evening, Courtney pulls out an issue of Playgirl from under her sister’s bed, and later on, both girls casually look at full-page spreads of naked men. Trish and Valerie are opposites, not only in their personality and social life, but also in their role with the gaze.

Valerie reading alone in bed

Just some casual sexy-time reading. 

Throughout the movie, we never see Valerie naked, and there’s a good reason why; while Trish is the passive victim of the gaze, Valerie is the bearer of the gaze, she enjoys looking at pictures of naked men and is immune to the killer’s gaze. Valerie is the true heroine of the movie, and she saves the day by finding an equally phallic weapon (a machete) and “chopping off” the killer’s drill, basically castrating him metaphorically.

If there were are any doubts on whether Slumber Party Massacre is an intelligent feminist satire or just a regular slasher, all questions are answered when finally, after the killer goes on a bloody rampage without speaking a single word, he finally utters some of the most horrifying lines: “All of you are very pretty… I love you,” and “you know you want it, you’ll love it.” Those seem like the words of a rapist, and although the killer didn’t rape any of the girls, he did violate them: just like a rapist victimizes a woman by violating her body, the male gaze, which roams rampant in Hollywood cinema, violates women on the screen by turning them into objects.

Along with sharp satire and sharp commentary, Slumber Party Massacre is full of clever humor. There’s the scene where Valerie is relaxing at home, watching an old slasher movie while she’s a character in one herself (and the events on TV seem to sync up with what’s happening next door). Then there’s Courtney grabbing a drink from the fridge without noticing a dead body inside, or one of Trish’s friends eating a slice of pizza over the delivery boy’s dead body. Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown do a wonderful job at providing entertainment and humor, alongside a refreshing and sharp feminist viewpoint. If there’s any movie that made me respect cheesy exploitation movies, it’s this wonderfully cheesy slumber party slasher full of pizza, nudie magazines, and girls chopping off metaphorical penises.

This article by Emanuela Betti is cross-posted from Bitch Flicks, which is running a whole great series on cult classics and B-movies for Halloween. 


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