Color, 1982, 77m.
Directed by Amy Jones
Starring Robin Stille, Michelle Michaels, Michael Villella, Debra Deliso, Andree Honore, Brinke Stevens
Shout Factory (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), New Concorde (US R1 NTS) / WS (1.85:1)

Color, 1987, 75m.
Directed by Deborah Brock
Starring Crystal Bernard, Jennifer Rhodes, Kimberly McArthur, Patrick Lowe, Juliette Cummins, Atanas Ilitch
Shout Factory (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), New Concorde (US R1 NTSC)

Color, 1990, 87m.
Directed by Sally Mattison
Starring Yan Birch, Brandi Burkett, Hope Marie Carlton, Keely Christian
Shout Factory (US R1 NTSC), New Concorde (US R1 NTSC)

Thanks to its lurid title, a not terribly subtle poster showing a menacing power drill poised over four scantily clad girls, and the fact that it was written and directed by women, The Slumber Party Massacre became one of the more notorious surprise horror hits of the early '80s. Amid the glut of slasher films pouring onto screens after Friday the 13th, this zero budget effort struck a nerve with moviegoers and was heavily cut in the UK at the time of the video nasties debate. Seen in retrospect, it's quite astounding to note that, audiences responses aside, none of the critics seemed to pick up on the fact that, dubious "feminism" or not, this is basically a comedy.

High school senior Trish (Michaels) is left alone by her parents for the weekend, so she naturally invites the fellow members of her basketball team for a slumber party. However, new girl and fellow neighbor Valerie (the late Stille) is left out of the fun, forced to spend the evening at home with her Playgirl-obsessed younger sister. Naturally an insane killer (Villella) has just escaped and already killed off one team member (scream queen Stevens) at school. How many of the girls will survive until morning?

Long before Scream, this film already displayed a crude but knowing sense of stalk 'n' slash conventions and made no hesitations about turning them on their head. Oddly enough, the film's two prolonged on-camera gore sequences are suffered by ineffectual male characters, while the women are all given strong, humanistic traits. The acting by several participants isn't strong enough to really drive this point home, but it's obvious screenwriter Rita Mae Browne (better known as the feminist author of novels like Rubyfruit Jungle) did not intend to strictly play by the rules. Director Amy Jones (Love Letters) keeps the pace fast and furious, without a single moment of cinematic fat during the compact 77 minute running time. Sure, it's basically junk when all is said and done, but at least it's entertaining junk. Roger Corman's New Concorde first brought this film to DVD by itself with a new transfer (a very rare occasion for that label), correctly letterboxed at 1.85:1. The annoying open matte information from the Embassy videotape version was sliced away, replaced with a sleeker and more balanced presentation and much brighter colors to boot. The stereo soundtrack is also much stronger, with some nifty directional effects offered by the music and occasional bits of thunder and, naturally, whirring power equipment. However, the real paydirt for Slumber fans lies in 2010's Slumber Party Massacre Collection two-disc DVD set from Shout Factory, which offers an even nicer remaster with anamorphic enhancement and crisp detail, or as crisp as the cheap film stock will allow. It actually didn't even look this good in theaters.

Also included in the set (and released separately in earlier, no-frills versions by New Concorde) are the film's two sequels, which are all united by the fact that (a) they're all directed by women, and (b) the men get the most graphic death scenes. Slumber Party Massacre II ranks just behind Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 as the most deranged, hilarious slasher sequel of the '80s. (Okay, maybe it's also on par with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge). Like Silent Night, it's a bit of a slow burner for the first half, largely delivering exposition and characters blathering on and on with a few nutty hallucinations like a bloody "handburger." But once the action kicks on... boy, look out. You really won't believe what you're seeing for the last 40 minutes of this one. Our heroine this time in Courtney (Crystal Bernard, before she went blonde and starred on TV's Wings), the younger sister of one of the first film's survivors (who's now in a mental institution). Courtney and three of her girlfriends play in a Bangles-style garage band, but her happy afternoons and erotic reveries about the hunky Matt (Patrick Lowe, Rob's who only made one more film, Primal Rage) are short lived thanks to recurring nightmares about the original massacre and ominous warnings from her sister to not go "all the way." Oh yeah, and she keeps hearing rockabilly music and seeing a creepy guy in black leather stalking her. When the girls all decide to head out of town for a slumber party getaway (with three guys tagging along behind them, all for different motives), it isn't long before the nightmare man shows up... with a guitar drill he uses to off the cast when he isn't pausing to perform musical numbers.

God only knows what anyone involved with this film was thinking; the extras clarify a bit, but not much. The idea of a rock musical slasher film (originally titled Don't Let Go: Slumber Party Massacre II until Roger Corman nixed the idea) is certainly novel, and director Deborah Brock (who went on to helm the truly, truly lousy Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever) certainly doesn't skimp on the music, the gore, squishy exploding zits, or the obligatory topless pillow fight. Does it make for a good movie? Hell no, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of it. If it's supposed to be a half-parody like the first film, that's all well and good, but the end result is so much weirder than expected that one can only marvel a minor midnight cult following never built up around this thing. Bernard does what she can with her lead role, but it's really the mysterious Atanis Ilitch who swipes the film with his big entrance as the killer, bouncing and dancing off the walls as he sprays the sets with buckets of Karyo syrup. Once again Shout Factory has given this film a huge upgrade with a new anamorphic transfer so sharp you can make out the fine mustache on Crystal Bernard's upper lip. (Trust me, it's really there.) The overall visual scheme is pretty similar to other New Concorde films of the time; think the Sorority House Massacre films or Chopping Mall for a good comparison.

By the time Slumber Party Massacre III rolled around in 1990, the whole slasher fad was grinding itself into irrelevance with a new fad for serial killer movies lurking just around the corner. The approach here is really back to basics as we get a straightforward tale about beach girl Julie (Christian), who decides to take advantage of her parents' absence for the weekend by throwing a slumber party with some of her gal pals. Meanwhile lots of men are circling like sharks, including a Nordic "weirdo" (Birch) in black leather who's so over the top you just know he can't be the real killer. Fortunately there's another carload of guys around, a preppy boyfriend, and plenty of cops for possible suspects before the drill-wielding maniac finally shows up with a massacre on his mind.

While the first half here is just barely more eventful than the first sequel, the big payoff goes in a completely different and surprisingly brutal direction. The mayhem here swerves more into nasty home invasion territory as the killer subjects his potential prey to more prolonged suffering and nastiness than the preceding films, and the obligatory payback unleashed by the female survivors is easily the goriest, nastiest, most prolonged bit of bloodletting in the entire series. (Not surprisingly, it was toned down considerably along with several other gory bits for many video versions but appears to be intact on the DVD.) None of the unknown actors have to do much more than go through their paces, but the dark, gritty atmosphere and occasionally inventive storyline make it a bit better than it had any right to be. Unfortunately this film didn't see much in the way of theatrical play and has to make do on the collection release with a full frame transfer not much different from the individual New Concorde set. It's attractive enough for what it is, and if you have a widescreen TV, you can zoom it in for a reasonable facsimile of how it would play with the excess headroom masked away.

Now, onto the extras. The Shout Factory set loads up the first disc with the original movie, trailers for the three features, a spirited commentary track (with Jones and actors Deliso and Villella), and a three-part documentary about the series entitled Sleepless Nights (which can be played either straight through or divided into one section per film). Not surprisingly, the first part is the meatiest as Jones and company cover the origins of the film, the obviousness of the notorious shower scene, the various actresses' different standards regarding nudity, and Villella's isolationist methods used to stay in character with the cast. Even Brinke Stevens pops up a few times to discuss her first real speaking role and her surprise that she could really act. The rest of the commentary participants are here, too, and of course there's a nice memorial tribute to Stille, who took her life at a tragically young age. The second and third films have their own place on the second disc with their respective commentary tracks, but their portions of the doc remain on the first disc. For Massacre 2, commentary and doc participants Brock, producer Don Daniel, actress Cummins, and script editor Beverly Grace chime in about their memories of the film, including Bernard's insistence on motivation for getting into bed with Lowe and the fact that Ilitch was the first to audition for the role and was chosen on the spot, even though others had to be auditioned longer after anyway. (Too bad he's nowhere to be found here; it's amusing to imagine what he might be up to now.) For the third film, director Sally Mattison, Grace, and actresses Carlton and Burkett appear for the leanest of the commentaries and doc segments; everyone obviously had a lot of fun making the film, but Corman seemed to be less involved here and there isn't much in the way of trivia or drama involving the cast. Still, it's nice to hear everyone reunited again and rattling off little bits of trivia, such as the fact that the film was originally a standalone project called Night Light that eventually morphed into a sequel via Corman. All of the tracks are moderated by Tony Brown, moderator of the "official unofficial" series site The Old Hockstatter Place, who also crafted the docs along with Jason Paul Collum, who had already collaborated with Stevens and Deliso on the solid scream queen documentary, Something to Scream About, and also helmed the flawed but fascinating gay-themed horror films, October Moon and November Son. Be sure to keep an eye out for the hilarious opening of Sleepless Nights, featuring camcorder footage of a kid completely losing his mind after unwrapping his dream present: a VHS copy of The Slumber Party Massacre. Its significance is justified later on, but on its own this is one of the most brilliantly disorienting curtain raiser moments ever seen in a special feature.