Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter celebrates Chloe Zhao’s historic Best Director win at the Oscars by revisiting another classic directed by a woman, The Slumber Party Massacre.
This might surprise you — and it should anger you — but Chloe Zhao’s recent Academy Award for directing Nomadland marks only the second win for a female director. That’s bonkers, so in the spirit of highlighting more female filmmakers we’re taking a look at another rarity, a slasher movie directed by a woman. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) was directed by Amy Holden Jones, and the two sequels were directed by two other women.
It remains a big deal, and while Jones only directed three more features she remained busy as a writer with credits as diverse as Mystic Pizza (1988), Beethoven (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), and The Relic (1997). Not too bad for someone whose first credit was as Assistant to the Director on a little film called Taxi Driver (1976). Keep reading to see what I heard on her commentary track for The Slumber Party Massacre!
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Commentators: Amy Holden Jones (director), Debra De Liso (actor), Michael Villela (actor)
1. The houses are located on Mountain View Ave. in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles, and Jones scouted them while living nearby in Venice. It was also pretty close to New World Pictures and producer Roger Corman.
2. Corman insisted they use Sleepless Night as the title while trying to convince homeowners to let their properties be used “so that people would think it was a classy thriller.” He’s always been a smart man.
3. Composer Ralph Jones is the director’s brother. “He recorded the entire score on a small Casio synthesizer.”
4. Jones was hired as the director having only read the prologue to Rita Mae Brown’s script and having never seen popular slashers of the time like Friday the 13th (1980). She discovered its degree of violence and sex later, but she worked to add scares and humor herself as “I don’t think her script was funny at all.”
5. As with an early topless scene, Jones points out that the shower sequence was a requirement from Corman. She shot it very by the numbers just to tick the boxes.
6. Jones had worked in editing and as a documentary filmmaker, but this was her first feature.
7. She suggests horror movies were looked down upon back then but that they’re now much more respected. “I was pilloried at the time for doing this, but now if you go and you do Turistas you’re an artiste.” This will be news to John Stockwell.
8. Villela recalls that he shaped his character’s look and movement after a peacock. “It was all peacock.”
9. Brinke Stevens pops into the commentary recording just as her character is about to bite it. “This was my very first death scene in a movie.”
10. A guy is seen riding on a motorcycle at 16:25, and while they can’t quite agree as to who it is — a production manager, a member of the electrical crew — Jones admits she at first thought it was Joe Dante. It is very clearly not Joe Dante.
11. Villela created a whole backstory for his killer character well beyond what’s mentioned in the film. He also stayed somewhat in character during filming which helped creep out the young women. “It was my first acting job.”
12. De Liso is a teacher, and she mentions that once in a while students will approach her mentioning that they’ve recently watched the film. “Your students must go ‘woo hoo!’” adds Jones as Kim (De Liso) does a topless scene. “They do kind of look downward now when they talk to me,” adds De Liso.
13. They filmed for three weeks.
14. Jones recalls how Corman would occasionally deny their daily request for a generator, adding “You can make do, Amy, I remember that I had a scene once and we just circled the cars and turned on the headlights.” She needed them for interior shots though, so happily the electricians would scale the utility poles and tap into the public power. “When we ran enough lights you could see the street lights in Mar Vista dim,” says Jones.
15. Jones directed three more features after this, and unlike this experience, she says each of them featured a “difficult” actor or two. Her biggest success remains 1987’s Maid to Order, a romantic comedy, and she mentions that had she wanted to continue making rom-coms she’d probably “still have a directing career.” All four of her films made a profit including her final movie, a thriller called The Rich Man’s Wife (1996) with Halle Berry.
16. The glass lamp at 47:10 belongs to Jones, and she also included it in her follow-up film, Love Letters (1983). She still has it.
17. Jones points out that despite the film being slammed for its “violence against women,” most of the women here are killed off-screen while the guys get some bloody onscreen demises.
18. Jim Wynorski’s Cheerleader Massacre (2003) was originally planned as a fourth film in the Slumber Party franchise. A fan remix exists adding Ralph Jones’ score from this film and a connective prologue, and it can supposedly be found online.
19. The original ending had the killer killed in the living room, but Corman dug the film and gave Jones a little extra cash to write and reshoot a bigger ending. It was the right call as this end not only castrates the killer (by snapping off his drill bit) but also allowed Jones to emulate something she learned on Taxi Driver. She rewatched Martin Scorsese’s classic while rewriting this ending, and the constant yelling in pain in that film’s finale struck a chord with her. “It’s very unnerving.”
20. Villela recalls uttering “mama” during his final death scene, but Jones nixed it for fear of it garnering the killer some sympathy.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“This is classic Roger Corman, you have to get nudity within the first two or three minutes.”
“We certainly ran with Rita’s drill metaphor.”
“For what it is, it’s a great title.”
“We sure had a lot of girls in hot pants.”
“There we have the insert boob.”
“It’s not like we were trying to do Barry Lyndon here.”
“If you don’t get the humor of this, you’re dead.”
“I lost my penis.”
The participants here all remain proud of the film and what they accomplished, but they do mention how more than a few of the cast members went on to distance themselves from The Slumber Party Massacre. The commentary features some anecdotes and general thoughts, but it does dip into silence and/or pointing out what’s happening on-screen on occasion. Still, while occasionally rough it’s a fun listen for fans of the film and filmmakers.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.