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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Slumber Party Slaughter (2012)

Director: Rebekah Chaney
Stars: Tom Sizemore, Ryan O'Neal, Rebekah Chaney and Robert Carradine
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
I wanted to like Slumber Party Slaughter a lot more than I did. It's an independent horror movie for a start. It's a debut feature from a filmmaker progressing from an award winning short, Waste Land. That filmmaker, Rebekah Chaney, is both young and female, neither attribute as common in the industry as it should be. Not content with merely being that rare critter, a female director, she also wrote and produced, as well as playing one of the leading roles herself. She didn't hog the spotlight, sharing it instead with a few other lovely ladies, as well as some recognisable men: Tom Sizemore, Robert Carradine and the actor she played opposite in Waste Land, Ryan O'Neal, who liked that film enough to return for its successor. She also has a heritage to live up to, given that she's the great-grandniece of Lon Chaney, the first real American horror star and one of the most legendary men in the business. It ought to be my sort of movie.

And, to be fair, there's much that I liked. In the main, it's an affectionate homage to the eighties slasher genre, playing it a little gorier and with a little more substance than might be expected. The key locations are perfect for this sort of material: a strip club called the Lingerie Lounge, an Indian burial ground turned haunted cemetery and a millionaire's mansion empty, while he's at a business convention. Each of these would be a great setting for an eighties slasher movie and all of them probably were; we can hardly complain when this film gives us all three of them. It sets up capably, introducing us to a surprising number of characters. None get enough background to become great or iconic but there's more effort given to them than was the norm in the genre's heyday. The story follows suit, with inventive death scenes and fair plot twists. The eye candy is nothing to complain about either, the leading ladies (or gentlemen) well worth looking at.

Where it falls down is in the consistency and the tone, perhaps because Chaney is too young to have experienced the slasher genre as it should have been experienced. She was born alongside the genre, being a mere two months old when John Carpenter released Halloween, so she's less like the babysitter from so many slashers and more like the kids being sat. While Slumber Party Slaughter generally aims at the eighties, it opens with very seventies aerial footage that doesn't go anywhere and there are nods to more recent decades throughout, meaning that the camp ambience that should be everywhere simply isn't. That's the key ingredient that's missing here; anyone seeking this out for its retro feel will come up empty. It's too thought out to be a slasher, but too ambitious to be a postmodern homage. The subplots are too fleshed out and the main plot not defined enough for us to really be sure what we're watching.

We start at the Lingerie Lounge where the strippers are easily delineated: Casey is the nice girl stuck there to support her little brother, Bobby. She'll leave as soon as opportunity knocks with Nicole, the popular girl next door type. Vicky is the statuesque blonde bitch who's been there longest, has seen it all and is as cynical about it as she can be. Bobby has a huge crush on her and she knows it. That leaves Felicia, the dumb bimbo who counts her successes by how many plastic surgeries they pay for, and Nadia, the wannabe pop star who's so bad that she should never be. Watching them work is taxi driver Dave, a creepy regular, and a trio of college kids with more bravado than sense. They all get pissed off when Tom Sizemore shows up and steals all the girls. He has a blast parodying himself as Tom Kingsford, a drug addled movie star who collects bad habits. Coincidentally the part was based on his appearance in celebrity rehab.
As tends to happen in horror movies, the characters that play together stay together. When the movie star hires all the strippers for a private party that night and they breeze off into the dark in his limo, everyone else follows and Dave shows up just at the wrong moment, with Kingsford murdered, his chauffeur vanished and the girls figuring out what to do with the body. A year on, we pick the story back up as the limo is discovered at the bottom of the lake in the Indian burial ground turned haunted cemetery. At this point, Nicole has left the Lingerie Lounge for a cushier job working for millionaire art dealer William O'Toole. As the girls start to talk about their crime, they find out that Nicole is housesitting his mansion while he's away on business, so talk of murder and fear of discovery quickly turns into party time, with all those same characters finding their way back into the story from wherever they'd managed to escape to.

It's here that I started getting confused. Sure, we realise that O'Toole, played by near namesake Ryan O'Neal, is some sort of freaky voyeur, not away on business at all but camping out in the guesthouse watching proceedings on monitors, but did he just expect to see Nicole or the party that soon erupts? He and his sidekick sit back longer than seems natural, given that people start dying in the memorable ways that victims tend to find in slasher movies. He doesn't even call a halt when guests start to rob him blind or discover his kinky secrets. Did he set up the large but apparently retarded gardener to massacre the partygoers? Or is all this complete coincidence? I never could quite figure this character/subplot combo out. I couldn't figure out how Nadia had got a recording deal either, as she sounds awful, but Casey is working hard to become a cop and the other girls are still at the Lingerie Lounge, where the college kids are now as regular as Dave.

And all of them show up for the inevitable slaughter, with a host of romantic subplots in tow, and we settle back to watch the fun. While the tone is too serious and not campy enough, and the story is over-complicated, there is quite a bit of fun to be had. Felicia in particular gets a joyous death scene, combining plot conveniences galore with an inventive sense of humour and some very nice touches indeed. It's no surprise to find out she's not the only one who gets hers but I'm not going to spoil who, how or why. I'll merely point out that hers is the most memorable of the many death scenes on offer. They're handled well for the most part, though the imagination is in the denoument rather than the setup. It's pretty clear throughout who the next victim is going to be and how soon it's going to happen, while the actual method of dispatch and the style of the scene are much more up for grabs.

At the end of the day, there's a lot here to see but it's all on the micro scale, which means that this review probably makes the film sound more interesting than it is. The actors are consistently good but none of them are good enough to carry the picture. The characters they play are drawn better than is the norm but none of them are drawn well enough to be a real focus. The various subplots are worthy but distracting from the bigger picture. Rebekah Chaney can write and she seems to have a lot to say, but she doesn't seem to be able to stand back and see her script at a distance. She needed to slice off a lot of material, some good and some not, in order to focus the remainder into a leaner and tighter story. So much potential here simply isn't realised as it's lost in the mix. I enjoyed so many moments but was disappointed with the film. However I'm hopeful for Chaney's future. If she can learn from this, her next film may be something to see.

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