Danishka Esterhazy's Slumber Party Massacre Pays Homage and Reinvents Perceptions

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Danishka Esterhazy is helping to usher in another era of horror.

First, she took a beloved '70s children's program and turned it into a tongue-in-cheek nightmare with The Banana Splits Movie. Now she's at it again, taking what is widely known as the first feminist horror movie, Slumber Party Massacre, giving it the 21st-century treatment.

Why she did it is simple. "I am a fan of '80s horror and I am a fan of slasher movies. They were definitely the kind of movie I'd watch at sleepovers with my friends as a teen girl."

Slumber Party Massacre Poster

In 1982, Rita Mae Brown wrote Slumber Party Massacre, which Amy Holden Jones (The Resident) directed. Both were working with some of the industry's top behind-the-screen talent, and their intent was to shine a light on the misogynistic qualities of horror.

Danishka says it was a little later in life that she watched the original franchise, excited that it was written and directed by women.

"But I think as an adult, I was a little torn about my feelings of the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy. I had really, really high hopes and some of them were met, and in other ways, I was very disappointed."

After meeting with Syfy, who pitched the idea, Danishka's excitement peaked again at the opportunity to add her touches to a movie she admired.

"From a fan point of view, I can take all the things I love about that series of films, and then I could put all the stuff I wish had been in the original films and you make it a gift for the next generation of horror fans."

Remakes always require a fine balance of what has come before while adding a new experience for both fans of the original and new fans alike, and Danishka had some very specific scenes in mind that she couldn't wait to film.

"The thing that was really stuck in my mind was I really wanted to recreate Diane's death in the garage because the shots ... where she slides down the wall between Russ's legs as he's about to impale her with the drill became the inspiration for the poster. It became very iconic.

"I knew I wanted to tip my hat to that scene with a similar kind of framing in one of the very early kills. So that was something that I knew from the very start.

"The scene that I made sure I didn't touch because I love it so much would probably be the death of Neil while Valerie is watching the old horror movie in her living room, because that, to me, is one of my favorite sequences in classic horror.

"The intercut between her watching this scene of scream fest and Neil being murdered outside, it's so beautifully put together. You could really tell that Amy Holden Jones was an editor before she became a director because the pacing and cutting in that sequence is so good.

Slumber Party Massacre Original Poster

"I knew I wasn't even going to touch that one. I was like, that cannot be improved. I will not mangle that beautiful sequence. I will just continue to enjoy it as a fan."

One of the things that Danishka did want to put her own spin on came from the nudity. For a feminist production, there were, well, a lot of boobs.

"A lot of boobs, so many boobs. When you think it's over, then there's more boobs, and you're like, 'What?' It makes you feel a bit of rage as an audience member because I'm not against nudity and sex and nudity in the films, but I feel there has to be a balance and there has to be a dialogue with your whole audience.

"I guess growing up in horror movies and genre movies and science fiction movies, I felt this too as a young woman, as a girl. I often felt invisible. I often felt like there was no story that was speaking to me or characters that represented me. I just really wanted the vision in these movies to be less limited."

When the slasher genre first captivated audiences around the world, there was a myopic view of their audience. They seemed to be marketed to 15-year-old white boys, but the audience was never that weighted.

Space Baby

So not only does Danishka challenge the audience by focusing on something a little different than various and repeated boob shots, she upends stereotypes without talking about it.

"I think we are in a horror Renaissance right now, which I hope I'm part of. I see so many amazing filmmakers now making wonderful horror movies that are scary and heartbreaking and hilarious, and from all different kinds of communities, all kinds of different lead characters. I feel that we're all just benefiting from the new diversity that we're seeing in horror movies."

The best thing about the diversity of Danishka's Slumber Party Massacre is that it's not meant to be examined. It just is, as we just are, and it works beautifully.

All of that said, Danishka realizes that she's got an advantage over the women at the helm of the original. They were working within the scope of their time just as Danishka is now.

"I love the original trilogy, and I have huge respect for the women writers and directors who made them. I don't want to dismiss what they achieved, the barriers they faced becoming women horror directors in the '80s. That's no small feat. It's huge.

Slumber Party Scream

"I wouldn't be here today if women hadn't made that series because they opened so many doors. I absolutely recognize that, but I want to continue the conversation.

I like to think, well, Amy Holden Jones had a lot of restrictions on what she was allowed to shoot and what she was told she absolutely had to shoot. She didn't have creative control. She didn't have final cut."

Danishka's experience is much different with Syfy and Shout! as they have offered her and Suzanne Keilly, the screenwriter, their support to make the movie they wanted to make.

"They let us really just go have fun and say what we wanted to say. So I felt it. It came full circle where the limitations that the original directors and writers had faced, we didn't face those same barriers. So that's progress."

And finally, the movie is unique in its perspective as it doesn't skirt the phallic nature of the killer's weapon. The drill sure feels like an extension of a man's, um, appendage, and Danishka continues that with Slumber Party Massacre 2021.

Slumber Party Gore

"I think it was really phallic in the first one. They vented the whole castration scene by the pool, which is such a phallic moment, which we do a callback to, but that was part of the big end of the original film. Then there are all the various poses with the drill between Russ's legs.

Yeah, we played with it even more, but some of the things that we lifted are inspired by the original film. There was this motion that Michael Villella did when he held the drill where he rotated the handle and rubbed up and down the drill.

"I mentioned that to Rob Van Vuuren who plays our Russ Thorn and I said, 'You've got to do that thing that Michael did where he's rubbing up and down on his drill.' Then we did it one scene where he just did it so much, I was like, 'Okay, no, too much, too much.' I have to see where we can take this and make it really funny, but it's a balance."

All you need to know is that watching Slumber Party Massacre tonight on Syfy at 9/8c will be nothing but a good time. There are thrills, chills, and kills, with a purposeful feminist touch.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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