Then Playing — The Slumber Party Massacre; The Fog; Barbarian

The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Holden Jones, 1982). Released in the heady days after John Carpenter’s Halloween made studios decide that the surest bet for quick cash was conveyor-belting out films featuring weapon-wielding maniac picking off teens one by one, The Slumber Party Massacre puts its fundamental plot right there in the title. Trish (Michelle Michaels) is a cool girl who takes the opportunity afforded by vacationing parents to have a few gal pals over for illicit drinking and some nighty cavorting. Unfortunately for them, the get-together coincides with a mass murderer’s escape from prison to revive his old habits. Written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, the film for a time seems like it had little aspiration beyond proving that women filmmakers can deliver gratuitous nudity and gory mayhem just as well as the gents. Slowly but surely, though, sly feminist japery sneaks in, exemplified by the phallic nature of the villain’s implement for killing and the symbolic castration that finally occurs. The Slumber Party Massacre has plenty of problems shared by its kindred cinematic efforts, including characterizations as thin as piano wire, but it’s also got just enough devious play in its heart to be interesting.

The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980). Director John Carpenter’s bigscreen follow-up to the smash hit game-changer Halloween mostly goes for creepiness over shocks. As a Northern California coastal town celebrates its centennial, some long-promised ghostly vengeance is set into motion with enveloping fog as a harbinger of the deadly doings. Relying on atmospherics (in every sense of the word) causes Carpenter to get lost in his own accumulated lore and ponderous fretting. The Fog lacks the visceral punch of its immediate predecessor and other early Carpenter triumphs Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing. It’s a mood piece where the mood that prevail is boredom. Hal Holbrook gives it his all as a local priest whose family history is entangled in the burdened burg’s sordid past.

Barbarian (Zach Cregger, 2022). Tess (Georgina Campbell) shows up late one rainy night to her Detroit Airbnb rental and discovers that the lockbox that should have a door key is instead empty. Moments later, she discovers its absence is because it was already retrieved and used by Keith (Bill Skarsgård), who booked the same dwelling at the same time through a different service. Unable to find other overnight lodgings because of a medical conference in the city, Tess reluctantly accepts Keith’s offer to share the space. Written and directed by Zach Cregger, Barbarian is downright masterful in its slow-burn suspense. The film shrewdly uses the familiar storytelling beats of the horror genre to play to expectations just long enough so that it can gleefully upend them, grounding all of it in the thesis that women have to live in an exhausting state of constant vigilance. Cregger’s visuals are consistently interesting and smartly committed to helping the viewer thoroughly understand the space where most of the action takes place. There’s dandy acting from every member of the cast, including Justin Long in a splendidly against-type turn.

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