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Slumber Party Massacre director Danishka Esterhazy on flipping the male gaze on its head in SYFY's new slasher
SYFY’s new original film Slumber Party Massacre from executive producer and director Danishka Esterhazy might sound familiar to longtime horror fans. A group of teenagers journey to a remote cabin in the woods where they are confronted by a deranged killer and picked off one by one in increasingly bloody and oft-gloriously nonsensical ways. It’s a common enough theme in horror films — and SYFY’s newest film is actually part of a series.
The Slumber Party Massacre from director Amy Holden Jones first premiered in 1982 as a pretty straightforward slasher. This latest entry in the series — about a slumber party that turns into a bloodbath as a serial killer wielding a power drill disrupts the fun — is anything but.
**This story contains spoilers for Slumber Party Massacre.**
“The only slasher series directed by women: That’s an amazing legacy to be a part of and something I wanted to both celebrate but also dissect,” Esterhazy told us ahead of the film’s premiere on Sat., Oct. 16. “Because as much as the films were really groundbreaking in their own time, they were also a product of their own time, and faced limitations that women storytellers had in that time.”
To prepare herself to direct Suzanne Keilly’s script, Esterhazy went back and watched countless interviews with Jones to try and understand her headspace at the time, become more familiar with her style, and “understand what limitations she faced.”
Esterhazy worked to pay homage to Jones’ camerawork and iconic shots. “Then I also tried to move past the limitations she was given in terms of the male gaze and the exploitation of her young, female cast,” she explains.
This latest Slumber Party Massacre entry starts out with audiences thinking the vapid girls who’ve landed themselves in a heap of trouble are just in it for the fun, then shifts the tone entirely as they pull out the weapons they brought with them in order to kill the killer. That twist isn’t even getting into the narrative bait-and-switch along the way, with the male characters being deemed the scream queens with no shirts on rather than the women. This is a direct nod to Jones’ frustration in the original film when she was told, Esterhazy half-jokes, that she was meant to have a certain number of breasts on display.
“She accepted that restriction and she delivered it and she did what she could on the movie,” she explains. “She also had some anger that people would judge her and criticize her for delivering that female nudity when it was the only way she was able to get her foot in the door as a director. She said that a lot of male directors in that period did similar exploitation films and no one’s ever criticized them for it; it’s just a stepping stone in their career.”
“In some ways, I feel so grateful that I don’t face those same challenges,” Esterhazy continues. “I’ve faced lots of challenges as a woman director but I don’t have to deliver the male gaze."
Be on the lookout for more of our interview with Danishka Esterhazy on SYFY.com.