They’re a rite of passage for middle school kids and early teens – the sleepover. Yes, we all probably enjoyed sleepovers filled with popcorn and candy, pranks, and spooky stories along with a few scary movies. For many horror fans, sleepovers introduced them to their first scary movie. Surprisingly, only a few horror actually set their story right in the midst of a sleepover. Below are seven sleepover horror movies whose action completely unfolds during a sleepover or where a sleepover figures as a pivotal scene. We’re not including the entire Slumber Party Massacre series – one is more than enough. In addition, the list excludes obscure, ultra-low budget movies.
I Saw What You Did (1965)
Millennials and Zoomers won’t understand. But once upon a time prank phone calls was a tradition of sleepovers. In B-movie master William Castle’s 1965 thriller I Saw What You Did, two teen girls home alone pass the time by prank calling random numbers and say, “I saw what you did, I know who you are”. Unfortunately, one of the recipients just killed their wife. Over the course of his career, Castle made some classics. Sadly, I Saw What You Did isn’t one of them. It’s a flimsy premise that barely sustains its 72 minutes. Though legendary Joan Crawford gets credit, she’s just a supporting role in a what’s a nonsensical – and unnecessary – subplot. Ultimately, this is a minor Castle entry that would have barely sustained a Twilight Zone episode.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Nothing about The Slumber Party Massacre should work. It’s ultra low-budget and grimy. On the surface, it’s about as derivative of a slasher as you could find. Even by the standards of 1982. And apparently its story, penned by feminist Rita Mae Brown, was “misinterpreted” during filming. Regardless The Slumber Party Massacre works incredibly well as a barebones, brutal slasher with an intentional, or unintentional, sense of humor. Plenty of nudity, violence, and phallic symbols abound. But if you give it a chance you may actually find yourself caring about its young protagonists and feeling just a bit creeped out. And The Slumber Party Massacre gave us one of the most bizarre, disconnected horror sequels of all time.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What else can be said about Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that hasn’t already been said or written. It’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time. And it gave the genre one of its most iconic monsters. Despite not playing a significant role in the story or the movie’s mythos, there is indeed a pivotal sleepover scene. After all, it is Tina’s sleepover that gives horror fans their first proper introduction to Freddy Krueger. In addition to is now iconic death scene, this is also where Craven switches up on protagonists proving that he wasn’t out to make a formulaic horror movie.
The Gate (1987)
Not enough horror fans are familiar with this small 80s Canadian horror movie. Starring a young Stephen Dorff (Leatherface, Blade) in his first role, The Gate finds a teen girl babysitting her little brother and his friend at a sleepover. But when demons escape from a hole in the backyard, the trio must find a way to close the entrance to their world. Nothing about The Gate is genre-bending. But it’s a surprisingly fun, straightforward, and tightly paced approach. Even if the effects are dated, they never detract from the movie. And they’re still better than the early CGI effects you’ll find in late 90s, early 2000s horror movies. As a bonus, The Gate makes for excellent gateway horror for younger, prospective horror fans
The Ring (2002)
Okay, The Ring barely qualifies for this list. A rare remake that exceeds its source material and one of the best horror movies of the last 20 years, The Ring does introduce its premise at a sleepover. Before Naomi Watts starts her investigation into the cursed VHS tape, two teen girls do what you do at sleepovers – tell scary stories. Except their scary story is real … and it later produces one of horror’s better jump scares. Nothing else about Gore Verbinski’s remake remotely resembles a ‘sleepover’ horror movie. This is serious horror movie-making that remains every bit as scary and relevant today.
Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)
Though it has its fans, Urban Legend was a pretty middling neo-slasher effort. Outside of its premise and young marketable cast, Urban Legend was one of the weaker post-Scream slashers. Two straight-to-video sequels followed. And one of those sequels, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, pulled a Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 and went supernatural, completely deviating from its predecessors. This one has a classic sleepover set-up – teen girls at a sleep-over conjure a deadly spirit when they play a game of Bloody Mary. Oddly enough, Bloody Mary accomplishes two things. Its supernatural twist at least gives this sequel some reason to exist. While it’s certainly not good, it’s almost as blandly inoffensive and watchable as the original.
V/H/S 2 (2013)
This one’s also a bit of a cheat. The second installment in the horror anthology series, V/H/S 2 only has one story segment set at a sleepover. Moreover, Slumber Party Alien Abduction is arguably the weakest entry here in what’s still the best of the four V/H/S movies. As its title implies, Slumber Party Alien Abduction finds aliens rudely interrupting typical sleepover hijinks a la found footage. Despite it being the least interesting story in V/H/S 2, Hobo With a Shotgun director Jason Eisner still infuses the segment with enough shocks and bleakness to make it worthy of the anthology sequel.
Let’s Scare Julie (2020)
Arguably, Let’s Scare Julie is the most minor entry on this list. But it’s got everything you expect from a sleepover – giddy teens, local legends, and unwise dares. There’s a lot to admire and like about Let’s Scare Julie. Director Jud Cremata mostly, sort-of pulls off the technical feat of filming in one single take. Most importantly, the ‘single take’ isn’t just a gimmick – it’s integral to the story, creating a sense of urgency. And the performances feel natural, thus adding to the movie’s overall tone. But Let’s Scare Julie takes too long (even for an 83 minute movie) to get to where it’s going and then fails to deliver. Too much clutter in the story dilutes this sleepover prank and saps the potency out of is eventual race to the climax.