Monday, June 2, 2014

Census Bloodbath: It's My Party And I'll Die If I Want To

Year: 1986
Director: William Fruet
Cast: Martin Hewitt, Ralph Seymour, Elaine Wilkes
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I gotta tell you, I love slasher movies as much as the next guy. As long as I'm sitting next to a mirror and the next guy is also me. What I'm saying is I freaking love slasher movies. I mean, I'm doing this project because I desperately needed a productive reason to watch 300 slasher movies in a row. 

But 1980 is killing me. I have five movies left to finish off the year and move on into the Golden Age in 1981, but it's getting harder and harder to motivate myself to watch another crappily shot, abhorrently tedious proto-slasher. Especially because the next film on my list, Christmas Evil, is one that I have previously seen and detest with every fiber of my being.

Don't get me wrong. I love terrible movies with all my heart. But the movies I've been exposing myself to lately have reached such a nuclear amplitude of suckage (only rarely straying into "so bad its good" territory) that it's hard to approach the next couple of films with a smile on my face.

That's why I needed a shot in the arm to rejuvenate me for the long haul. And 1986's Killer Party, directed by Funeral Home's William Fruet and written by Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter's Barney Cohen was the perfect film to turn my attitude around. 

You could say it really lit me up.

Not so much a film as a collection of detritus that was dislodged from the back teeth of the 80's, Killer Party begins with a cheesy movie-within-a-movie which quickly transitions to a music video-within-a-movie in which real hair metal band performs their real (terrible) song "April (You're No Fool)" as zombies attack a drive-in theater. 

This occupies the first ten minutes of the film and is pure, unabashed Filler with a capital F. And it is gloriously 80's. I mean, look.

The frame cuts off above her leg warmers and roller blades.

This tremendously bizarre sequence turns out to be but an appetizer before the main course. You see, the parts of Killer Party that aren't obvious filler or completely drowned in 80's fashion and synthpop are few and far between. In fact, they may all be on the cutting room floor.

In the grand tradition of many a slasher film, we soon find ourselves in the middle of pledge week for Sigma Alpha Phi at Brigg's College. Three best friends make up the entire pledge class, revealing either the sorority's terrible reputation or the movie's mediocre budget. But let us not concern ourselves with that, for the girls we get are handfuls enough.

There's Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes - in a very sad turn, her IMDb trivia reads "former actress"), the most enthusiastic member of the bunch; Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch, whose only other film role was in 1981's Final Exam), the nerdy blonde with a penchant for orchestrating cruel pranks; and Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), who is reluctant to endure the tortures of the wicked and glittery pledge mistress Veronica (Alicia Fleer), but whose firm resolve is melted once she meets the charming and handsome Blake (Martin Hewitt), a brother from Beta Tau.

Can you blame her?

For the ensuing 50 minutes, the film follows the pledge week shenanigans and romantic travails of these girls as well as the horny nerd Martin (Ralph Seymour, who we'll meet again soon in Just Before Dawn); Veronica's boyfriend and Beta Tau president Albert Harrison (Woody Brown), who is referred to by his first or last name depending on whatever mood the writer was in at the time, leading me to believe for the majority of the film that he was two different people; Big Bee-Boy (Howard Busgang, aka the chubby prankster from Terror Train), the... chubby prankster; his accomplice Little Bee-Boy (Jason Warren, who would later appear in the Canadian Dungeons and Dragons slasher Skullduggery); also there's Melanie (Terri Hawkes) and Sandy (Laura Sherman) two sorority sisters who are always mentioned in every other conversation despite having a collective 45 seconds of screentime, who I only mention here because not only was Terri Hawkes the mean girl in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, but she's freaking Sailor Moon. SAILOR MOON. This girl's a superstar.

The film pauses only briefly to remind people that this cheerful college romp has the word "Killer" in the title as the house mother Mrs. Henshaw (Pam Hyatt) and snooty professor Dr. Zito (Paul Bartel, who also appears in Chopping Mall and Trick or Treats - a Census Bloodbath hat trick!) - named after the director of the other big slasher by screenwriter Barney Cohen, don't think I let these things slip past me - wander into the abandoned frat house on Greek Row and meet their untimely deaths at the hands of a mysterious murderer.

Also holy crap do you see how much slasher royalty went into the making of this film? I mean, it sucks and all. But it sucks in that specifically 80's way that is so endearing. It warms my heart.

Among other things.

Nevermind that the first hour is occasionally dull, entirely bloodless, and totally unnecessary. It's so full to the brim with signifiers of the decade (including a deadpan synthcrap song that mindlessly repeats something about this being the best days of our lives for what feels like twenty minutes) that it is an ocular and aural experience not to be missed.

Towards the final half hour of the 90 minute film, it suddenly remembers that it's supposed to be a slasher movie and the girls and guys host a big April Fool's party in the abandoned building, the site of an accidental pledge murder twenty years before. The movie gets increasingly frantic to create a decent body count by the time the credits roll, to the point that the final twenty minutes are just a rapid-fire series of brief (and unfortunately bloodless) kill sequences in which they cut to a random person, have the murderer waddle in encased in a bronze deep sea diver outfit and nonchalantly slaughter them, then cut directly to the next, hastening to waste not a single moment of precious screentime.

The real fun begins when it turns out that SPOILERS Jennifer has been possessed by the spirit of the long-dead pledge boy and proceeds to do Exorcist style wall crawls while making everything in the house emit smoke and rattle around. It wouldn't be a post-Nightmare without an awkwardly shoved in paranormal element, now wouldn't it?

Not that I mind.

Now, let's make this super duper extra clear - Killer Party sucks. It's too demure and mangled by the MPAA to have fun gore moments, it's too careless to tell a legitimately intriguing narrative, and Joanna Johnson can't even muster a decent "shocked" face when the movie throws her into its boo-machine. I swear, she plays every scene like she just woke up from a nap.

But the combination of random hair metal, unpredictable sorority nonsense, and lackluster acting from an enormously appealing slate of attractive slasher alumni with the never-ending catalogue of cheesy outfits and scenarios, all wrapped up with a truly magnificent poster makes me feel right at home. And I really needed that.

Killer: Alan the Dead Pledge in the body of Jennifer (Joanna Johnson)
Final Girl: Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch), but not for long
Best Kill: A fat boy in a bumblebee costume is impaled with a harpoon through his... rectal region.
Sign of the Times: Literally every outfit, character, and song featured in the entire film.

Scariest Moment: The possessed Jennifer crawls up the wall, her tongue lolling.
Weirdest Moment: How do I even decide? It's a toss up between the full hair metal music video that opens the film and the part where Vivia is making out with Martin and she screams "OH! TOUCH ME, MARTIN!" while pointing at her elbow.
Champion Dialogue: "I gargle with musk."
Body Count: 10 people clearly die; my body count does not include a woman who dies in the film within the film or the rest of the partygoers whom Vivia claims have died, only four of which we see pointedly strewn about.
  1. Mrs. Henshaw is beaten to death with a paddle.
  2. Dr. Zito is electrocuted with a wire.
  3. Pam is impaled with a trident.
  4. Veronica is hit in the head with a hammer.
  5. Albert is guillotined.
  6. Virgil is dismembered and stuffed in a fridge.
  7. Fat Bumblebee gets a harpoon up his ass.
  8. Thin Bumblebee gets a harpoon through his mouth. Not the same harpoon, I hope.
  9. Blake is drowned in the tub.
  10. Jennifer/Alan is staked through the heart with a fencepost.
TL;DR: Killer Party sucks, but it's the kind of suck that makes me glad to be alive.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 1478

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