By Danny Reid
The horror genre has been the entryway for directors over the last few decades. Horror films have the ability to succeed even with no budget, cheap special effects, and a lack of star power as long as they have the ability to at least seem spooky. With just a short tap dance on an underexploited nerve of the public conscious and one good ad campaign, and you’ve got a phenomena —I mean, how else do you explain the likes of SAW?
This has resulted in an entire subgenre: the calling card movie, crafted by up and comers looking to break into the industry while demonstrating their own creativity. Hollywood’s been kind to the true craftsmen who’ve exploited that path, even if those directors go on to make overripe screeds like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL or three 10-hour-long HOBBIT movies.
But many people decide to hop into horror to make their mark, eager to hit the HALLOWEEN, BLAIR WITCH, or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY pay dirt. The problem always seems to come from the novice writers and directors getting to step one—make a horror movie—and then completely skimping on step two: make it unique. For every person who sits down and tries to create a horror movie that’s scary or, god help them, funny, another five would-be directors go, “Has there been one with a psychotic lumberjack set on Arbor Day yet?”
(The answer? No there hasn’t, and I have dibs on that idea, so back off.)
MURDER PARTY’s hook takes that idea and runs with it: “What can we do that hasn’t been done?” It’s a movie deeply obsessed with artists trying to find their own voices and the deep insecurities they have in regarding one another. As the body count increases, the film reveals how deep artists’ pathological hatred for one another can grow. It’s a movie about the creative itch, and the people who must scratch it with an axe.
The main character and all-around-loser of MURDER PARTY is Christopher, a male meter maid in New York. He is alone on Halloween. His cat, Sir Lancelot, won’t even heed his command to get off his recliner. His entire life is an empty pointless charade, and he’s an utterly safe person. When he decides to throw caution to the wind and attend a party whose random invitation he finds, he dresses up: a knight costume made from cardboard and a pair of khakis.
MURDER PARTY understands how Halloween has become a safe holiday — its opening is filled with children laughing and cookie-cutter Wal Mart decorations blowing in the breeze. Christopher rents a stack of horror movies (on VHS, naturally), but when he finally decides to do something daring with his night, he hits the subway and heads deeper into the jungles of New York City. Away from the brownstones and families, there is the murky miles of warehouses, slums, and debris.
Arriving, Christopher learns that he’s the guest of honor! It turns out that an artist’s collective has decided to celebrate Halloween by murdering a random person and using that as inspiration. A painter paints it, a photographer photographs it, a sculptor—okay, he mostly drinks. The artists themselves are a broad range of neurosis, from insecurity to obsession. For all the members of the collective, they’re suffering from a unifying lack of imagination, as their sexual and religious identities are worthless and success is their only goal.
They’re all slaving under the ringleader Alexander, a smug promoter who promises a big wad of grant money to whoever produces the most daring piece of art. While the others begin to get nervous at the idea of murdering a random person, Alexander reassures them: “Don’t think of this dildo as a victim. Think of him as a collaborator. It’s his privilege to be here.”
This column is among those featured in
BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of
horror essays written by contributors to
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
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“Now when I go to a good movie or a great exhibit, I hate it. I just want everything to be bad, because when something’s good, there’s no room for me. I used to love art but now I just hate it, I want it to suck.”
Things go south pretty quickly for the group, as poor life decisions lead to a number of them dying accidentally. As the corpses pile up, the film’s only competent artist finally snaps and begins to complete the objective of the murder party, with only Christopher and his meager set of wits left to survive.
He ends up in a room with a series of naked women painted in gold and a sign on the wall that simply reads “Art?”. Shortly thereafter it gets splattered in blood (a lot of people die at this murder party; in that way it is quite successful), giving the audience the film’s message on a platter. Are goofy horror movies filled with blood, guts, and bad jokes art?
Fuck yeah they are. Nice try, movie, you didn’t stump me there!
With CGI effects so cheap and YouTube such an easy way to demonstrate success, the calling card film is fading. The horror market has become so flooded with low-budget, low-quality entries that a director’s chance of breaking out have become negligible. It hasn’t helped that over the years the streaming video marketplace has come to resemble less a videostore with a vast selection and more a Walgreens $2 bin of unwatchable shit. Murder Party still stands out as a funny and weird outlier.
Is it pretentious? Yeah, probably, but it’s also fucking funny and starkly different. It’s proof that a person with an idea may not change the world, but can make a movie with ideas and a sense of humor.
DANNY REID lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934.