We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
Cody and Priscilla are late to the April Fools Day party.
KILLER PARTY (1986)
There are many horror films based around holidays and other notable days. Friday the 13th; Halloween; Black Christmas; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Mother's Day; Bloody Birthday, etc. When thinking of days to set a horror story on, April Fool's Day would seem like an obvious one, especially since so many terror tales start off with some kind of prank gone wrong. But an April Fool's Day slasher didn't happen until after all those other movies mentioned above. There wasn't one released until 1986, at which time the '80s slasher boom was dying down. Almost as if filmmakers were trying to make up for April Fool's Day having been overlooked for so long, '86 was a year of April Fools overload. Not only did that year see the release of the classic that is titled April Fool's Day, but also two other slashers set on April 1st. One was called Slaughter High, and the other, probably the least seen of the trio, is director William Fruet's Killer Party.
I had encountered Killer Party at least once before, but hadn't really watched it with full attention until Priscilla gave me a copy as a birthday/Christmas present one year. Thank you, Pri!
Finding a horror movie Cody hasn't seen is almost impossible, which made me happy to be able to gift him an '80s slasher he wasn't familiar with. So, you're welcome, Cody!
The first pranks in Killer Party are pulled on the audience. The film begins at a funeral that is played for comedy, mainly delivered through an effeminate priest who references The Wizard of Oz. When the mourners have dispersed, the dead woman's daughter returns to the coffin to say some hateful things... Words that are cut off when the coffin lid opens and the corpse pulls her daughter into the coffin with her.
As the daughter screams and struggles inside, an inattentive funeral home worker slides the coffin into the crematorium.
I'm not sure, but I suspect the clueless guy who does this while wearing headphones is screenwriter Barney Cohen (who also wrote Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) making a cameo.
As flames engulf the coffin, we hear a girl's voice say "This movie's gonna be weird!" The funeral scene was just a scene in a movie being watched at a drive-in by a teenage girl named April, whose boyfriend is being too touchy-feely for her liking. She exits his car to go get popcorn, and although the place appears to be well attended she finds that the concession area is deserted. The perfect opportunity to steal a snack.
Wait! Turns out April is kind of a fool. She has the whole concession area to herself and all she gets is popcorn? I'll take some burgers, fries and onion rings, please.
By the time April returns to her boyfriend's car, he and everyone else at the drive-in except her has become drooling, ravenous zombies. As she is attacked, the rock band White Sister appears in the concession area, playing their song "April, You're No Fool". For the next few minutes, Killer Party is a music video.
This is my favorite part of the film. More movies need sneak attack music video scenes, and the fact that this is a silly '80s rock song makes it all the better.
I couldn't agree more, it's my favorite part as well. Not only this part but the whole running time so far. I badly want to watch those 2 movies. The funeral home one, and April's.
When I first watched Killer Party, I thought White Sister was a band created just for this film. I mean, the guys don't look cool, their name is a ridiculous mixture of Whitesnake and Twisted Sister, it had to be a joke. But they were actually a real group that existed throughout the '80s and also had songs on the soundtracks of Fright Night, Thrashin', and Halloween 5.
Zombies chase April around the drive-in, the song plays in its entirety, and then we find that this was a music video being watched on television by college student Phoebe. The story of the film actually begins 9 minutes into the running time, centering on a trio of inseparable friends attending college together; Phoebe, Jennifer, and Vivia.
I find it really interesting that they play the whole song, I didn't expect that to happen. The movie has some surprising moments, some good, most not so good.
Unlike the majority of slashers, Killer Party takes place over an extended period of time, and not just a few days. The story follows these girls, who are trying to get into the Sigma Alpha Pi sorority, over several months. When we first catch up with them, it's not close to April 1st at all. It's fall, closer to Halloween.
This is another unexpected element, but this one can get a bit confusing if you're watching the movie for the first or even second time.
Phoebe is the most determined that they need to be sorority girls. Vivia is sort of a nerdy tag-along. As the film goes on, it's Jennifer who the film seems to be setting up as the heroine. She's the most reluctant about the sorority idea, and she has a very uneasy feeling about the abandoned, off-limits frat house the Sigma Alpha Pi girls have plans to use.
That frat house has been empty ever since a frat brother named Allan died there in a tragic accident on April 1st, 1964. Jennifer even goes so far as to do research on the place, digging up stories about strange phenomena occurring there since Allan's death. Testimony that Allan had been into the occult and stirred up something supernatural within the house. Reports of people entering the house and never coming out.
Sigma Alpha Pi house mother Mrs. Henshaw had some kind of connection to Allan, as we see when she visits his memorial in the house's yard.
I'm not sure if it's just a monument in his memory, or if he's actually buried there. I can't imagine someone would be buried on campus, but this is a crazy movie...
Very crazy. It's probably best not to try and make too much sense of it.
When she enters the house to check the place out, a stalker P.O.V. makes her the film's first official murder victim, beating her to death with a wooden board.
Before being killed off Mrs. Henshaw showed us she was waterproof. In a prank involving a jacuzzi, where everyone should have gotten completely soaked, she remained perfectly dry. Magic!
We don't see much of Henshaw's murder, which is fine in this instance but it's still the first indication of my biggest issue with Killer Party. Its kills are quick, bloodless, and often off screen. It's the sort of slasher that needs some gore, but it shies away from that. The death scenes aren't satisfying.
Jokes and pranks abound on the campus, with Jennifer bearing the brunt of most of them. The sorority gives its pledge a phrase she has to answer any question with: "I myself prefer a big fat cucumber." This causes a very embarrassing moment for Jennifer in the classroom of Professor Zito, a character named in honor of Joseph Zito, the director of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and played by the great Paul Bartel.
The girls are also sent on a mission to steal three T-shirts from the Beta Tau fraternity so they can wear them during their initiation. Referred to as "Billions and Trillions", the frat has a habit of picking on Sigma Alpha Pi, as shown early on in the film when the guys set loose a bunch of bees on the sorority house.
Over the course of this day, Jennifer finds herself the object of desire for two different guys, the first of whom is Beta Tau brother Blake, who is dressed in his Halloween sea monster costume when he catches her in his frat house. By the time the girls leave with the shirts, Blake and Jennifer have had an impromptu makeout session.
Wow, that was fast.
The guy playing Blake sure looks familiar, doesn't he?
It's David from Endless Love! Though in this movie the character he plays is not as lovely.
The other guy who's into Jennifer is Martin (Ralph Seymour), who stalks her around campus before building up the courage to visit her in her room and ask her out. After being quickly rejected by her, Martin sets his sights on Vivia, who is much more receptive.
Martin moves on rather quickly.
Night falls and the Sigma Alpha Pi initiation commences in the abandoned frat house. As Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia, wearing the Beta Tau shirts they stole, endure such trials as eating "goat eyes" and having eggs cracked into their mouths, there is a point where Jennifer appears to get kind of woozy. Her eyes look strange, she bares her teeth. Then, she's back to normal.
The part with the eggs is extremely gross, and it feels off, even though it's kind of a prank. Doesn't go with what we've seen of the movie so far.
A noise in the basement scares the girls, but this being a horror movie they go down there to investigate anyway. As it turns out, this is a set-up for a prank that Vivia pulls on the sorority sisters - sort of a recreation of the 1964 guillotine accident, and Vivia even has her own fake head to pull it off.
The next day begins much like the previous day, but instead of the girls biking to campus while "Best Times" plays on the soundtrack they're driven there by Martin while "Best Times" plays again.
Ah... here it is. Something else that feels completely off. The feminine hygiene products commercial song! And it's catchy, too. It'll stay in your head for days.
The girls are officially welcomed into the sorority, although Vivia is notified she only got in so she can pull that guillotine prank again... this time to freak out Beta Tau at the following spring's April Fool's party that will be held in the old frat house.
Poor Vivia. The guillotine prank was great though.
Jump ahead to the following spring. During a March 15th faculty meeting, it's revealed that the school still has possession of the guillotine that killed Allan. Or atleast they did have it for over twenty years. Now it's missing. The meeting is then disrupted by a projection of the bee prank Beta Tau pulled on scantily clad Sigma Alpha Pi girls.
With April 1st approaching, Sigma Alpha Pi girls and Beta Tau guys start getting the old frat house ready for the party. While in the house, Jennifer is again scared by Blake in his sea creature outfit, and after a spooky journey through the basement - where Jennifer hears someone whispering her name, and it isn't Blake - the pair leave the house with plans to attend the party together.
That night, Professor Zito enters the house and becomes the killer's second victim.
I'd say that Zito's death is the best kill in the film, even though it's a silly electrocution, because it's the only one we really get to see.
58 minutes into the 92 minute film, we have finally reached April 1st and the April Fool's party is in full swing, everyone attending wearing some kind of costume.
Feels and looks more like a Halloween party to me.
At first, the scenes at the party are all about relationships. It looks like Phoebe will be hooking up with a frat boy named Harrison, which does not make the head of the sorority happy. Despite being with Vivia, Martin is creeping on nearly every girl there, including Jennifer. Jennifer and Blake sneak off to have sex by candlelight.
The setting of their sex scene isn't worlds apart from that "sex by the fireplace" scene in Endless Love. Filmmakers liked to have Martin Hewitt romance his leading ladies by fire.
Thankfully no mothers creeping here this time.
Then it's time for the pranks. The guests are tricked into believing that the party is under siege by an angry spirit that grabs Jennifer and drags her into the basement. Blake and Harrison argue over whether or not they should go into the basement to help her, with Blake wanting to ditch her to fend for herself, and the argument turns into a deadly fight... Or so it appears.
In the midst of these shenanigans, the spirit of Allan actually does reach out to Jennifer and has a very obvious, strange effect on her. Her eye color changes, her face contorts.
The faces she makes are so goofy, they're one of the highlights of the film for me.
I don't know how she makes those faces! And they actually work.
And then the slashing begins, as a killer dressed in an antique diving suit stalks through the party, knocking people off one-by-one.
The diving suit is cool and definitely works for a slasher, but it should have been used in a different movie, one where it would have had some kind of relevance. Here, it's completely random.
A lot of things in the movie feel random, and that's my biggest issue with it. It feels like not much effort was put into making it coherent.
Several people are killed within just a few minutes, but it feels to me like the deaths barely even count, they're cut so quickly. One important kill even happens entirely off screen.
As the bodies pile up, Fruet and Cohen reveal they have pulled another trick on the audience. The character the movie has been most closely following was not the heroine after all. In the climax, it is revealed that heroine duties are really split between Phoebe and Vivia, and it's up to them to take on the rampaging spirit of Allan, as Jennifer is indisposed.
Killer Party is a really weird movie, with a very unusual structure and pace, especially for a slasher movie. There's so much random stuff going on that it's tough to keep track of the actual story. The pranks and lack of dedication to a specific lead character makes it even tougher to follow along. Until breaking the movie down for this write-up, I hadn't even realized that it occurred over such a long span of time.
It really isn't clear at all that the movie covers a long period of time. It can get confusing even if it's not your first time watching it and even if you're paying a lot of attention. The movie feels like it was slapped together without much or any care, especially as far as keeping the audience in the loop. It's hard to keep track and make sense of what's going on, and the lack of gore combined with the fact that the kills aren't very interesting doesn't help.
With Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Barney Cohen wrote one of the best films in that franchise. It had the perfect structure and great characters. None of that made it over to Killer Party. How did this turn out be so off-the-wall?
I wonder if it was intentional, though not even that is very clear. I think he somehow expected it to be different? I really don't know. It's very weird.
It's tempting to accuse the film of bad storytelling, it's so scattered. For example, they build up the guillotine throughout the film as if it's something of great importance. Allan died in the guillotine. They plan for Vivia to do the guillotine trick a second time. The faculty discussed the fact that the guillotine was missing. Does the guillotine play a prominent role in the finale? No, it's just used for a kill. No big deal. So why talk about it for the whole movie? That's sloppy.
It feels like they had bigger plans for the movie, but for whatever reason they fell flat and never really achieved what they were hoping for. The movie isn't awful, acting is even alright for the most part, but it's just so all over the place, it's hard to develop strong positive feelings for it.
For all its issues, though, I would still say that Killer Party is worth checking it out. It's not particularly well made, it's not satisfying as a slasher, but it has an oddball charm. Give it a viewing, study this curiosity, and see if you can figure out what Fruet and Cohen were going for here.
I tend to give it a watch every now and then, mostly for the first 9 minutes, which are really cool. And I'm able to appreciate it for what it is; an odd slasher in desperate need of gore and better pace and structure, but that still manages to be fun in its own unusual way. Sure, it could've been so much better, but still... its uniqueness alone makes it worth giving it a watch.