Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Film Appreciation - Cause of Death: Art

Cody Hamman celebrates Halloween early with some Film Appreciation for Jeremy Saulnier's 2007 feature debut Murder Party.

When I was a teenager, I very badly wanted to be making movies with my friends on a regular basis, to live out a scenario similar to Sam Raimi's school years, when he shot a ton of movies with his pals, people who were also interested in making movies and several of whom are still involved in the entertainment industry to this day. It didn't work out for me. I tried to make movies with friends and family members on a few different occasions and those attempts were mostly disasters, due to lack of interest on their part and lack of organization on my part. Jeremy Saulnier, on the other hand, he lived the dream. He started making movies with his friends when he was a young kid, forming a group called The Lab of Madness, and when the age of 30 was drawing near these friends made a feature that got distribution and officially started Saulnier's directorial career.

That feature was Murder Party, which can sort of be described as being a Halloween horror twist on Reservoir Dogs - or, as Saulnier puts it, "The Breakfast Club with chainsaws and hard drugs". The majority of the film takes place within the confines of one warehouse location and centers on a group of people who die in bloody and frequently hilarious ways over the course of Halloween night.


Chris Sharp stars as Christopher S. Hawley, a lonely, awkward, anxiety-ridden guy who is planning to spend Halloween watching movies and eating candy corn at home with his obstinate cat, but his plans change when he finds an invitation to something called a "murder party" blowing through the streets. He fashions a homemade knight costume out of cardboard boxes and goes to attend this mysterious party, which happens to be inside a remote warehouse.

Once in the building, Christopher finds that the invitation was a trap. This is literally a "murder" party, and the unlucky sap who shows up at the warehouse - turns out it's Christopher - is the person who is going to be murdered by a group of art school students: Macon (Macon Blair), Lexi (Stacy Rock), Sky (Skei Saulnier), Paul (Paul Goldblatt), and Bill (William Lacey). As you can tell from the shared names of characters and actors, most of this cast were people the director grew up with.

The group is doing this in an effort to impress an insufferably pompous peer named Alexander (Sandy Barnett), who has brought his dog Hellhammer and his gun-wielding drug dealer Zycho (Bill Tangradi) to the party. For some reason, they believe that Alexander is actually a big deal and hang on his every word, hoping he'll award one of them $300,000 in grant money.

Since this is Halloween, we get the added bonus of almost all of the characters wearing costumes. At least Christopher wasn't the only to arrive dressed up. There are a couple vampires, a wolf man, a zombie cheerleader, and my favorites - Lexi is made up like Pris from Blade Runner, and Bill looks like a member of the Baseball Furies gang from The Warriors.

Alexander thinks Christopher should be killed "at the witching hour", so they tie the cardboard knight to a chair and fill their time doing drugs, dancing, discussing art in conversations that satirize the attitudes of pretentious artists, and playing "extreme truth or dare" with a truth serum. Luckily for Christopher, it's the people around him who start dying off, their deaths and injuries caused by various accidents, acts of stupidity, flaring tempers, and a couple members who are truly cracked.

After I saw this movie, I began hoping that Jeremy Saulnier was a director who was going to rise in the ranks of the entertainment industry. It took longer than expected (six years) for his second feature to come along, since he spent some time working in the camera department and serving as a cinematographer instead of directing, but he has been directing regularly lately, getting some high profile jobs. I've been glad to follow his work.

Saulnier has gone on to make Blue Ruin, Green Room, Hold the Dark, and recently directed the first two episodes of True Detective season 3. Any time I see people praising his more recent work, I always try to encourage them to go back and check out Murder Party, too.

Murder Party is a whole lot of fun, and it's one of the movies I would most highly recommend to any fan of horror or dark comedies who hasn't seen it yet. I recently promoted it on Arrow in the Head as a movie that's worth watching every Halloween season. The script is very clever and the actors are all great in their roles, resulting in an amusing film that mixes its laughs with some chainsaw action, people getting hacked up with an axe, and blood-spewing head wounds. What's not to love?

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