Saturday, October 31, 2015

Census Bloodbath: Jennifer's body


It's October again!  And that means it's time for Kinemalogue's annual crossover with Brennan Klein's Popcorn Culture, which is still just about the best blog you could ever read, while Brennan has in the intervening year gone from "horror media expert" to "horror media professional."  So, just like last year, from now till Halloween, I'll be pretending to know what Brennan knows and reviewing some rad 80s slashers, while Brennan will review some swell 50s science fiction!  Let the mayhem begin!

Directed by William Fruet
Written by Barney Cohen
With Joanna Johnson (Jennifer), Sherry Willis-Burch (Vivia), Elaine Wilkes (Phoebe), and Paul Bartel (Prof. Archibald Zito)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Killer Party is goofy, there's no two ways about that, but the question remains: is it goofy enough?  It tries to answer that question with a big "yes" with its enthusiastically ridiculous opening gambit, a frankly wonderful nested movie-within-a-movie gag, starting in a funeral home but somehow ending with a passionately mediocre hair metal band singing about April Fool's while zombies stalk the streets.

It gives the film such a jolt of borderline-incoherent energy right out of the gate that it's a little while before you realize that, first, the opening has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the film, so any Brian De Palma comparisons are out; and second, Killer Party's dual-wielded non sequitur of a prologue is also the best and most enjoyable part of the whole hour and a half that lay before you.

Let's get some perspective here: Killer Party has the distinct misfortune of being easily and directly compared to another 1986 mash-up of revenant horror and collegiate comedy.  Obviously, I refer to Fred Dekker's The Night of the Creeps, once almost forgotten, now reclaimed as the cult classic it was always destined to be.  Creeps is the kind of horror-comedy that actually manages to be both horrific and comedic—hell, sometimes it's even sweet—but above all, every single frame of it is pitched in the variation upon Joe Dante's own heartfelt register which Dekker did so incredibly well—and which director William Fruet and his screenwriter Barney Cohen can but merely approach, with a confused look on their faces and a rather nervous shake in their hands.  Thus, in the end—despite a concluding set-piece that finally ups the ante a little bit—the answer to the crucial question, "Is Killer Party goofy enough?", must be "Nope, and it's not even really that close."

After that opening, in fact, Killer Party settles down almost completely into a very rote college comedy, occasionally interspersed with sub-Halloween-style POV shots and very occasionally livened up with a kill or two before the mostly-desultory finale.  (Nonetheless, if there's one thing that thankfully doesn't end the moment that the opening credits are gone, it's that Killer Party is surprisingly handsome for such an apparently tossed-off thing.)

Hey, there's a reason that John Lindley had a legitimate career as an A-list cinematographer.  Bottom of the A-list, maybe, but still.  (Actually, now that I think about it, Killer Party's faux 80s music video, held in a stridently yellow-and-red theater concession stand, might in fact be his very best work.)

While the apparent theme of Brennan's slasher movie assignments this year has been undergraduate education in general and Greek societies in specific, Killer Party is the first where either one becomes the unavoidable focus of the film.  Terror Train, of course, was happy to use its fraternity as a convenient collection of revenge-ready meat, and while it did indeed have an angle upon this aspect of college, it was only that it thought that all Greeks deserved to die.  Meanwhile, The House on Sorority Row probably couldn't be set anywhere else but a college, and yet I think we can all agree that it only cared about its titular house to the very minimal extent that attractive young women live in sororities, and that there could plausibly be a pool out back where they could dump a body if they had to.

But then Killer Party comes along, ready to really grind right into the life of a scholar.  And that's how the film comes to happily spin the living fuck out of all four wheels for about a solid hour, whilst our heroines—Jennifer, Vivia, and Phoebe—caper and scheme their way into the prestigious sisterhood of Sigma Alpha Pi.

"I can smell the clout!" says Phoebe, inspiring Thomas Harris to write Silence of the Lambs.

This is therefore the film's first and longest phase: the kind of 80s comedy that's extraordinarily zany without ever really being funny, and on the off chance it tries, its sense of humor is pretty decidedly retrograde.  For example, the first joke of the narrative proper is a comparatively minor but nonetheless massively-coordinated sexual assault, couched as a fraternity prank.  (Plus ca change, huh?  But not even Johnny Slasherfan could be satisfied, insofar as this is the last bit of nudity in the whole movie.)

Next enters our principal delivery device for comic relief, Martin.  He's a nerdy fellow whose sleaze levels at least don't enter into felonious territory, but he's not particularly amusing either, hitting the notes in the script with the broadest and most obvious performance that Ralph Seymour can conjure up, which I'm sure played a lot better when he featured in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but I can't honestly say I remember him from that, either.  (The only fellow in the entire movie who can ever truly be counted on to be funny enough to even trip the meter is Professor Zito; but as Professor Z is portrayed by B-movie professional Paul Bartel, there was never any excuse for him not to be.)

And so we continue onward, in the vein of a horror-tinged Revenge of the Nerds without quite as much rape, and with female characters that have some manner of agency, if only one of them has a legitimate personality.

Naturally, I mean Vivia, who's pretty great, and so very crafty, too.  (With her glasses and conservative pulled-back hair, it's a pleasant change of pace that this extremely attractive woman is only implied to be ugly, rather than actually stated to be.)

Our three would-be pledges get into the Sigma sorority, thanks principally to Vivia, who stages a trick on the sisters that turns the table on their cruel hazing by convincing them that the abandoned frat house in which they're staging their initiation ritual is haunted.  The Sigmas need someone with her high-caliber pranking skills if they want to get one over on the fraternity bros of Beta Tau.  (So obviously, she simply repeats the previous sting, because repetition is a good thing for film narratives.)  But, of course, by the end of the movie, it won't seem quite so unlikely that some evil soul really does await them in the house.

The bit of the plot I skipped, you see, is that twenty years ago, a young brother named Allan died in an accident (which I believe we ought to read as "hazing-related manslaughter"), and for some reason his body was buried out back.  The building's been empty since then, but soon—on April Fool's Day, no less—the Sigmas intend to throw a masquerade bash in the creepy old house.  This is a good time to mention that the timeline of Killer Party is insane: the girls pledge a sorority sometime around freaking Halloween according to dialogue, when such things are traditionally done in September, whereas the film evidently takes place over the course of a whole academic year, despite every impression given by the film that it takes place over, at most, a week.

Anyway, somewhere in time in space, the bash is finally thrown, and the Betas are cordially invited to their party.  (Martin, who is in no sense frat material, is sneaked-in by Vivia—for some reason, she permits this guy to touch her.)  Things happen, approximately zero of which have any consequence, until people finally start dying in droves.  They don't generally die on camera, mind you, and so, not twenty-four hours later, we have a slasher even more bloodless than The House on Sorority Row.  (That said, I think there's some argument to be made that the kills we do see are, in general, better-staged.)

Of course, Killer Party kind of isn't a slasher film in the first place.  Nope, it's a haunting film—there is no Dumbassed Twist to deliver Allan's mother (or whoever) to the door of this frat house, filled with vengeance over the desecration of the dead pledge's grave.  It is Allan himself, or his restless spirit anyway—albeit using Jennifer's corporeal form as his vessel.  That's right, Killer Party goes straight for outright demonic possession, and the most interesting thing that Allan can think of, having regained physical existence in the body of a beautiful young blonde woman, is to murder people while wearing an old-timey diving suit.

So, for the last half-hour, Killer Party contents itself with feebly knocking off Carrie, with a bit of semi-decent telekinesis, somewhat less feebly knocking off The Exorcist, with a lot of reverb in Jennifer's voice, and, most importantly, so feebly knocking off Evil Dead that it took me a minute to actually realize that it was being feebly knocked-off.  I mean, consider it.  Evil Dead:  Britain's Video Nasty list.  Killer Party: could easily be shown on TV with only minor blurring to breasts and butts.  I'll give KP this, though: Joanna Johnson is extremely game in her role as a store-brand Deadite, snarling and drooling and carrying on like this was actually a real movie or something.

Nevertheless, while it always remains half-hearted, Killer Party at last finds a gear other than "neutral" for the showdown between the possessed Jennifer and her two friends.  Here, the film, like its killer ghost, finally returns to a semblance of life.  It's only too bad they didn't have the budget—or, rather, the imagination—to have made a whole movie that more closely resembled either the beginning or the end of this one.

Killer: The ghost of Allan, possessing the bodies of the living, principally Jennifer
Final Girl:  Vivia
Best Kill:  Perhaps it's fitting that the best kill in Killer Party is the fake beheading from Vivia's guillotine prank.
Sign of the Times:  Like, all of it.  If I have to choose one, then it's probably the idea that opening your movie with an unrelated hair metal video would be well-received.
Scariest Moment:  Jennifer, possessed by Allan, climbing on the ceiling.  It's never been the most expensive effect in the world, but it's a good one.
Weirdest Moment: The Sigmas have a sorority hazing ritual that involves cracking eggs about five feet over the pledges' heads, encouraging them to catch the yolks, collecting as many yolks as possible in their mouth, and then spitting the yolks out into a glass.  Oh, sorry—much like last year, I once again misread this category as "the moment I almost took off my pants."
Champion Dialogue: "April fool, assholes!"
Body Count: It gets a little blink-and-miss-it toward the end, but let's say, oh, 12
1. Mrs. Henshaw the house mother, bludgeoned with a bat
2. Professor Zito, electrocuted
3. Veronica, or in any event the Sigma sister with the most lines, impaled with a trident
4. Fat man dressed as a bumblee, impaled through the anus, or something
5. Skinny man dressed as a bumblebee, and likewise (?)
6. The handsome blond Beta whose name I didn't catch, beheaded by guillotine, more-or-less onscreen, but not shown
7. Blake, drowned offscreen
8. Unidentified Sigma, throat slit offscreen
9. Unidentified Beta, strung up offscreen
10. Jennifer, possessed by Albert's ghost, later impaled.
11. Phoebe, possessed by Albert's ghost, which from the evidence of the film amounts to a death sentence
12. Vivia, people's elbowed by a demon from the roof of the house! unfortunately not, but she is almost certainly killed during her ambulance ride with Phoebe, during the credits
TL;DR: While never exactly dishwater dull, Killer Party is at best a perfunctory college comedy, and it's even less worth your time as a horror movie, too.
Score: 4/10

That's almost it, kids!  Happy Halloween from here in Pago Pago!  But wait, isn't there more from the night that HE came home?  We'll welcome you back on the early morning of November 1st, because truly, that is the scariest day of the year.

The old switcheroo!
Brennan's Cardboard Science:
Invaders From Mars
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Giant Claw
The Brain From Planet Arous

My Census Bloodbath:
My Bloody Valentine
The Burning
Terror Train
The House on Sorority Row
Killer Party 


  1. I do have a soft spot for Killer Party. You know, like that dangerous portion of a baby's skull. Only its beginning and middle are truly aberrants and fascinating, but I have a steel stomach when it comes to college comedies (and I truly didn't realize that all the films I chose had that theme, but they tend to be my favorite slashers too).

    I just adore how the film completely forgets to be a slasher for about an hour and does some house cleaning real swift-like at the very end. There's not even a shred of plot in the final twenty minutes, just the deep sea diver waddling into room after room of unsuspecting teens. It's a deranged curio, that's for sure. Thanks for being a good sport with this one!

    1. Now, I liked the 80s sex farce elements of The Burning (not to even mention Night of the Creeps). But one of those movies had Fred Dekker writing it, the other had Jason Alexander in a featured role, and this one has... well, the guy who played Frankenstein's doctor in Death Race 2000, which is something, but not that much. (Also, just wait till I get to Christine in the JC retrospective.)

      But yeah, it's like if we spent an hour with Ash and his girlfriend in that cabin.

    2. Hey, one of the useless girls (who doesn't actually die) is played by the chick who plays Sailor Moon! That's real celebrity right there.

      It's actually astonishing how many voice actors started off in slasher films. Also, did you notice that the larger Bee Boy was played by Howard Busgang, AKA the prankster who is killed first in Terror Train? The more you know.

    3. Ed? That guy seemed shorter, at the very least. Weird.

      Anyway, it was a lot of fun, just like last year. (Any excuse to watch Terror Train is a good one, and after having seen it a couple times now, I really want to get ahold of that Scream Factory blu-ray. I mean, it's a movie that already looks pretty gorgeous on YouTube, y'know?) I'll look forward to It Came From Beneath the Sea when your schedule permits! I think you might like that one the best.

    4. I'm excited for it, too! It should be this week, not freaking December like Them! I AM actually trying to be on schedule this year.