"Murder Party"

by Sean McTiernan

And now: the final installment in our quirky and bizarre month-long review of the horrorful.

Horror movies are great at illustrating just how awful most human beings are. And not the killers, I mean the victims: whether they be valuing self-preservation over everything (and everyone) else, ignoring the obvious presence of a supernatural menace or marching bravely and directly at seven-foot-tall men with giant machetes. And if you take the daft lack of self-awareness inherent in horror characters (barring our Mike), mix it with the cringe-inducing lack of self-awareness of John Hughes characters and add a huge amount of pretense, what do you have? Art school students.

Murder Party shows art students at their very worst, if such a thing is even possible to capture. Every pompous conversation preys on petty competitiveness and jealously. Bloody as things get, they won’t make you flinch half as much as some of the characters’ vain attempts to curry favor. It’s brutally funny to the point of bitterness and after a month of attempting to give murder and mayhem a deeper meaning, it’s only fitting to end with a movie that mocks that very impulse.

Ostensibly the group in Murder Party have gathered to make some sort of artistic statement. The idea is simple: print one invitation for a Murder Party, release it into the wild and if anyone actually shows up, you can kill them. Each of them has their own ideas about how the death should happen. These range from the ridiculously excessive (“let’s cut his dick off and set him on fire”) to the ridiculously ridiculous (“maybe something more progressive… let’s staple a pancake to his face and push him in front of the G train”). All of this is for the benefit of Alexander, an art patron who recently arrived on the scene, who is impressively cool and capable of giving a lucky artist some serious backing. The Murder Party is a way for the group to compete for Alexander’s affection and, more importantly, his money.

Christopher is a lonely and boring man. His life so exemplifies the word “harmless” that his Halloween costume is a suit of armor made of cardboard. The man even allows his cat to be rude to him. When he finds the invitation to a Halloween party that anyone can attend, he decides with some determination that this will be his attempt to be a bit more social. No prizes for guessing who’s waiting for him at the warehouse or how the fruit loaf he brings will be received.

What follows is such a well-crafted and accurate portrayal of the crazy things people will say and do to confirm their own importance, it almost makes this movie the hardest to watch of any we’ve covered this month. Their self-obsession is all consuming, only equaled by the suffocating desire for Alexander’s approval. Alexander himself plays the preening Special One role to perfection, confusing everyone with his flexible opinions and nonsensical put downs. He also brings his drug dealer to the party, which is always a sure-fire way to raise eyebrows.

This movie has been described as “Breakfast Club with chainsaws and hard drugs” and there really is no better description. Not only does that sum up the excellent writing and accidental emotional truths that characterize Murder Party, it also usefully shows it’s a movie of two parts. Aside from a grisly early surprise, equally shocking in its suddenness and the ease with which it is forgotten, the first half of Murder Party is all talk. The centerpiece of this back and forth is a genius riff on the infamous “Chicks Can Not Hold Their Smoke” conversation in Breakfast Club. Except this time instead of smoking weed, the gang are injected with actual truth serum. Despite some uncomfortable personal revelations (“I make sex with pillow”), the real interesting part of this whole exchange is the questions people ask (“Who’s the best artist?” illicits a “me” from everyone in the room).

Though he’s been mostly a piece of scenery up until that point, poor bound-and-gagged Chris gets his own dose of the truth serum. What he says might be the most interesting stuff of all and definitely the saddest. Whether he’s acknowledging that he thinks his captors are cool (“you guys cuss too much but that’s okay”) or admitting no one would miss him if he were dead, Chris is a quietly heartbreaking character. You even get the sense all his hilariously inept and movie-influenced attempts to escape are motivated by the fear of pain rather than death.

Both horror movies and the art scene come under criticism for their constant drive to be more outrageous and more grisly. While attempting to “break taboos” and fight against normalcy, the characters in the movie reveal themselves to be barely developed as people themselves, full of their own denial and a frighteningly damaged set of priorities.

Oddly for this bawdy and ridiculous a comedy, Murder Party’s violence is actually pretty realistic. And, for once, “realistic” doesn’t just mean getting as forensic as possible. Head wounds especially seem to have been marked out for a more true-to-life treatment than usual, with victims complaining vaguely, cupping the blood flow to stop it staining their clothes and asking if “anyone else smells cut grass?” before keeling over in death. It’s a refreshing take on the usual histrionic way that head-based violence is portrayed.

When Murder Party suddenly kicks off and gives signs of living up to its “Everybody Dies” tagline, it becomes as slyly satirical about horror movie conventions as it is about the art scene. Violence is clumsy and comes mostly from carelessness. Grand gestures are deflated by short power-cables and mislabeled bottles. Special mention must be given to how well the film deflates the whole “disappearing person” trope. If someone is not where you left them, they’re usually quite easy to find, having more likely shuffled “just over there,” rather than disappeared .

It’s a viciously smart horror movie with a lot to say that manages to get it said under 80 minutes. All killer no filler, if you’ll excuse the pun.

And so ends my October run of horror movies. Hopefully you enjoyed it and were maybe encouraged to give some of the lesser known classics of the genre a chance. I’ll be reviewing exploitation and B-movies of every genre, including plenty of horror, over at my blog Zombies Eat Human Flesh starting in November until I run out of time or movies. And I have plenty of both. Happy Halloween.

Sean would like to remind you that really: Zombies Eat Human Flesh.