Written by: William Fruet
Directed by: Barney Cohen
Starring: Joanna Johnson, Elaine Wilkes, and Sherry Willis-Burch
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“OK, slime-buckets, listen up! The phrase for today is: 'I myself prefer a big, fat cucumber.' Let's hear it."
I’m not a sociologist, but if you were to create a task force to find the definitive convergence point of 80s low brow entertainment, something tells me it would at least have a passing interest in Killer Party. Not only is it the umpteenth holiday-themed slasher movie (and the third to paint April Fool’s Day red in ’86), but it’s also the umpteenth blending of splatter movie theatrics with teen comedy shenanigans. While you might assume that this just makes it derivative of all the other movies that did this first, Killer Party goes all out in intertwining these B-movie threads by exploiting both April 1st and Greek hell week, treating viewers on a Halloween-to-April Fool’s Day orgy of mischief and mayhem.
Rest assured, there is plenty of chicanery afoot here, starting with a joke on the audience, who’s treated to a somber scene at a funeral home (which I’m choosing to believe is a reference to director William Fruet’s unsung Canuck Psycho riff). After an oddly pushy priest shoos away the weeping family members, one of them feels compelled to return with some nasty words for the deceased, who isn’t as dead as she seems when her corpse lurches forth and drags the woman into the casket, sending her straight to the crematorium. But wait—it turns out this is only a movie playing at drive-in, where April (Danielle Kiraly) has just about had it with her jerk of a boyfriend. A trip to the eerily vacant concession stand briefly turns into the stuff of a slasher movie until a goddamn hair metal concert inexplicably breaks out, once again shattering the illusion. This, too, is a fake-out, because now we discover that a sorority girl is watching this on TV. For those keeping score at home, this means we’ve seen a fake movie nestled within a fake music video for the first nine minutes of Killer Party. Scream 4 doesn’t have anything on this shit.
When the movie actually begins, it treats us to typical college movie antics. Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia (Joanna Johnson, Elaine Wilkes, and Sherry Willis-Burch) have decided to pledge a sorority, meaning their curriculum is about 10% freshman composition with a curmudgeon professor (Paul Bartel) and 90% pranks and tomfoolery. Not only do they have to endure hazing rituals from their would-be sorority sisters, but they’re also caught in the crosshairs of a prank war that’s erupted with a fraternity. Screenwriter Barney Cohen (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) especially indulges the latter, scripting an assortment of back-and-forth, tit-for-tat antics, most of them involving undergarments and nudity. The boys unleash a swarm of bees as the girls lounge in a jacuzzi, then catch the naked sisters on camera when they flee. Luckily, Vivia has a knack for pranks, meaning the girls are capable of retaliating with an underwear raid. One of her gags during her own initiation goes so well that she’s granted a spot in the sorority just so she can replicate it during the annual April Fool’s Day masquerade, where all hell eventually breaks loose.
Emphasis on “eventually.” This stretch of Killer Party—which apparently begins in the autumn-tinged fall semester before fast-forwarding to spring without explicitly acknowledging as much—might leave the horror crowd feeling a little restless. While an ominous backstory involving a pledge who died in a hazing ritual 20 years ago slowly emerges, it’s pretty scattered within the confines of a sex comedy. For the first hour or so, a cryptic conversation between the sorority’s house mother and the dead pledge’s tombstone (which lurks in the backyard of the now abandoned frat house where he died) is the only indication that something horrible might happen beyond the threats from all the various authority figures, who don’t want the kids to haze each other or hold a party at that tragic site. Good thing they don’t listen; otherwise, we’d have a pretty lame campus comedy and an even worse horror movie.
Instead, Killer Party is pretty good at being both, even if it does belabor its “span in a cabin” setup to an almost impressive degree. That’s just the climax here, which would be a drag if not for the eccentric charms and endearing cast that keep the first hour afloat. Our main trio is a sweet but feisty group of gals, with Jennifer emerging as the lead of sorts. Johnson—who went on to have a nice career as a producer and writer but wouldn’t act again for 20 years—is terrific in the role and brings all the natural amiability, pluckiness, and conviction you want from a final girl. She shares a genuine chemistry with Wilkes and Willis-Burch, giving Killer Party an unusually solid human foundation for this sort of nonsense. And, given the premise, there’s a lot of nonsense surrounding them in the form of horny boys, disapproving adults, and the vague threat of supernatural revenge from beyond the grave.
Bartel’s presence is a good indicator of how askew all of this is: he’s expectedly offbeat as an English professor whose oddness is matched only by his persistent irritability. He’s the sort of exasperated stick-in-the-mud who rhetorically asks if his entire class would like to leave, only to watch them breathlessly pile out, save for Martin (Ralph Seymour), the movie’s token nerd who hits on all of the girls. He’s also meant to be a red herring because of all the foreboding shots of his shoes take his harmless, desperate flirting into stalker territory. Also, his earnest interest in the sexual subtext of Madame Bovary is a recurring gag meant to cast suspicion because only a psycho would be that interested in the works of Gustave Flaubert, I guess.
And to be fair, Martin very well could be responsible for the vague menace lurking on campus, if only because just about anything could be responsible. Cohen’s script plays things close to the vest, so much so that the climactic party sequence is a Russian nesting doll of 80s splatter genres. What starts as a weirdo slasher riff where the unseen killer dons a clunky diving suit (!) escalates into demonic hysterics, with plenty of fake-outs along the way. Again, there’s a lot of movie to get to the sort of stuff that you can get more consistently from Sam Raimi, but Killer Party mostly makes it worth the wait. It could be more generous with the splatter, but the MPAA reportedly mandated cuts, depriving us of money shots and only leaving some adequate shots of impaled torsos, electrified corpses, and dismembered body parts stuffed inside of a tiger-striped refrigerator. Some lively performances by a pair of possession victims also threaten to kick the tires and bring Killer Party roaring to life for the grand, topsy-turvy finale.
It’s maybe just enough. Honestly, Killer Party never reclaims the manic, what-the-hell-am-I-watching heights of its madcap, double fake-out opening sequence. It does, however, sprinkle enough fun throughout to remain an easygoing watch. Maybe it’s not the best time of your life, as its infectious theme song insists. Maybe it isn’t even the best (or second-best) April Fool’s Day slasher movie with an earworm theme song from 1986. Maybe Kevin Tenney would refine this movie’s boisterous, horndogs-and-gore approach with Night of the Demons and Witchtrap. But if you absolutely, positively require proof that hair metal outfit White Sister once starred in a "Thriller" rip-off video, then Killer Party is the only place to go.
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