Review Date: October 1, 2013
Released by: Warner Archive
Release date: September 20, 2011
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
As a Canadian and a fan of the slasher film, I take particular pride in my country’s output in the sub-genre during the tax shelter years. From Black Christmas
to My Bloody Valentine
to Terror Train
, Canada sure had quite the run. But for as many slasher classics as there were, there was a near equal amount of Canadian films swept under the rug by wealthy doctors or investors looking for a write-off. You have to think that William Fruet, probably the most prolific Canadian director of the time, was victim #1.
While Fruet started off to great acclaim with his script for the seminal Canadian classic, Goin’ Down the Road
in 1970, and followed that up writing and directing Carol Kane and Donald Pleasence in the sad and somber Wedding in White
in 1972, he’s mainly known today for his Canuxploitation output from 1976-1987, wherein he made a movie a year in exploitation genres from backwoods revenge to the beloved slasher. The funny thing is the film’s for which he’s now ultimately remembered mostly all never even really came out because of production problems and that cozy tax shelter. The wild snake sizzler, Spasms
, with a too-drunk Ollie Reed, ran out of money midway through, so the ending is a collection of flashbacks and the Tangerine Dream score was scaled down to only the end credits. Funeral Home
was dumped in 1980 as Cries in the Night
and was released again two years later with the title for which it’s most remembered. Blue Monkey
, Bedroom Eyes
and Baker County, USA
on the Code Red release) pretty much never even came out. And then there’s Killer Party
, the movie that started out as The April Fool
, but went through a name change when Paramount released April Fool’s Day
the same year. It probably had the most problematic production of all, with alleged reshoots (although one of the lead actresses debunks this allegation), a couple years on the shelf, a producer that took over production and just a whole clusterfuck of scenes, styles and ideas all on screen for people to see. So yeah, you can say that William Fruet had a tough go getting his movies completed and out to an audience, but if the composer for Killer Party
, is to be believed, Fruet’s not entirely the victim, since he never even stuck around for the scoring of his picture – he’d apparently already moved onto the next make-work project the Canadian Tax Shelter would give him.
As an artist, though, you’re judged by your legacy, and for William Fruet it’s been tough to judge the prolific Canadian because none of his damn movies came out. Imagine the shock, then, when Killer Party
showed up on the Warner Archive website in September of 2011 with a digitally remastered transfer. If you would have told me then that Killer Party
would get a DVD before Michael Mann’s The Keep
, I’d ‘ve sent you to Smith’s Grove. Nevertheless, Warner got the Fruet party started, so ladies of Sigma Alpha Pi (okay, fine, men…mostly men) let’s see if this Fruet flick is worth the tinsel and twine.
The Girls of Sigma Alpha Pi…some will live and some will
– wrong movie. Actually, that can be said for the first ten-odd minutes of Killer Party
as well. We start first with some stilted and tonally askew funeral scene where a bunch of frumpy adults mourn the loss of a loved one. Okay, they’re dropping some names now so I’m furiously taking notes and trying to remember who is related to who and how and then…it’s just a movie. This punk teenage girl is just watching this terrible movie at a drive-in with her boyfriend (how does a movie like this get to the drive-in?). Well, she seems a little more relatable to the target audience, this April chick (again, remember this was originally titled The April Fool
) seems like a spunky enough lead. After pushing her boyfriend away for sucking her face, she decides the best remedy is some popcorn and heads to the lobby. The lobby is abandoned. The scary music kicks in. The angles start to get distorted. And then a live band pops up? Wait, what? Okay, so now there are a bunch of filters on the screen and zombie dudes are popping out of cars and the music is blasting. WHITE SISTER “You’re No Fool”. Oh, okay, so it is a music video now. Ahh, and there it is, ANOTHER protagonist is now watching the music video on her TV. I don’t even know how many layers of illusion we’ve crossed at this point, but they say that post-modernity started with Scream…humph!
Anyway, moving on to the film proper, we follow this college girl, Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes
, Sixteen Candles
) as she meets up with her two besties – the plucky, paper-clips-for-earings wearing Vivia (the adorable Sherry Willis-Burch
, who’s only other credit is the memorable Final Exam
) and the more modest, sculptured Jennifer (Joanna Johnson
, who gets an “Introducing” credit despite this being her fourth credit, which again probably points to the production delays the film incurred). The three are trying to join the Sigma Alpha Phi sorority, and as part of their pledge they have to do things like answer questions with “I myself prefer a big, fat cucumber”, steal clothes from the frat boys and even endure some pranks along the way – like when the boys decide to let out a bottle of bees at their hot tub party. The biggest test of all for the girls, though, is to survive a hazing party at an abandoned frat house. In 1964 (I’m guessing production was going for a “20 years ago” timeframe, but since the film didn’t make it out until ’86 it’s 22), a pledge lost his head in a guillotine accident, and so to defy all conventional logic the powers that be not only shut down this large, beautiful multi-story building, but they also thought it would be good to bury the victim in the back yard. He even gets his own tombstone. I’m sure that’s just what his parents wanted.
The girls, particularly Vivia, are tasked with booby trapping the frat house with a number of horror-related gimmicks, but they themselves are on the receiving end when guys pop up in outfits from The Creature of the Black Lagoon (that would be Endless Love
pinup Martin Hewitt
, who gets the Leif Garrett Cheerleader Camp
treatment by being top-billed despite being barely more than a supporting player) or when sorority members turn up missing. The invitations were sent and the party goes on, but strange things are happening at the April Fools costume party, and it’s not all fun and games. Some people are dying, and for Jennifer, Phoebe and Vivia they’re due a whole lot worse.
One of my favorite articles by film critic Pauline Kael is her “Hail, Folly!” piece on Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900
, wherein she describes the glorious mess of directors becoming so indulgent after early prior success that they end up creating a glorious, bloated mess of ideas that while flawed, still have undeniable intrigue. I certain wouldn’t throw Fruet up in the ranks with Bertolucci, but Kael’s assessment certainly applies here. Killer Party
is a huge mess of a movie, if you couldn’t tell by my labored summary, but it’s a film that you can see is trying to transcend itself to be something more. It was written by Barney Cohen right after he penned one of the most traditional and popular slashers of the era, Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter
, and you get the sense that Cohen, and Fruet (who had also already had his share of run-ins with horror films at this point), wanted to start a “new chapter” in the sub-genre’s development.
Fruet and Cohen wanted to start introducing reflexive, self-referential ideas into a genre that was playing itself out (and as irony would have it, the film that caused Killer Party
to change its name, April Fool’s Day, could also be said to have flirted with those ideas, too). Thus, we get a beginning that folds in on itself three times in a bid to acknowledge the audience. Then it focuses on a girl who likes horror movies and special effects, and we’re then treated to another fake-out when it looks like she’s been beheaded but once again we’re watching an act. The titular “Killer” is perpetually, and purposefully, ill-defined – is it Allan, the guy who died in the frat accident, or someone else? Why is the person wearing a vintage scuba suit at one point, and another outfit later? Characters pop in and out of the film without resolve and the score even starts and stops when you’d expect the traditional synth to carry the conclusion. It’s all part of the filmmakers’ ways of revealing the fourth wall and showing the construct of illusion. The central initiation the pledges must take to become a “Goat” (literal in the film, but I wonder if Cohen was going by its second definition, that of a “lecher” for those of us who like such films with pretty ladies in various stages of distress, like little Feldman did in The Final Chapter
) is to eat an eyeball blindfolded. It may or may not be real, but the point is that there’s a thrill in the act, the illusion of horror, and if that resonates with you, then so too will Killer Party
From a narrative standpoint, Killer Party
is quite the bold experiment, and I like where the director and writer are coming from here, and I think the cast, especially the three engaging lead ladies, are also in on the joke. Given the haphazardness of the final film though, and the earnestness by which so much of these wild ideas unfolds, I’m guessing the producer was not on the same page. By many accounts the producer took this film over, and the final product sure feels that way. You want the film to wink at you and let you know how far into its cheek its tongue is, but when it doesn’t you wonder if maybe you’re the only one there. Who knows, this might be by design, since these ideas of post-modernity are by design not the easiest to convey. But I’ll default to that amazingly off-key song that starts and ends the film for my truth. To set it up, it’s some cheesy pop song that appears to be sung by the leads, although no artists are credited. That’s significant because likewise, this is a film without an identifiable voice. Is this Fruet’s? Cohen’s? Producer Michael Lepiner’s? That the song clashes so much in tone with the horrors on screen is yet another reminder of how the film seems wrestled from one mind to the other. And then the lyrics:
“now we are on our own/letting our feelings show/this is our new home/we are finally letting go/these are the best times of our lives/these are the best times
Read that as Fruet and Cohen saying “fine, you want a cookie cutter slasher…well, we never made one. You can take over production, but it’s our ideas out there; we’re through.” And then those last two lines, that keep repeating themselves, seem to act as some kind of solace as both the director and writer go on to finish off the eighties working a number of well-paying but voice-less productions to close out the decade. To avoid fainting repeat to yourself: It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…
Warner Archive advertises this new release of Killer Party
as “Remastered Edition”, and at the very least you can definitely tell some work went into this release. Colors have been restored and are generally quite vivid. The print looks cleaned up as well, with only sporadic white specks and no real scratches, jitter or other damage to the print. At first blush, this widescreen print used looks to be sharp, but it doesn’t quite hold up as well to scrutiny. There’s pronounced edge enhancement present throughout, resulting in haloing around the subjects that can be distracting. But let’s step back a bit and remember that this film hardly even had a VHS release, and here it is now on a remastered DVD. Gift horses and mouths and all that. So while this isn’t a perfect transfer, it’s a huge improvement over any other release this film has ever had, and considering the state of a lot of other slasher films these days in the digital era, a party is definitely in order.
There’s nothing fancy with this 2.0 mono track, but it, like the video, appears cleaned up and more presentable than you’d expect for a film that almost never got made. The tax shelter movies almost always had a skilled, almost-Hollywood kind of production value, and the booming, foley and score all sound a notch above the usual slasher offerings. Dialogue is very clear, hiss is minimal (but still there), and the score and sound effects all resonate with a decent depth considering the modest sound space of this 2.0 track. When the film goes full crazy for the finale, the sound effects really do reach another level, and without spoiling anything the sound aids greatly in selling the insanity.
No extras on this release, hardly even a menu. All we get is a “Play Movie” option on the select screen. That’s exactly what I wanted to do when I popped the disc in though, so that’s pretty cool. Would be great to finally get to hear boss man William Fruet speak though, considering he’s never got to talk about any of his films on any of their releases thus far. Seeing as Barney Cohen could be reached to talk about Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter
on the new Crystal Lake Memories
release, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have tracked him down, either. There’s also been interviews with actress Elaine Wilkes and composer John Beal on the charming little http://www.killerpartythemovie.com
website, so had they wanted to, Warner could have tracked down enough for a decent little featurette. But hey, we got the movie, that’s good enough these days.
is a handsomely done mess of a movie, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s by design or by internal conflicts in getting the film out considering its rocky production history. In the pantheon of Canadian slashers, it’s more Curtains
than it is Prom Night
, so if you’re looking for a slasher that’s willing to play around with its conventions, not take itself entirely seriously, and not make sense half the time, it’s a pretty good shindig. The audio and video transfers are remastered as advertised, although someone spiked the punch when it came to edge enhancement on this release. No extras, but as a huge slasher fan I’m just happy this Party got the invite from Warner.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour, 31 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
The always amusing Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul
, Chopping Mall
) hams it up in the picture as "Professor Zito", no doubt a reference by Writer Barney Cohen to Director Joseph Zito, whom Cohen worked with on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
. It's probably no coincidence that the Zito character also leers (albeit, accidentally) at a projected soft-core 16mm film, much like Teddy (Lawrence Monoson
) does before his death in The Final Chapter