It’s hard not to be swept away by something as proudly 80s as Killer Party. Watching this with my partner in the room, she asked, “Is this from the 1980s?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“It just looks too 80s to be from the 80s. It looks like a parody of the 80s.”
I definitely agree with that assessment. Killer Party is a hit of sugary, neon celluloid directly pumped into the vein, which may leave more discerning views foaming at the mouth, twitching in an 80s-induced brain-fart. It’s also, like the best films of the era, a fucking mess of ideas. It doesn’t work at all, but it sure makes for entertaining viewing.
USA, 1986, William Fruet
Then bang! You got us again, Killer Party, you dick! We cut to Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes) watching the spooky music video for a White Sister track on television. And finally, the real movie can start. Yes, the opening act of Killer Party is a total waste of time. Personally, I loved it, but I’d imagine some audience members will find this excruciatingly irritating. Ha! That said, the rest of the film is so out of control the opening fake-outs seem more and more appropriate as the running time ticks by.
Phoebe, Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch) and our sort-of kinda protagonist, Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), want to join their college’s coolest sorority house. As you’d expect, the induction is a humiliating affair. The sorority queens crack raw eggs into the mouths of the hopeful young pledges, refer to them relentlessly as “goats”, and make them talk about their love of cucumbers in maths class infuriating straight-laced Professor Zito (played by the great Paul Bartel).
Meanwhile, a pack of rowdy frat-jerks play a few morally questionable pranks on the sorority house. They let loose a hive of bees on some semi-naked sorority sisters relaxing in a hot tub, filming the traumatic event on super 8, all while gawking and yelling sexually charged abuse at their victims. The girls, of course, later hook up with the asshole jocks at a party. Ah, the 80s, ladies and gentlemen! When sexual harassment was apparently some kind of turn on.
We also meet Martin (Ralph Seymour), a sex-starved weird kid who appears to have no function in the story’s narrative. He hits on every girl around and has a strange obsession with Madame Bovary. He is paired up with Vivia, who, we are to assume, is the nerdy member of our gang of three female protagonists because she wears glasses. Martin disappears partway through the film — much like the light tone of the film, which takes a drastic turn in the film’s final act.
For the most part, Killer Party is a goofy comedy, like a less distressing Screwballs (1983). But all through its silly comedy, there’s a handful of murders. The film plays this aspect out as if it were a mystery. Only there’s no red herrings. During its cumulative and titular killer party, the film retains a hint of its humour, but essentially becomes a slasher as a killer in a old diving costume begins offing the party goers.
Just when you think Killer Party has hit its peak of schizophrenia, it throws us another curve-ball. It switches from slasher-mode to supernatural horror, replete with demon voices and white contact lenses. Here the tone completely changes. Outside of the occasional cross-eyed close-up, the comedy is gone, and we get a few moments that could almost be described as creepy.
Killer Party is total chaos. It has no idea what it wants to be. I’m not sure whether this comes directly from the creative team behind it, or if its the signs of a meddling studio smashing together half-written scripts that were gathering dust around the office. Either way, it’s lunacy, and I’m so glad it exists.
Uncontrolled pandemonium is one thing, but sometimes this level of mayhem can be exhausting rather than entertaining. Luckily, Killer Party has enough to keep it engaging. Its characters are big, stupid, and very watchable. The cast is filled with familiar faces, like the aforementioned Paul Bartel and the underrated Ralph Seymour. Jason Warren, Melvin Jerkovski/Marvin Eatmore of the Screwballs films, shows up and does his usual obnoxious schtick. He’s credited simply as “Bee-Boy”.
Our leading ladies are nicely cast. Elaine Wilkes of Sixteen Candles (1984) and the excellent Ted Bundy biopic The Deliberate Stranger (1986) is decent enough but isn’t given much to do. Joanna Johnson is perhaps the weakest link, though this is likely more to do with the material — her performance improves significantly once the horror stuff kicks in. Sherry Willis-Burch is easily the standout as Vivia. Surprisingly, the very funny and likable Willis-Burch only showed up in one other film — the equally odd and enjoyable Final Exam (1981). Her character essentially becomes a surrogate protagonist in place of Joanna Johnson’s lack of charisma.
Stylistically, Killer Party is slick and shiny. It’s shot in a fairly point-and-shoot manner, but picks up visually in its final supernatural sequence. It’s almost as if an entirely different crew handled these scenes. Its soundscape is packed with all the pumping hammy tunes and ballads you’d hope for in a film from 1986. It is quintessential 80s trash, which you can take as a compliment or an insult depending on your taste.
Killer Party understandably has a bad rap. It hops from genre to genre and has a distinct lack of bloodletting, which would surely frustrate the horror fans its promotional materials are attempting to lure in. But if you can get past that and enjoy it for what it is — a madcap slice of 80s college comedy stupidity — you will be in for a magically entertaining time at the movies. Highly, highly recommended.
Killer Party is available as a burn-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive. The video and audio quality is excellent.