Hello terrific and magnificent Kindertrauma readers!
Killer Party is one of those underrated, bizarre movie finds that doesn’t seem to get much credit or love from scary movie fans. As of right now, it only has a 5.1 on IMDb and rarely gets mentioned on horror websites, but that needs to change right now and I am leading the charge! I will host a fundraiser telethon on PBS if I have to in order to get the word out that this is must-see TV. Everyone should be having a Killer Party party! I want Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Adele to sing songs about it. I want Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Laura Linney, Ryan Reynolds, and Mark Ruffalo to do a Zoom script reading for it. Blimps should fly in the air with the movie poster on their sides. That’s how magical this movie is. Let’s face it, 2020 has been a rough year for a lot of us. We all need more Killer Party in our lives. To quote the amazing Kelly Clarkson, my life would suck without you. Here’s why you should give this one a chance (or a reassessment if you’ve already seen it).
Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia. Horror movies aren’t always known for giving the audience likable characters to root for (I’m looking at you, The Gallows, Grave Encounters 2, Unfriended, and especially you, creepy creeperton Paul from Hell House LLC). Killer Party gives us not one but three charming, well-acted leads with Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), and Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch). They’re relatable, thoughtful, quirky, capable, supportive of each other, and completely believable as best friends thanks to the phenomenal chemistry the actresses have together. Along with Blair, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo, this is the group of 1980s best buddies I’d most want to hang out with. Far removed from the cool-girl clique from Heathers, they’re the kind of friends who would have sleepover dance party singalongs to Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and I want in on that invite list. If I had my way, Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia would have made several The Love Boat crossovers and had their own nighttime soap opera like Dallas or spy series like Alias. They’d certainly fit in as useful, eccentric additions to the Scooby Gang on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In having these three personable, affable women as leads, Killer Party stands out from the crowd of late-80s slasher fare. We should all be so lucky to have best buddies with such personality, character, and loyalty. Horror scriptwriters, take note and make your characters this engaging.
The bonkers opening. In the first ten minutes of the movie, we get a movie-within-a-music-video starring April, whose crimped hair is the crimpiest crimp ever put to film. The off-kilter, slightly humorous tone is set immediately, with a somber funeral starring a vengeful corpse, angry family member, bumbling priest, and distracted crematorium workers. But wait! It’s just April and her date Stosh watching a horror movie (not Cats) when they realize they’re trapped inside a rock music video starring Whitesnake’s second cousin White Sister. However, instead of Tawny Kitaen gyrating on top of shiny cars, April has to battle goopy, choreographed zombies who want to eat your brain but also want to dance like they’re on tour with Paula Abdul! The opening scene’s audience fake-out ends up being something Phoebe is watching on television as the main plotline begins. This creatively meta approach was way ahead of its time and not yet a popular trope in horror flicks of the 80s (with exceptions such as the great Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives), having come to prominence with 1996’s Scream.
The bananas ending. The finale goes all-out. Is it a slasher movie? Is it a haunted house movie? Is it a possession movie? Be like Wilson Phillips and hold on, because it’s all three. The supporting characters are dead and the party has cleared out, leaving Vivia and Phoebe to fend off their best friend Jennifer, who has been possessed by the angry spirit of Allan. It seems that Allan was the unfortunate victim of a fatal fraternity hazing 20 years prior at Pratt House, and Jennifer is the perfect person to use to carry out his vengeance. It’s an interesting twist, as Jennifer is set up as the main final girl from the beginning, even so far as to take a page from Crazy Ralph’s playbook and forewarn her friends that something is “wrong”. Usually the prescient, hyper-aware characters survive the carnage, but here she spends the movie’s conclusion destroying staircases, growling and snarling in a boogeyman baritone, climbing the walls and ceilings, and terrorizing her best friends. If only they had heeded her warnings. Vivia and Phoebe shine as final girls in these scenes, highlighting how resilient, smart, strong, brave, and resourceful they are; from the always-appreciated “find-the-bodies” slasher staple where they first discover the imminent danger to the realization that their beloved bestie is now a bloodthirsty maniac to their resolute determination to save each other. The final scenes of the movie are extra creepy fun as well, wherein Allan’s spirit overtakes Phoebe (“You raised a demon, Vivia,” she says in a spooky possessed voice) as the paramedics load Vivia and Phoebe into the same ambulance despite Vivia’s shrieking protests. No happy endings here (except in the fanfiction I wrote where they all make it out alive, finding happiness running a motel chain with the Rose family from Schitt’s Creek and making Moira their fourth BFF).
The killer’s costume. The movie was severely edited in order to receive an R-rating, leaving out almost all of the gore and bloodshed. These scenes have never been released uncut, though photos of the special effects were shown in old issues of Fangoria magazine. The more graphic footage was reworked to have all of the violence occur in a particular section of the film. Here is where the killer, dressed in a cumbersome, bulky diver’s suit shows up to quickly decimate the cast. Any killer that can wear 190 pounds of costume just to slaughter a bunch of partying college kids has serious dedication to their job. It’s an impractical yet visually arresting, unique, and memorable ensemble that is right at home with the weirdness of the movie. How do none of the victims hear him coming? How much Zumba did the killer have to do be in such good shape to choose that particular get-up? Where does one even find a trident to kill people with? How do you pronounce “gif”? I have no answers. Like Jon Snow, I know nothing.
The soundtrack. We’ve already discussed White Sister’s contribution to the stellar soundtrack, but wait until you hear “These Are the Best Times”. This tune, which sounds like the best Bananarama or Spice Girls song that they never made, is sung by the three lead actresses and plays in both the beginning and over the end credits of the film. It is a jingle and a jam that you will never get out of your brain. Had this been officially released in any capacity, I would have requested the DJ to play it every time I went roller skating at Skatetown USA. If you haven’t heard this enchanting melody, you can find it on YouTube. You’ll want it to be your wedding song.
And random deep thoughts… There were a few extra things about the movie that I wanted to mention before I’m done convincing the world at large to watch it. The poster and VHS/DVD cover art is incredible and perfectly encapsulates that video store rental experience. The supporting characters are fun and enjoyable, beginning with Alicia Fleer as sorority mean girl Veronica, the Regina George of Briggs College. From her sneers and outfits alone, she is a memorably crotchety foil for Jennifer, Phoebe, and Vivia. The wonderful Paul Bartel shows up as the amusingly kooky Professor Zito. Just Before Dawn’s Ralph Seymour makes nerdy Martin more than a one-note caricature. Martin Hewitt takes his role of Blake, who could have been just a stereotypical jerk who listens to Jock Jams on repeat, and gives him some depth. The loopy Mrs. Henshaw (Pam Hyatt), while dispatched too early on, adds to the offbeat nature of the proceedings as she pleads at Allan’s gravestone for him to move on. Killer Party deserves more recognition because of Barney Cohen’s idiosyncratic script, solid direction from William Fruet (who directed several episodes of the awesome and underappreciated Friday the 13th: The Series), and the general peculiar proceedings that both adhere to and conversely stray from the conventional slasher movie. It’s a weird, wild, lively, amiable movie with no loftier goals than to be entertaining, and succeeds in a big way. Killer Party is a fun time that would make for a fantastic drive-in movie experience, night in on the couch and under a comforter with some Hot Pockets, or maybe someday, an uncut version on a big movie theater screen. I can dream! One final fun fact: the title of this movie was originally going to be “April Fool” but had to be changed because the April Fool’s-themed Slaughter High and the excellent April Fool’s Day were both in production. Thank you so much for reading! Be happy, safe, and healthy! Wear your mask!