Killer Party (1986)

It’s April Fool’s Day, and the girls of Sigma Alpha Pi are celebrating with a costume party shared with the boys of Beta Tau. It’s to be held in a frat house that was shuttered following the accidental death by guillotine of some lad named Alan. These things happen. Among the attendees are best pals Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch), and Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), newly initiated into their sorority via severe hazing rituals that christen them “Goats” (during their secret ceremonies, they dress in togas and chant baaaa). The girls hope to use the party to hook up with some of the rowdy boys from Beta Tau, but interrupting the festivities are some morbid April Fool’s pranks, including a faked stabbing and beheading. While these carefully-orchestrated gags play out in the party’s center stage, in the darker corners of the frat house a trident-wielding killer in a diving suit stalks the guests. Could this be the spirit of the murdered fraternity brother come to wreak his vengeance on the college kids of 1986? Or is this just another elaborate joke?

Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch), and Jennifer (Joanna Johnson) anticipate pledging to Sigma Alpha Pi.

Killer Party (1986), filmed in Toronto, is one odd little bit of Canuxploitation, drawing from mismatched inspirations and tossing them into a blender: the slasher film, the teen sex comedy, a haunted house, demonic possession, 80’s hair band music video. The plot is similar to that of April Fool’s Day, released the same year; the stars in the sky must have demanded that slasher cinema tackle this particular holiday posthaste. Both films involve a series of sophisticated (and not-so-sophisticated) gags that escalate until the audience becomes skeptical of what is unfolding – and that’s when Killer Party, in its last fifteen minutes, takes a sharp turn into the realm of The Evil Dead (1981). And the idea of a killer targeting sorority girls on a holiday derives from a classic Canadian horror film, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) – one of the high watermarks of the slasher genre. The majority of the film, however, plays not like a horror film but another riff on Animal House (1978) with a dash of the cartoonish (and also Canadian) Screwballs (1983). Journeyman director William Fruet (Spasms, Blue Monkey) seems more interested in the hazing of the sorority girls and the shenanigans of the frat boys than in the actual horror – which, when it finally comes, is relatively bloodless, as the camera cuts before we witness any gore. All this makes the film’s final lunges into wall-crawling spirit possession that much more bizarre and unexpected, and not necessarily in a good way.

White Sister performs "April (You're No Fool)."

Killer Party is perhaps most memorable for its time-padding, rug-pulling opening sequences. The film begins with a funeral led by a cheerful priest (introducing us to one of the movie’s defining characteristics: broad overacting). The man quotes The Wizard of Oz, then elaborately introduces each of the attendees – as though this is the main cast, and the audience is supposed to be taking notes. One of the women waits until the chapel is vacated, then hurls insults at the coffin. The coffin opens, the dead man drags her inside, and they are lowered through the floor so both can be cremated on a conveyer belt, Diamonds Are Forever-style. This, we learn, is just a horror film playing at a drive-in, as Fruet cuts to a very 80’s teenager making out with her boyfriend in a car. Her journey to get some popcorn suddenly becomes a zombie-laden, “Thriller”-themed music video for the band White Sister, seen enthusiastically performing their song “April (You’re No Fool).” The music video credits appear in the corner of the screen, a la MTV, as again we pull back to see the girls who will be the main characters of this film. One can take this as being a clever riff on the April Fool’s theme – or that the film ran short by ten minutes and needed something to bring it to a solid ninety. I’m inclined to think both are true.

Professor Z. (B-movie icon Paul Bartel) meets his shocking demise.

Though it grasps in all directions, Killer Party fails to meet the basic standards of the subgenres that it references – not bloody enough for a slasher film, not funny enough for a comedy. The killings don’t begin in earnest until almost a full hour into the film. Still, with the script’s crazy-quilt assembly of tropes, 80’s fashions, and Canuck enthusiasm, the hapless Killer Party somehow manages to be entertaining. The late great Paul Bartel, director of Death Race 2000 (1975) and veteran of countless cult movies including Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), and Eating Raoul (1982), livens the proceedings as the straight-laced Professor Zito, who meets his end via electrocution. Martin Hewitt is top-billed, but fellow frat boy Ralph Seymour, as “Martin,” gets more screen time, playing a truly bizarre misfit who is inexplicably obsessed with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, hits on every girl in sight, and panics at the sight of a severed head – long after it’s been revealed to him to be a fake. Joanna Johnson, who gets to climb the walls and throw a girl off a roof in her demonic rage, joined The Bold and the Beautiful the following year, to which she’s remained loyal ever since. Director Fruet spent many years in television, directing for syndicated shows like Friday the 13th, War of the Worlds, and Poltergeist: The Legacy. An attractive, remastered Killer Party is available on DVD from Warner Archive.

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