"Everybody DIES!!!" - Bill The Baseball Fury
Recently seen at film festivals Slamdance and South By Southwest, Murder Party is a low-budget horror movie presented to us by The Lab Of Madness; it's somewhat of a cross between The Breakfast Club (small group of people in one location, lots of dialogue) and a flick like Texas Chainsaw (pretty much everybody is nuts and is planning to kill our hero in some horrible way before things go wrong and the cast starts dropping like flies). Occasionally quite comedic, with moments of splatstick as well as satire, everything devolves into a bloodbath before the night comes to an end.
It's Halloween and lonely nebbish Chris (Chris Sharp) finds an invitation to a "Murder Party" on the sidewalk in front of his apartment. Having nothing better to do except wither beneath the contemptuous gaze of his cat, he whips up a Knight costume using carboard as his armor, makes some pumpkin bread and sets off across town to the address on the invitation. Chris finds an ominous warehouse on the seedy side of town, heads in anyway with misguided loser enthusiasm and finds five people waiting. For him, as it turns out - he's the guest of honor, being the only one dumb enough to find such an invitation and actually show up. These five individuals are a collective of struggling artists, it turns out, and have come up with the idea to hold a "Murder Party", where they'll kill somebody in the most artistic and meaningful (read: pretentious) way they can imagine. This, they hope, will impress Alexander (Sandy Barnett), a total douche who holds $300,000 in grant money over their heads, to be given to the person who comes up with the best performance art type of homicide he's ever seen. So Chris gets tied to a chair, copious amounts of drugs are ingested, and the debate begins as to how exactly to kill the poor guy, followed by lots of petty bickering and grievance-airing. Then everything goes to shit and people start dying; sometimes amusingly so and sometimes not, but usually with a fair helping of gore.
For such an obviously low budget affair, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier's Murder Party does what it sets out to do pretty impressively. Of course it's cheaper to shoot in one location, with lots of dialogue, right? Well, turns out it helps if the location is appropriately grungy and the actors are surprisingly good in their roles. There's a fair amount of shit given to the artsy fartsy types that comprise most of the flick's characters and it's entertaining to see them made such fun of. As we've heard from the mighty Spinal Tap, "it's a fine line between stupid and clever" and Murder Party walks that line with confidence and rarely steps on the wrong side of it - even when it does, you get the feeling that it knows exactly what it's doing and intends to do so. There's a few well timed gags that are particularly effective, such as one of the artists getting THIS CLOSE to talking the others out of killing Chris and immediately gets accidentally killed. Or Chris momentarily escaping his captors into a small room, and as they gather outside the door brandishing weapons, he breathlessly searches for items to help him; what he does with what he finds is so simple and so stupid that I couldn't help but laugh my ass off.
In no way is the flick perfect, as there are times when the talking goes on too long without any real action - in fact, it's 50 minutes in before the climatic bloodbath really starts - and certain people will certainly hate the staginess of it all. Yet it's funny and well acted enough to keep your attention (there's a scene that recalls the "truth or dare" sequence from The Breakfast Club, but here they're helped along by a little truth serum injections), with Barnett being a standout as the smarmy dickhead Alexander. When the flick does get gory, the makeup effects are effectively staged (by Paul Goldblatt, who also stars as one of the asshole artists) and inventive; a chainsaw to the face is a definite highlight. Oh, and there's a dog who gets into a bag of meth. What's not to love?
The extras really show what a labor of love this was for the group, and give great insight into their shared history. Turns out that almost everybody involved has known each other since junior high, and has been making movies together (Super-8 and video) for years, before most of them were old enough to shave.
There's plenty of footage showing these no-budget wonders in a twenty-five minute behind the scenes featurette, and shows that these guys had a thing for geysers of stage blood and violence way back when; also, there's plenty of cast and crew (since they're often the same people) interviews and on-set footage. It's highly entertaining and puts a smile on your face; these are your old movie-geek buddies who shot their own movies in their backyards who have grown up to continue the pursuit of the dream. Director Saulnier, actor/producer Sharp, and actor/producer Macon Blair provide a raucous commentary track with loads of stories regarding everything from the old days together to the travails of getting this project made with "new" people, and it's an excellent listen. An amusing gag reel, a couple short pieces on how to make your own "Brown Knight" costume out of cardboard boxes and baking pumpkin bread, and a performance video seen briefly in the movie comprise the rest of the features. Oh, and there's a few trailers, most notably for Johnnie To's actioner Exiled and the horror flick The Signal.
Murder Party is, for such a low-budget exercise, great fun and anybody who's a real horror freak won't be able to help enjoying themselves with what is obviously a heartfelt shout-out to our beloved genre (I'm thinking of a couple of the costumes that left me with a knowing grin, for example). I sure hope that The Lab Of Madness - a collective that's undoubtedly far more talented than the onscreen one - has a long career ahead of them and that somebody gives them an amount of money equal to their ambition, 'cause I can't wait to see it.