Thursday, November 10, 2016

#2,246. Killer Party (1986)

Directed By: William Fruet

Starring: Martin Hewitt, Ralph Seymour, Elaine Wilkes

Tag line: "By the end of the dance, some of the sorority sisters were dead on their feet"

Trivia: When released in 1986 the title was changed from "The April Fools" to "Killer Party" because the distributors feared that it would be confused with the film April Fool's Day

The camera glides through a dark, foggy graveyard towards an old church, where a funeral is being held for an elderly woman. Only a few relatives are in attendance, and when the service is over, the deceased’s daughter-in-law stays behind to shout insults at the coffin. As she does so, the coffin’s lid pops open and the dearly departed grabs a hold of her, pulling the now-screaming griever inside. It’s a creepy sequence, but it’s not what it appears to be, because mere seconds after two workers push the shimmering casket into the crematorium, the action shifts to a drive-in theater, where April (Danielle Kiraly) and her boyfriend Stosh (Scott Coppala), are watching these events play out on the big screen. 

Yes, we’ve been had… the church, the funeral, everything, is nothing more than a movie-within-a-movie!

A bit agitated by the film, April excuses herself and heads to the concession stand. When she gets there, she finds that she’s all alone. She calls out for an employee, but none respond, so she helps herself to some popcorn and strolls back to the car. Surprisingly, Stosh is now missing as well. But we do see him a moment or two later, transformed into the walking dead!

Not to worry, though, because as we soon discover, 1986’s Killer Party isn’t quite done pulling the wool over our eyes.

Once things settle down, we’re introduced to the main characters: Jennifer (Joanna Johnson), Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), and Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch), three college pledges trying to get into the Sigma Alpha Pi sorority. Their final initiation comes later that evening, Hell Night, when the trio undergoes a series of tests to see if they’re truly worthy of joining the sorority. The ritual takes place at a dilapidated fraternity house, where, 20 years earlier, a hazing ceremony resulted in the accidental death of a pledge named Alan. 

Jennifer, who senses there’s something odd about the old place, is anxious to get the ritual over with, but when Viva plays a practical joke on the others, it loosens everybody up. Impressed, the Sigma Alpha Pi sisters invite the three to join, on the condition that Vivia repeat the prank during an upcoming April Fools dance, which will also be attended by a nearby fraternity (the dance is to be held in the same abandoned frat house). Jennifer, who has become romantically involved with Blake (Martin Hewitt), still has her doubts about the house, and is convinced there’s a malevolent spirit lurking within its walls. It isn’t until the evening is in full swing, however, that the others realize she may just be right.

The DVD for this movie, which is part of the Warner Archive collection, describes Killer Party as “a one-of-a-kind slasher-horror-musical-sex-comedy of terror”, and that’s exactly what it is. On the music side, the film has an ‘80s style soundtrack with songs by Laura Branigan, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, and a live performance (well, sorta) by White Sister, a heavy metal hair band. Along with the tunes, Killer Party is pretty funny at times (the opening sequences will make you smile in hindsight, and Paul Bartel, of Eating Raoul fame, has a few humorous scenes as a stuffy college professor). And, like all good ‘80s teen horror comedies, there’s some nudity as well, most of which comes courtesy of a practical joke played on the Sigma Alpha Pi’s by a rival fraternity.

But where Killer Party excels is in the horror department. By mixing a slasher film (late in the movie, a killer, wearing an underwater diving suit, inflicts some heavy damage at the dance) with the supernatural (the dead kid’s spirit manages to take control of one of the revelers, leading to a handful of eerie, Exorcist-style sequences), Killer Party delivers some authentic scares, and even if you grow a little impatient with all the music and comedy early on, the final 20 minutes are guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.

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