There’s No Party Like a Murder Party
Mateo Keegan Burbano
18 October 2019
Murder Party (2007), is written and directed by Jeremy Saulneir. Saulneir would go on to write and direct the more successful Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin vehicle, The Green Room (2015). For Murder Party, Saulneir makes the most of his cast of unknowns led by Chris Sharp, playing the affable loser Christopher S. Hawley. Christopher is a schleppy parking enforcement officer who lives alone with a cat. It’s early Halloween evening, and the streets of New York are filled with kids and families in costumes. Christopher is done with his workday and picking up some shlocky VHS horror movie rentals. On the way home, he finds on the sidewalk a discarded flier for a Halloween party.
He goes back to his apartment, clears off the remains of a smashed pumpkin off his doorstep, and settles in for the evening. With a bowl filled with candy corn, he goes to sit in his La-Z-Boy lounger in front of the TV, but his cat refuses to get up from the seat. Giving up on watching movies, he looks at the flier he picked up. It’s an invite to an exclusive “Murder Party” with an address and the one directive, to come alone. Christopher constructs a medieval suit of armor out of unpacked cardboard boxes and forges a cardboard sword. He retrieves the smashed pumpkin from the trash and uses its innards to make a loaf of pumpkin bread and says goodbye to the cat. So begins a night that sees unassuming 9-to-5er Christopher descend into the hyperviolent and hilarious world of petty rivalries and jealousies of New York’s hipster art community.
The film has a grainy, retro 90s look to it, and the film’s synth soundtrack is reminiscent of the best of John Carpenter’s soundtrack work. The film has plenty of nostalgic 90s nods. Many of us remember a time before smart phones when you had to print out multiple sheets of maps and directions from MapQuest anytime you wanted to go somewhere new, which is how Christopher finds the location of the Murder Party in a derelict industrial zone. He enters a warehouse and follows the sound of music to a large central bay where a group is gathered waiting.
Everyone is dressed up. A skinny blonde in a leotard, played by Stacy Rock, is dressed like Daryl Hannah’s character from Blade Runner (1982). One of the men, tall and skinny, played to glorious degrees of apathetic sarcasm by William Lacey, is dressed as one of the Baseball Furies from the film, The Warriors (1979). The others are similarly dressed as deep cut pop culture references that are meant to one-up their artistic peers. This competitiveness and their jealousies toward each other drives most of the film’s plot and action.
Christopher says hello and notices plastic tarps on the floor that littered with tools and industrial equipment. When he shows them the flier with the event invite, the group becomes excited, but annoyed that he would show up so early. Too late, he realizes the party’s title of Murder Party is literal and the group means him harm. After a sequence of Keystone Kops like slapstick, they grab him and tie him up in a chair. They then wait for a man named Alexander to show before starting the murdering.
The film borrows from the understatement of mumblecore films, the profane humor of Kevin Smith films, and the absurd violence of exploitation films to skewer the snotty, self-centered privilege of supposed “struggling artists”. The group has gathered to kill someone as part of a conceptual art piece they individually hope to use to impress Alexander. He promised the person with the best idea will be awarded the thousands of grant monies he’s sitting on. The group argues about whether or not to really kill Christopher. One of the women ask Bill if he’s really willing to kill an innocent person.
“I didn’t sign up for a Second-Degree Assault Party,” Bill shrugs and goes back to playing on his PSP.
A number of absurdly violent and hilarious scenes follow. The one dissenting voice against the murder accidentally kills herself after eating Christopher’s pumpkin bread. Turns out she’s allergic to raisins. When Alexander shows up, played by Sandy Barnett, the party really kicks off. Alexander claims he’s costumed like a vampire, although he looks more like Afghan Whigs front man, Greg Dulli, from the “Somethin’ Hot” (1998) music video, with his black suit and blood red, large collared dress shirt.
Left, Barnett. Right, Dulli of Afghan Whig fame.
Seeing someone else is in vampire costume, he forces the man, at gunpoint, to strip off his vampire attire, including his “Vampire pants.” After each of the artists attempt to impress Alexander with their vision for Christopher’s death, he proclaims the murder will now be collaborative, and they will wait for the Witching Hour to collectively stab him to death.
As they wait for the appointed hour, they play party games and drink and drug and fuck the time away. When the amobarbital (truth serum) comes out for a pharmaceutically enhanced round of Truth or Dare, the party gets out of hand. One of the partiers, who’s been chugging and spilling all over himself ethyl chloride, sets himself on fire when he goes to light a cigarette. His werewolf mask melts painfully onto him, leaving his face a pulpy red mess of melted plastic and gore. All of the film’s gore and blood effects appear to be practical. None of them are amazing, but they’re effective and fit the exploitation, DIY film style of Murder Party.
The film goes from minimal violence to nearly everyone gruesomely killed in the span of five minutes. They all turn on each other and apathetic Bill, who’s learned he has no artistic talent, has a psychotic break and starts chopping everyone down with a fire axe. In the confusion, Christopher escapes through the rooftop to the neighboring building where another artist is throwing a Halloween party and the premiere showing of a performance art piece. Bill, axe in hand, follows. After a showdown between them that leads to many more dead, including a funny scene mocking supposed intellectual art connoisseurs who mistake a room filled with numerous gore covered dead bodies for an art piece, Christopher becomes the triumphant knight he dressed up as. To become the hero he has to reluctantly turn to violence.
Christopher, his cardboard armor covered in blood and gore, makes his way home on foot. Along his walk, a few obvious scenes are inserted to show William’s character growth. He’s a new man who will no longer be stepped on by the world. In recognition of his new confidence, his cat relinquishes the Barcalounger and William is able to enjoy Halloween like he planned: His legs up, some crappy horror movies on the VCR, and a bowl of candy corn in his lap. Overall, Murder Party is an inconsequential yet enjoyable homage to the 90s and exploitation films.
3.5 out of 5 flaming shots of ethyl chloride
Murder Party is currently available to stream on Netflix