Whether channeled through Alex DeLarge in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange or Matt Dillon’s sadistic title character in von Trier’s The House that Jack Built, violence as art is a fairly prevalent concept in film. Elaborate killings and posing corpses into macabre displays as a form of self-expression has fueled TV’s “Hannibal” or “True Detective” in recent years and, as a horror trope, gained significant traction as early as 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. With the exception of Tobe Hooper’s exploitation masterpiece, the other aforementioned projects all pursue prestige status while luxuriating in ultraviolence. It’s to the credit, then, of low-budget horror-comedy Murder Party to lampoon the idea of grisly violence as artistic, depicting its core group of homicidal art students as a cadre of bumbling, pretentious twits.

Of course, any decent murder party requires a victim, and few are more eager for human interaction than nerdy loner Christopher (Chris Sharp) – not even his cat gives him any respect. Upon randomly finding an ornate Halloween party invite on the street, Christopher decides to bake pumpkin bread, assemble a knight costume out of cardboard and duct tape and hop on the subway toward a Brooklyn warehouse, where new friends certainly must be waiting with open arms. Instead, he’s almost immediately chained to a chair by a group of posturing, costumed art students who await the arrival of a deep-pocketed patron and ringleader before the murderous mayhem in the name of capital-A Art can begin.

However, Christopher unwittingly kicks off the violent deaths when his pumpkin bread, which contains raisins, makes the allergic Sky (Skei Saulnier) dizzily topple over onto a metal spike. But despite this initial corpse, Murder Party instead emphasizes the latter half of its title for much of first two acts as the costumed art students and wannabe killers socialize, drink and do drugs while keeping murder as art in the abstract sense. Even their attempted acts of violence turn out to be benign, such as when Macon (Macon Blair), angered by Sky’s accidental death, grows impatient waiting for their benefactor and pours a jug of “acetic acid” over Christopher’s head, only to then realize acetic acid is essentially just vinegar.

When the group’s patron, Alexander (Sandy Barnett), arrives, he’s pretentious as all get-out, even forcing Paul (Paul Goldblatt) to remove his gothic vampire costume because it’s far superior to Alexander’s own slapdash bloodsucker getup. Alexander claims to have access to grant money in the six figures, and yet, though he pontificates that Christopher’s eventual murder will be deemed “cause of death: Art,” the furthest his creative sensibility can stretch is to suggest that they all simultaneously stab him at midnight. While imbibing various other substances as they wait for the “witching hour,” the group also decides to shoot up sodium pentothal, using the truth serum to confess their innermost secrets. Werewolf-costumed Macon confesses his longstanding (unrequited) love for Lexi (Stacy Rock), who is dressed like Pris from Blade Runner throughout. Christopher even admits he’s a perfect victim because nobody will miss him. Eventually, it comes out that Alexander may not be so well-heeled after all.

Even by the time the aloof, baseball-uniformed Bill (William Lacey) eventually snaps and begins chopping everybody – not only at the Murder Party but also at neighboring shindigs – to bits with an ax, the film never veers away from the nightlife theme of its title. At a nearby gallery, Bill leaves behind a roomful of bloody corpses, but the “Art?” sign on the wall makes passersby stop to contemplate the crime scene as a performance art piece. But this is not a contemplative film, and Murder Party’s art-imitating-death gimmick would run out of steam if it weren’t treated as preposterously as it is. The film was clearly shot on a shoestring budget, and even the over-the-top violence – often involving an electric chainsaw that requires an outlet and extension cord in order to wreak havoc – never transcends community haunted-house-level special effects. But by never taking itself seriously, Murder Party offers the kind of midnight-movie comedy-horror indulgence that manages to rise just barely above your average Netflix bargain-basement schlock.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

My Psychedelic Love Story

Although Timothy Leary is the most famous figure here, the most fascinating aspect of this…