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eighties horror you might have missed

Killer Party (1986)

By the mid-80s, most holidays had already been co-opted for horror films, following in the tradition started by Halloween and Friday the 13th. And that's why in 1986 there were three different films in production based on April Fool's Day; only one of them, directed by Fred Walton, was released as "April Fool's Day". The other two were retitled: Slaughter High and Killer Party. Unfortunately, Killer Party opens with an entire music video about April Fool's Day, so changing the title must have been a hard decision.

Killer Party truly has something for everyone: sorority sisters, college pranks, a killer with itchy feet, Paul Bartel (as Professor Zito, no doubt a reference to Joseph Zito), and girls with mismatched socks.  The production value is good and somehow the film is able to sustain its energy from start to finish. It's light on gore, often cutting before any blood spills, but this works well, rather than being a disappointment (apparently much was cut just prior to release). There are some good lines too, such as: "I myself prefer a big fat cucumber!"

I particularly love the way the movie begins. It starts with a very campy horror scene, pulls back to reveal this is in fact a drive-in movie that the characters are watching, which then turns into the April Fool's Day video (by White Sister), with the same characters as zombies. And then the real main character is revealed, watching the video on her television. Brian De Palma used a similar device in Blow Out and Body Double, but Killer Party takes it to the fractal level.

There are a couple of familiar faces (besides Bartel): Ralph Seymour (as Martin) was in Just Before Dawn and Sherry Willis-Burch (as Vivia) also starred in Final Exam (her only other film credit). The screenplay is by Barney Cohen, who wrote Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Cinematography is by John Lindley, who was the DP on The Stepfather, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and (strangely) Laurie Anderson's concert film Home of the Brave (also in 1986). Killer Party was directed by William Fruet, who has done several other horror films, including Funeral Home (1980), Spasms (1983), Blue Monkey (1987), and The House By the Lake (1976).

There are several pop songs in the film, including Laura Branigan's "The Lucky One" (video below). Although John Beal gets the main music credit, "electronic orchestrations" are credited to Doug Timm, who composed for film and television throughout the eighties (he provided some of the music for Night of the Creeps). I assume that he was responsible for the excellent synth details that occur throughout the soundtrack: dark, quiet synth chords, DX7 bells, slow filter sweeps during suspenseful moments and a broken cash register overlapped with a pulsing synth. As I was reading more about his other work, I learned that Doug was killed in his home in 1989, during a botched robbery. An award has since been named in his honor and is given each year by the Berklee College of Music (his alma mater) to seniors for outstanding achievement in film scoring. Currently the only published soundtrack by Doug Timm is his 1987 score for Nightflyers (on Varèse Sarabande).


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