Appropriately for an April Fools-set horror/comedy, William Fruet’s Killer Party (1986), which screens at Revue Cinema as part of the Drunken Cinema series on April 1st, features not one but two false starts.
The first, a scene at a funeral with an unbelievably campy priest is revealed to be part of a drive-in movie, a set up that quickly dissolves into a very 1980’s music video starring the real-life rock band White Sister. This goes on for longer than you’d expect before we learn that the video is being watched on TV by university student Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes) whose story we will actually be following.
Follow all that?
From the beginning, Killer Party doesn’t take itself seriously and asks the viewer to do the same. The film was one of the many slasher flicks filmed in Canada between the slasher golden age of the late-1970s and the genre’s gradual demise in the 1980s, before its Scream-fueled comeback in the mid-1990s. American producers took advantage of tax laws that meant investors could write off practically 100 per cent of the money they put into productions shot here. For a little while, you could get a low-budget horror movie greenlit with nothing more than a gimmick and garish movie poster concept.
The ‘maple syrup slasher’ boom gave us a few classics, like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) and Prom Night (1980) with scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (both shot in Toronto). But many of the films sunk from memory as their VHS boxes faded on video store shelves. Killer Party, which supposedly only took in $900 during its theatrical run, would have suffered the same fate had it not developed a cult following on home video.
Phoebe and her friends Jennifer (Joanna Johnson) and Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch- who looks like bespectacled Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns before her glow up into Catwoman) attend Briggs College (played by the University of Toronto). They are obsessed with getting into a sorority. Lord only knows why. The sorority sisters treat them cruelly - demanding that they do menial chores around campus, say sexually suggestive phrases during class and, during occult rituals, swallow raw eggs and real goat eyes.
The scenes outside the fraternity and sorority houses were filmed on the leafy streets of the Annex. It’s instantly recognizable because to this day the neighbourhood features many red-bricked Victorian houses with Greek letters above the doors and discarded red party cups on the lawn. I know the community well, although I must admit that having never been part of an occult secret society myself, I cannot definitively say one way or another that goat eyes are no longer swallowed.
Throughout the film, the three friends are attentive and supportive to each other, and it’s refreshing to watch a horror movie with strong female friendship at the center rather than a heterosexual romance. Also refreshing: despite an early nude bathing gag that seems like a deleted sequence from Animal House, the film’s objectifying gaze is mostly on the hunky frat boys rather than on the sorority mean girls.
Phoebe, Jennifer and Vivia feel some pressure to get into the sorority before the reopening of Pratt House, a derelict fraternity house shuttered twenty years prior after a student was killed in a hazing accident. His tombstone is even in the backyard. Seems like a bad idea, especially as folks start going missing in the vicinity of the building but hey, characters in these movies are not particularly known for their good decision making.
The friends’ acceptance seems like a long shot, but Vivia has some tricks up her sleeve. A master of special effects, during a midnight initiation ceremony she stages her own beheading via guillotine (complete with wax head), winning the sorority sisters’ begrudging respect.
Things are looking up for the gang - they even have potential boyfriends! - as they prepare to join the sorority and attend Pratt House’s reopening for a masquerade party. The aim of the party is to celebrate April Fools Day, despite the fact that the ground is covered with brown leaves and it’s clearly autumn.
Around this point I thought to myself, “‘shouldn’t the title of this movie be “April Fools Day”? Turns out, it was, but then another horror movie, shot after but released first, nabbed the name, so they went with Killer Party.
The movie also suffered from the Canadian censor board chopping away at a lot of the violent scenes. As the film enters its slashy-slashy final act, and the student body piles up, too many deaths occur in rapid succession and off-camera, failing to build up a sense of danger. But Killer Party makes up for it at its action-packed climax during which I couldn’t stop smiling. And I concur with Revue Cinema’s capsule summary - the wild ending is as funny as it is scary. I’m thankful this forgotten gem, like a vengeful spirit haunting a boarded-up Victorian mansion, was given a second chance.
Killer Party screens at Revue Cinema as part of Drunken Cinema on Friday, April 1st at 9:30 PM. Drunken Cinema is a monthly series in Toronto and Montreal specializing in film events for extreme movie buffs. The series showcases cult classics and hidden gems from the 1980’s and 1990’s with an interactive twist.There will also be popcorn, wine and beer, a Killer Party-themed cocktail, trailers and a 1980s-inspired pre-show. Tickets are available here.
Max Mosher is a writer, communications specialist, and Old Hollywood Correspondent for The Town.