With this slasher double feature I was treated to one 80s throwback that takes place right after the prom, and one late 90s throwback about a prom reunion 8 years later.
PARTY NIGHT (2017)
This is one of those first time indie horror films that leaves me looking forward to what’s still to come from the director.
Party Night is safely obvious as a slasher—a bunch of friends goes to party at an isolated house after prom, has sex, and gets slaughtered by a masked killer. It even embeds plenty of meta moments, with the kids name dropping titles and mocking old 80s slashers.
However, director Troy Escamilla demonstrates what many wannabe horror directors don’t—that he studied and recognizes what makes the most effective slashers of the 80s work. On top of spectacular practical gore effects, the music cues, suspense, tension, atmosphere, jump scares, chases, body reveals, and unexpected surprises in seemingly obvious kill sequences (a different take on a shower scene, for instance) nail everything that made me a hardcore slasher fan back then.
What also stands out for me is that for a first time indie, Troy has also cast in the most crucial roles people who can act. When we’re down to one girl, she is such an emotionally strong character that I was catapulted right back to the days when we cheered on the final girl as she battled it out with the killer.
However, as is often the case with indie slashers, we aren’t quite aligned with who she is until she is suddenly anointed final girl simply because she’s the only one still alive. In the most successful slashers (Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th) we connect predominantly with one girl because it’s essentially her story, but we don’t get that specific narrative POV here.
Also, don’t expect much in way of a plot or character development. We learn that kids have gone missing, a group of friends goes to the home of one kid’s uncle after prom, we see some shots of a masked killer in his lair, he kills everyone…and the final girl battles him.
There’s no backstory, no explanation, no unmasking, and no clear clue as to who the killer was or why they killed. So in that sense, you have to enjoy it for what it is and not what it isn’t.
The only other real minor issue for me is that I personally think the outdoor scenes are actually too well lit! Lighting is a bitch, so I know there’s a risk of making things so dark we can’t see anything, but Party Night seems a bit oversaturated in outdoor nighttime scenes. Therefore, we don’t get that atmospheric grit and grain of some of the classics.
And finally, just from a queer perspective, it’s always refreshing when there are hints of homoerotic subtext, even if there are no gay characters. Here we get a montage of the boys bumping and grinding for the “girls,” and moments of sexually charged visuals of one particular hottie.
During his sex scene with a girl we don’t see any female nudity, but he spends the remainder of the film shirtless, and each frame he’s in walks that fine line of being a completely innocent shot of a guy who happens to have his shirt off, yet a subtly, totally erotic celebration of the male physique for an observant viewer.
FOX TRAP (2016)
This one screams Scream, with a complex plot, a load of suspects and red herring, a very drawn out denouement, and the polished look and feel of films from the slasher resurgence at the end of the 90s. There’s even a killer wearing a white mask and black hooded robe.
It all begins with a prank gone horribly wrong on prom night and everyone agreeing to never speak of their role in the tragedy that befalls the victim.
8 years later, the friends are called to an isolated house in the middle of nowhere for a reunion.
This is the first of many WTF moments in the film. Why would these kids, all guilty of doing something horrible, accept an invitation to a reunion surrounding an event they want to forget and distance themselves from?
As far as the slasher aspects of the film go, this is a definite winner. The kills are great, with plenty of suspense, scares, and brutality. One scene in particular involving use of a hammer is just about as explicitly cruel as I’ve seen in a basic slasher, making you feel exactly what the character is going through.
Chase scenes are great, body reveals rock, there’s a “dinner party” scene…it’s everything you’d want in a slasher.
Where as Party Night had little in the way of story, Fox Trap bombards us with details—which explains why it runs too long at 100 minutes—and most of them are never really carried through the narrative. It’s as if elements are tossed in at a moment’s notice because it’s a convenient plot device or something that worked in other slashers so…why not? Dolls scary. Put in dolls…
Even new characters are presented late in the game as flashbacks are inserted in an attempt to fill in the gaps and explain everything for us. Not to mention, new areas of the “house” seem to just open up or get discovered out of nowhere. It’s like you’re playing a survival horror video game and finally unlock that one door on the map that you couldn’t get in for the first half of the game.
Even so, it’s still loads of fun with a whirlwind of chases and characters making the dumbest decisions constantly. And the bitch of the gang is just about as big a mean girl as it gets. I love her for her dedication to being a bitch until the bitter end.
Finally, it’s kind of a hoot how the killer’s devious plan just completely falls apart yet somehow totally comes together.