(By Matt Konopka) For as long as I have lived, I have always hated the idea of “garden parties”. The sorts of occasions that require you to cook something up, usually fancy, meet and hang out with a bunch of people you either do not know or absolutely despise, and worst of all, it is often considered “inappropriate” to get completely wasted, which would be my only defense to surviving such a thing. Luckily, I and most of you can honestly say that we will never have to attend one quite like Garden Party Massacre…
…Written/directed by Gregory Blair (Deadly Revisions), Garden Party Massacre is a quirky horror-comedy which tells the story of Caleb (Andy Gates) and Addison (Nichole Bagby), a husband and wife team who seem to be ready to edge into that whole “till death do us part” thing. The contentious couple is hosting a drab get-together with just a few friends, when a killer (Matt Weinglass) crashes the party…or makes it better, all things considered.
As soon as the opening credits begin to roll, it’s clear to me that Blair intends his audience to just shut their brains off and have a good laugh. Garden Party Massacre presents itself with a fun, tongue in cheek tone, listing the cast in order of appearance, while clarifying that they are not being listed in their “order of death”. This sort of “cute” humor, as I’ll call it, stakes a claim early and refuses to leave. In that, I can certainly commend Blair’s consistency. But while the humor is entertaining and even delightful at first, it eventually begins to overstay its welcome. Not because the jokes themselves aren’t funny, some are, but because it’s the same type of humor over and over again, a type which can easily go from funny to irritating in any film, no matter the writer: Puns. There are so many “punny” one-liners in Garden Party Massacre, that if they were food, they would be the Hors d'oeuvre, dinner, dessert, and even the damn beer. For how much the film rests on its puns rather than anything else, Garden Party Massacre is less of a massacre and more of a night with a performance from an improv comedy class.
The actors/actress’s delivery is not to blame either. Though some, like Addison, are extremely unlikeable (unless you like characters that do nothing but complain), this is a funny cast which seems to understand humor and the timing that goes along with it. Each is an exaggerated version of who you might find in office co-workers, such as the office gossiper/downer, Reena (Lise Hart), the dunce, Lincoln (Blair), the flamboyant guy, Wesley (David Leeper), and the office bimbo, Melanie (Dawna Lee Heising). And when I say exaggerated, I mean exaggerated. If there are people on earth as obnoxious as Melanie, I don’t want to know them, for fear that I may finally lose my last shred of faith in humanity. Blair attempts to give the viewer reasons to relate to these people, and for the most part, he succeeds. Each has their own wants and needs, and aside from Melanie and Addison, are all likeable enough for us to want them to survive. One could even argue that Blair falls a little too in love with his own characters. Like I said, this is much less a massacre than the title promises, so take that as you will.
One major issue with this cast of characters though is the way in which they are portrayed. Yes, all but two have an enjoyable presence with the ability to get the audience rooting for them, but there is a clear split between the way in which men and women are written here. Though the men all lack confidence, they are, at the end of the day, the “smart ones”, the “fighters”, the ones who are actually getting shit done and who have generally well rounded personalities. Meanwhile, Addison is the epitome of the stereotypical nagging wife, Addison is willing to die over a cake she made, and Melanie, well, not much needs to be said as to why she isn’t exactly the nicest portrait of a woman. It is not Blair’s intention for the audience to see the characters this way, but it is a good example for why it’s important for characters to be more than just a stereotype, especially ones that in this day and age, have become outdated.
Some of this might be forgivable if Garden Party Massacre lived up to the “horror” part of horror-comedy, but we can’t always have nice things, not even at a garden party? In Garden Party Massacre, “exciting” and any synonym have been ripped out of the dictionary with a set of garden shears. Things just sort of happen in this film, putting aside important aspects of film like “build up” and “tension” and substituting them for corny jokes and awkward body-language humor. The killer might as well randomly appear out of thin air in regards to the way he’s introduced. He also might as well be on the same level of inconvenience as forgetting to pick up paper plates for the party, seeing as how no one really seems all that perturbed by his presence. At least, that’s how it comes off when you have characters crying over their ruined cake or casually eating chips while watching one of their friends who’s about to get a pickaxe through their face.
Part of the problem is the un-believability of the situation. Garden Party Massacre has enough holes to, well, plant the entirety of a Botanical Gardens. Granted, horror films always require a good stretch of the ole imagination, but this is too much, even for the most limber of minds. It’s bad enough that our cast spends a good two-thirds of the film running from room to room, seeing the killer in a window, screaming, and running to the next room, but there is no way I can buy the idea that a group of adults can’t find some way to get help, in a modern age of technology, in the middle of the day, in the freaking SUBURBS! These people must be the dumbest humans on earth, and I would have to be as well to accept that they can’t simply, I don’t know, run outside and yell for help? Or find a damn phone charger? Don’t get me wrong, cell-phones have become a major pain in the ass for horror writers, and Blair tries to side-step the problem with Caleb wanting a “cell-phone” free party, but am I really to believe that no one at this boring party even brought their phones and left them in the car? People walk blindly into traffic on their phones these days, there’s no way anyone ever doesn’t at least bring their phone with them and leave it in the car, even if they don’t plan on using it. Bright, sitcom lighting and an utter lack of bloodshed are just the red-velvet smear on this bland cake.
Perhaps the greatest flaw in Garden Party Massacre though is the film’s inability to remain focused on the plot. Blair’s script has not one, but TWO left-field plot twists, with arguably a third in the final seconds, all of which might have made for a more entertaining film, or at least lived up to the over-the-top, gory humor which the title suggests. I understand that Blair is making a spoof of the genre's usual insanity, and the first twist is actually quite clever, but by immediately covering it up with an even more implausible twist, one which has nothing to lead the audience into it and has no connection to the main plot whatsoever, it comes off as the filmmaker attempting to do too much, and in a 70-minute film, that’s the kiss of death. Blair would have been much better off neatly honing one particular idea, instead of taking the whole thing off the rails in multiple directions with just a few minutes to go.
Like most garden parties, Garden Party Massacre wants its guests to have a great time, and for a little bit, they do, but a few soft chuckles and some tasty snacks aren’t enough to keep everyone from waiting for the perfect time to pull out their excuse to leave.
Garden Party Massacre does not yet have a release date.
By Matt Konopka