Sometimes a film about a killer object can be surprisingly effective...
...Child’s Play’s take on a killer doll and Christine’s tale of a killer car are both terrifying and amazingly rewatchable. As great as those films are, the idea of a killer object can easily lead to a very silly premise that elicits groans and eyerolls rather than frightened shrieks and closed eyes. Films in this subgenre must walk a fine line between the uncanny and the absurd. Somewhere between Child’s Play and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats lies the Canadian horror film, Halloween Party.
Halloween Party is an enjoyable if not entirely scary film about a killer email. It sounds silly—and it is—but writer/director Jay Dahl and his team behind this movie know how to manipulate expectations and tone to create a movie that is equal parts horror and comedy. This tale begins with a college student receiving a message on her computer that tells her to type out her greatest fear or she will die. The message is rendered with the finest graphics Angelfire could ever produce and includes gifs of pumpkins, fire, and a witch. It is all adorably goofy and, for the first few minutes of the film, it appears as though this horror comedy will be light on the scares. When the young woman refuses to tell the computer her greatest fear (pig monsters), she is murdered by a pig creature wearing a pig mask. The silliness of the concept works surprisingly well with the terror to create an unnerving and frightening opening. After the co-ed’s death we follow her friend Grace (Amy Groening) as she attempts to find the email’s origin. Along the way, Grace teams up with a computer nerd named Spencer (T. Thomason) and a very forced “will they/won’t they” relationship forms. By the end, our couple has uncovered their university’s dark history and the audience has enjoyed some scares, creative scenes, and more than a few laughs.
The strongest element of this film is its command of tone. The goofier elements of the film are amusing and even (at times) laugh out loud funny. Creepier moments where characters are being chased or horribly killed elicit the desired response from an audience. Most remarkable of all, the transitions between moments of comedy and moments of horror seem natural and in no way jarring. Halloween Party uses the silliness of its initial premise to lure viewers into a remarkably creative ghost story.
Horror comedies tend to lean more in one direction than another. Evil Dead 2 is more of a horror film than a comedy while Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness is much more of a comedy than a horror film. Halloween Party is firmly planted in the middle. It is as funny as it is scary. The film is able to take the moments of horror seriously while wholly committing to the comedic scenes. Much of the comedy comes from subtle performances and surprising reveals. The comedy feels so organic, it is easy to imagine that the jokes came not from a writer, but from the characters themselves.
The protagonists of Halloween Party are a loveable duo named Grace and Spencer. While neither looks quite young enough to be college students (perhaps they both took a gap decade?) the performances from Amy Groening and newcomer T. Thomason are youthful, playful, and a pleasure to watch. Shortly after meeting Grace, Spencer points out that the best movies make the audience look at the main characters and ask, “Will they fuck?” While I don’t remember that being at the heart of Jaws, I do understand the point the film is attempting to make. Introducing the potential for romance between Grace and Spencer in this manner is heavy handed and metatextual in the worst way but while the presentation is poorly done, the execution is charming. These two unlikely allies are a pleasure to watch and their interactions are cute. When the scares ramp up and the characters find themselves in immediate danger, viewers will find themselves caring about their safety and hoping for their survival.
Surprisingly, this film manages to explain the origins and the abilities of the killer email to be somewhat plausible. Without giving away all the film’s twists and turns, we learn that the coding for the email works in tandem with evil spirits. In this way, the evil email is no less plausible than a possessed book or a haunted cemetery.
Impressively, this movie manages to continue to raise the stakes beyond the lives of our heroes. At one point, a character asks another why they shouldn’t simply run away from the source of the killer email and let it kill other people. What harm can possibly come to them if they just leave? The other responds that plenty can happen if somebody types that their greatest fear is nuclear war. Rarely do we see a ghost story suggest that global annihilation is a possible outcome. This does raise one question that I have not been able to shake since viewing the film—how would my greatest fear kill me? In what way would my browser history being made public cause my immediate death? I suppose in the world of Halloween Party, characters have more concrete fears than my own.
The weakest elements of this film come from the visual effects. The first creature the email takes the form of is a very believable and very scary pig monster. From what I could tell, this was a practical effect and it looked amazing. Later in the film, we see a terrible, multi-limbed man-topus that also looks pretty good and is creepy as hell. Tragically, not all the horrors could be made practically and many of the monsters use subpar digital effects that rip you right out of the moment. As is often the case with this type of movie, less can be more and in many cases, the less shown, the better the scares.
Halloween Party is a charming little movie that deserves seeking out. The silly premise leads to creative scares, a smart backstory, and an ambitious and surprisingly effective finale.
Halloween Party comes to VOD from Red Hound Films on October 2nd.
By Mark Gonzales