Movie poster for Murder Party showing a man in glasses wearing knights armor costume made of cardboard and blood-soaked. He's holding two chainsaws across his chest and looks terrified. An assortment of people are behind him wearing costumes for a baseball player, vampire, robot, and cheerleader.
Poster for the movie, Murder Party, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, 2007. (The Lab of Madness)

It sucks when Halloween falls early in the week. The spookiest night of the year and you have to wake up for work early the next day. Extracurriculars, obligations, and all the regular schedules of autumn life get in the way of releasing our purest macabre selves.

While we lament, we make the best of it. And that probably means digging into some good scary movies between handfuls of the best of all candy, Whoppers. The ascent of streaming services sucks in some ways, like that it’s getting close to the price of paying for cable. But the competition has led to some studios digging deep into their catalogs, where there are some gems waiting to be consumed.

One movie that you shouldn’t let pass this Halloween is Murder Party. This 2007 indie film by Jeremy Saulnier (who also directed Green Room) with a relatively unknown cast punches way above its weight with so much goofy bloodshed and influencer mockery. Best, it clocks in at 80 minutes, perfect for comedy horror and such a breath of fresh air compared to the lingering blue farts of a lot of current movies.

The setup is absurd. Sad-sack Christopher (Chris Sharp) opens an errant invitation he finds on the ground while walking home on Halloween. He already has plans, namely some rented VHS movies and a candy corn binge. But the emptiness of his life, the obstinance of his cat, and the hopefulness of the invitation — one that literally says, “Murder Party, Come Alone” — are too much. Christopher makes himself a costume, some pumpkin bread as a gift for his unknown hosts, and heads into the city for the promised festivities.

The hosts end up being a collective of visual artists who are competing with each other for a grant. Each is in costume (pulling references from Blade Runner or The Warriors) and has a particular vision for the way Christopher will meet his demise. Oh yes, the artists will come up with creative, interpretative ways to kill Christopher. He was, after all, dumb enough to come to something called a Murder Party.

Fortunately for Christopher, the artists are about as competent at murder as they are at art. As the collision of these artistic visions plays out, mostly around a terrified and progressively more blood-soaked Christopher, the weakness of the competitive art grant concept comes into focus — with burnings, stabbings, disembowelments, and chainsaw accidents. There was not a budget for CGI for the movie, so it’s all done with quality authentic gore.

Murder Party escapes the standard slasher fest in a couple of ways. First, it’s hilarious. From Christopher’s oblivious hopefulness to the affected try-hards pretending to be actual artists, the murder is in the service of the party. Second, Christopher’s assembly of his costume is a love letter to anyone who has cosplayed. The suit’s creation ranks in the DIY montage Hall of Fame, and the product is so lame, it’s priceless. Just stunning. Third, there’s no classic horror setting like forest or cabin or Scandinavian lakeside. There’s no Crystal Lake here, this is in the big city and the warehouse/murder canvas becomes part of the story.

They turn gentrification into a reason to make art, but not the one we often hear about. The insufferable Alexander (Sandy Barnett), source of the potential art grant and kitschy art review buzzwords, envisions the world their murder art will create.

“In six months,” he speechifies while gazing languidly around the warehouse, “this will be a Starbucks, Whole Foods, Jamba Juice, Cosi. Where’s the inspiration in that? And this warehouse will inevitably be turned into overpriced condos marketed as artist lofts.” But his pronouncement takes a left turn. “These WILL be artist lofts. Ours.” It’s not art to grab the last gasp of authenticity from a changing landscape. It’s art to cash in, and these preening, self-absorbed artistes are the perfect conduits. 

When the Murder Party escapes the confines of the warehouse, the city they fall into is the vapid art scene they’re trying to engage. The third act is a tour of performance spaces and rooftop parties. The number of people that they encounter increases by a lot, but the ones that care about their work barely budges. They’re too busy getting sloshed and hanging out on Halloween. 

Which, honestly, may be one of the most authentic views of living in the city ever put to film. Sure, upon moving to the big city, you may be lucky and show up to a universe of options open for the picking. More than likely, though, income and background will put you in a social circle based on your job and living arrangements. You find a scene, and you live in it. The horror isn’t being stuck in a social circle, it’s that trying to climb through it is murder.

And we’re not going to roast artists but let city advocates/transit nerds off the hook here. We can be the same kind of insular, lingo obsessed clique as these art collectivists. Sure, we do this work for the love of places and desire to see other people succeed. We also want a great apartment in a neighborhood that may very well have a Whole Foods and a Starbucks. Urbanists may not be a Christopher, like the one in this story. As horror movies often say, the call may be coming from inside the house.

Murder Party is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and available to rent on other services. Or celebrate Christopher’s life and original attempt to have a quiet Halloween, and go rent a physical copy at Scarecrow Video, which we are lucky to have in Seattle. Trick or Treat, everybody, and enjoy the candy.

Article Author

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.