Murder Party

Didn’t we learn anything from Lamberto Bava’s Demons? Never accept a weird party invite (in that one, it should’ve been even easier to heed that advice too. The guy wandering around in a silver mask in a Berlin train station was one odd dude). In Murder Party, the protagonist, Christopher, is a lonely sad-sack. (How do we know this? The pet cat/single guy speaks volumes, even as he doesn’t)…So any socialization will do, even an invite that instructs him to “come alone.”

Christopher’s wandering around a New York borough when he spots said Halloween party invite on the ground, directions to a “Murder Party.”

And perhaps inspired by his hairy feline, Sir Lancelet, or the boys in Monty Python, he heads to his humble apartment and slaps together a Crusader costume from cardboard and duct tape and ventures out into the night a passable knight.

Chris makes his way to a not-yet-gentrified part of Brooklyn, wanders down an alley, and enters a sprawling warehouse space. It’s there that a group of art students take him hostage, all part of some diabolical plan to maybe turn the taciturn parking enforcement officer into some kind of hipster inspiration for a Death of Marat. The art school crew comes bedecked in Hammer Horror vampire, Warriors-related attire to name a few.

The collective, true “fauves” conspire to make Chris’ death, the life of their art, and debate how they’re going to go about doing it and which medium they’ll choose.

Murder Party shows a real flare for exterior horrors, even as the bulk of the film takes place in one space. There are some choice digs at the cloistered world of modern art, and few punches are pulled with racy banter.

The third act kind of dries up after an inspired start. Still, there’s a lot of fun and for an indie horror, it’s executed oh so well.

Beetlejuice

As champions of Italian horror, we’re eminently familiar with style over substance. In Beetlejuice, this is similarly true, a sumptuous visual feast (hell, this one also features a dilapidated house, a book of incantations, and a Dario Argento color palette, so perhaps it’s a kindred spirit).

A couple (the Maitlands) drives off a bridge and drowns, only to find themselves in an underwhelming afterlife, roaming their own home as ghosts, with New York interlopers redesigning their homestead to their own particular design aesthetic.

The now late Barbara and Adam Maitland discover a Handbook of the Recently Deceased, which grants them a caseworker and an associated ID and introduces them to posthumous bureaucracy (the similarities to the Ted Danson venicle, The Good Place, are pretty obvious as the deceased tries to make heads or tails out of their deadness).

Trying to circumvent all that red tape, the couple summons Beetlejuice, a “bio-exorcist”, so that he can scare the bejeezus out of the new tenants and the Maitlands can resume their rightful place at home (interestingly, director Tim Burton once referred to Beetlejuice as a “burlesque version of The Exorcist”).

A restless and ever-creative spirit, Burton was being pitched crap projects that included Hot to Trot, about a talking horse of all things. Perhaps it was detritus like that, which got the creative juices flowing as Beetlejuice is as imaginative a series of set pieces as you’ll ever see.

The star, of course, is Keaton as the title character, a foul-mouthed decaying rapscallion and fast-talking chiseler stuck in a hokey diorama (The bio-exorcist’s qualifications? “I attended Julliard… I’m a graduate of the Harvard business school. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time during that.”)

His performance is so engaging, so over-the-top and so effortlessly memorable, it threatens to overwhelm the proceedings at times. Luckily, there’s the ever-dependable Catherine O’Hara and Wynona Ryder to keep things in check.

**** (out of 5)