I just want to start off by saying thank you to Writer/Director, Troy Escamilla for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature film, “Party Night”. Party Night is an 80’s inspired slasher film about a group of six teens who become prey for a deranged psychopath after deciding to bail on their prom party, opting for a more intimate gathering at a secluded cabin instead. The group is made up of three couples. Star football player, Travis (played by Billy Brannigan) and his promiscuous girlfriend, Molly (Tommie Vegas), along with easy-going, Nelson (played by Drew Shotwell) and slightly restrained girlfriend, Amy (Laurel Toupal). Rounding out the collective are, Andrew (Ryan Poole) and his lovely girlfriend, Olivia (Destinie Orndoff). The film also stars Candice D’Meza, Lawrence McKinney and Jimmy Phillips. The 80’s slasher has become somewhat of a template for independent film makers looking for an in to the business (regardless of being fans). A lot of the highest grossing films in the genre came from that specific time period and they’re generally much more affordable for struggling artists to make. I like to think I have a bit of knack for picking film makers who also happen to be genuine fans of the genre and have their hearts in the right places, versus someone whose just looking for an easy avenue into the industry. The differences are almost always clear in the quality of work they produce.
The obvious highlight of Party Night is that it’s inspired by those genre films of the 80’s that us horror fans all know and love (to varying degrees of course). I’m one of those fans and critics that acknowledges and respects where it all started, but I’m also very pleased with the multi faceted advancements we’re seeing in horror today. I’ve always been quite vocal in saying that I’m pro remake and re-imagining, but at the same time, I’ve got a soft spot for films like Scott Spiegel’s, “Intruder”, William Lustig’s, “Maniac Cop” and Jospeh Zito’s, “The Prowler”, all 80’s films (among others I love). When I hear of a first time film maker having made a slasher film, it tends to pique my interest. I love the retro poster art for Party Night, a similar look to Ian Kessner’s, “Lost After Dark” mixed with a clear “Halloween” vibe. This one opens with a hostage like situation between our hooded/masked killer and a young, unlucky victim (played by D’Meza). It’s a nice atmospheric start, which includes some believable crying from D’Meza and essential early blood spray, done practically might I add. The sequence is perhaps thirty seconds too long, but all in all it makes for an appealing introduction. What follows are a handful of gorgeous establishing shots of the lake with its lovely surroundings. All the framing is steady and I particularly like the use of good clean wide shots, as well as the suspenseful shots while the killer looks through the window at a couple of the girls. Party Night is a really vibrant and clean-looking film in terms of its color grading, in turn giving off a high production value feel for what’s ultimately a low-budget film. This could have gone another way completely if Escamilla took the SOV approach (shot on video), which was of course a key selling point of horror in years gone by. I, myself am a fan of the cheesy static tape lines and such, but there’s specific films that works for and others it doesn’t. What’s an 80’s esq slasher flick without the integral synth score? Party Night mixes things up with some early violin, cello and bass, while supporting that with synthesizer in the appropriate places. Light rock tunes fill out the rest of the background score and they sound alright as well.
Troy’s script is pretty much a by the book, carbon copy of most generic slasher films, but surely you knew and hoped that would be the case otherwise why the hell are you here? I like some of the specifics of his writing, such as the car window sequence, a clear homage to Wes Craven’s original “Scream” (even if that was the 90’s). What about the self-aware references to a multitude of 80’s slashers including “The Mutilator” and “Prom Night”, fun stuff. Even young Writer/Producer, Kevin Sommerfield (Don’t Go To The Reunion and Dismembering Christmas) gets a shout out, having a couple of scenes from DC shown within the film. The horror community showing us why they’re such a tight-knit group. Our selection of characters are fairly one-dimensional and cliché, but hey, that’s what most of us have come to know and love about the slasher sub-genre, we know what we’re getting. Each of the performances are solid given the limited amount of experience from majority of the cast. My favourite character was Olivia (played by Orndoff). It helps that she looks gorgeous and her character is just genuinely likeable. Molly is all about having fun and saying her piece, essentially like Kristina Klebe’s, “Lydia” of Rob Zombie’s, “Halloween”. The men are a little inconsistent and certain characters are definitely more likeable than others, but they’re all serviceable in their roles. Taking into account that this is just Laurel’s second film, she puts in an admirable showing as Amy. If your modern slasher’s going to fall down anywhere it’s usually in the body count and violence department. I’m pleased to say that wasn’t the case with Party Night, but keep in mind this is a low-budget film. That said, all the kills are on-screen and well-edited, Escamilla never cutting away from the bloody aftermath of his kills. Some decent prosthetics are used and one kill is especially gory, plus the final death is quite a memorable one, considering the budget constraints.
For a first time film maker, Escamilla looks to have done his research regarding technical features, because there aren’t to many issues with Party Night. I wasn’t a fan of the choppy running sequence where one victim attempts to evade the killer, nor the handheld camera work during the first act while on the streets for those conversations between the girls. The sequence itself, is in essence the same scene from Halloween (girls walk home from school, small talk) and although there’s nothing really wrong with it, I’m personally not a fan of that amateur shooting method given everything else was so well conceived. There’s the odd peak in sound and some of the audio is clipped here and there but that’s quite common for an independent film. There’s very little to complain about with the film itself, minus a few unnecessary plot points and continuity issues. I have a nit picky complaint from the scene involving Benson, a local fisherman (played by Phillips). He finds a phone and some glasses in the shrubs near his fishing spot and decides to call the Sheriff with his concerns. The sequence is shot with the cell phone screen visible and you can quite obviously see the phone isn’t connected to a call. In the same scene, Benson, with his call to the police, more or less spells out exposition for the audience in relation to a bunch of missing girls from the local area. I think given what you’re usually in for with a slasher flick, the items found by Benson make for sufficient evidence about the situation and the viewer can therefore read between the lines. Also, on several occasions characters react to having heard something in the background or in the distance that the audience is never really privy to. There’s no spikes in audio to clue you in, or POV shots (point of view) to make you aware someone is actually nearby. A couple of scenes that didn’t go anywhere could have been cut as well, one that comes to mind is a short scene where the killer only walks a few paces into one of the cabins and shuts the door. It doesn’t lead to any relevant setup or a kill.
Everyone knows I’m a sucker for the slasher sub-genre (just look at most of the site’s content) and I can’t help but go into these types of films with high expectations (as hard as I try not to). Escamilla’s love for 80’s slashers is clearly evident in this sophomore attempt. Everything from the retro style poster art, through to the killers weapon of choice and stereotypical characters in situations we all love to watch. The cinematography by Derek Huey is most impressive and Troy’s editing and coloring are both sharp. The score is an even mix of 80’s inspired sounds and modern rock tunage. The script nods to all things 80’s horror (and even some 90’s wink wink’) make for an entertaining watch that’s coming at you from an honest place. Most of the performances feel genuine and the kills are a lot of fun to watch considering the micro-budget. They’re all accomplished with practical blood and gore, a true trademark of the slasher film, and for that, you have to give Troy props. There’s a couple of technical glitches but they’re usually par for the course, and some of the various continuity issues could have been rectified in post production. Party Night is pretty conventional stuff and some people probably won’t like that, but it knows that and never once tries to hide it. It’s a low-budget cross between something like Paul Lynch’s, “Prom Night” and Sean Cunningham’s iconic, “Friday The 13th”. If you enjoyed films that I’ve reviewed in the past like “Don’t Go To The Reunion” and “Dismembering Christmas” then you’ll dig Party Night, so go ahead and check out the teaser below!
My rating for “Party Night” is 6.5/10