There are many quintessential Brooklyn films — Do the Right Thing, Saturday Night Fever, and more recently The Squid and The Whale — but Murder Party may be the borough’s first horror movie, set on the spooky streets of Windsor Terrace and Bushwick.
It opens onto familiar Halloween scenes: carved pumpkins on stoops and trick or treaters traipsing in Dracula capes. Then the camera narrows in on a black envelope fluttering across the sidewalk. A nerdy-looking loner stomps his big, black shoe on it, reaches down and finds that it’s an invitation to a “Murder Party.” “Come Alone” are its only instructions — and like the dumb girl who goes into the dark basement alone, he actually dresses up, treks out to the borderlands of East Williamsburg and Bushwick, and enters a shady warehouse bearing a homemade pumpkin cake. His hosts — hipsters in costume — are at first dumbstruck that some dolt followed through on their plan, which we soon learn is to kill this random stranger as part of a performance art piece that will land them a grant from their rich patron friend Alexander.
If this sounds more heady than a straight-up slash and gore movie, that’s because this is really a tongue-in-cheek fright flick. “Most of the inspiration for Murder Party came from films like The Breakfast Club and [Scorcese’s] After Hours, a really good New York film,” says director Jeremy Saulnier. Like many indie movies, there’s a lot of talking in one room, even in a confessional circle right out of the John Hughes classic, which plays upon the same in-crowd/outsider themes, only this time the cool kids are pathologically mean.
Save for two actors, everyone in Murder Party has been making movies together since the sixth grade, back in Alexandria, VA., where Saulnier and the cast grew up. Many are artists who went on to film school — Saulnier graduated from NYU’s program — and ultimately settled in Brooklyn where their production company, Lab of Madness, is based. Saulnier and his wife Skei, who are expecting their first child on (can you believe?) October 31, financed the film in part with their savings. But despite the small budget (less than $200K), and some behind the scenes mishaps (like fake blood dripping through to a downstairs apartment), the production quality of their first feature is fantastic.
And now that it has been picked up as the first release of Magnet Films, a new division of Magnolia Pictures (Bubble, Capturing the Friedmans), things will probably be easier the next time around. “I didn’t want to introduce myself to the industry with a movie that aspired for greatness and ended up being compromised [by a lack of funds],” Saulnier says. “So I thought a wacky horror comedy would be best. There’s a certain sleaze factor that comforts me.”