Writer/director Jay Dahl’s Halloween Party begins in early October, and there is early mention of a frathouse party – but neither of these is entirely the reason for its title. And if you’re thinking of the slasher series begun by John Carpenter in 1978 (and still going strong today), then the opening lo-res computer image here of a jack o’ lantern suggests that we are somewhere closer to the mediated madness of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) than to any of Michael Myers’ serially stabby rampages. Grace (Amy Groening) is visiting Zoe (Marietta Laan) in her college room – and as they look at Zoe’s holiday snaps on social media, and engage with a ‘1990s Atari spooky spooky’ meme that appears on the computer, it becomes clear that this is going to be horror for a generation never far from a digital device. Zoe’s dorm neighbour ‘Bubbles’ (Zach Faye) is so-called because footage of him farting in a bath tub when he was two years old became an early viral video. These co-eds have literally lived their entire lives online.
That meme, calling itself the ‘Halloween Party’, challenges both these young women – by name – to type in their worst fear within 60 seconds, or else have to face it for real. Zoe deliberately neglects to enter her genuine phobia for ‘pig people’ – and is subsequently killed by one. This leads Grace to join forces with computer sciences geek Spencer (T. Thomason) in trying to trace the meme, and whoever is behind it. As others fall victim to the elusive meme’s curse, Grace and Spencer connect what is going on to the history of the campus and the palliative hospital over which it was built. From there, five horrifically diseased children – “a hacker group of revenge-seeking demons,” as Grace puts it in lines seemingly written with the film’s trailer in mind, “you know some deformed teenagers that in a suicide pact poured their souls into the world’s scariest virus which, by the way, fucking works and will kill you with your worst nightmare” – appear to be wreaking their supernatural vengeance against the world that abandoned them. And for this party of vindictive kids, with their masks and hoods and the grotesque deformities that those costumes conceal, “Halloween was every day.”
With its characters who, after encountering a strange meme, must race the clock against their own impending doom, Halloween Party marries the fatalistic tensions of Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1998) to the amiable student banter that Dahl had already honed in his previous feature There Are Monsters (2013). All this is funny and creepy in equal measure. It is also very knowing: Grace and Spencer repeatedly contrast their own conduct with what people typically do in films; and even more reflexively, as Spencer gets wise about the sinister group behind the meme, the ‘Halloween Party’ itself becomes his worst fear, so that those monstrous kids emerge to cause havoc during an actual Halloween party. They are the ghosts in the machine, the collective unconscious of freaky fear that leaves its shadowy trace all over the ether, just waiting to trap the next generation in the guilt, pain and terror of a horrific buried past. Yet somehow, this film’s airborne coda also hilariously finds a way not just to reference, but to outdo, both Final Destination (2000) and Snakes On A Plane (2006)…
Halloween Party was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.