The rave culture that peaked in the early nineties is fertile ground for slasher movies. The plentiful drugs, the casual sex, and the ridiculous clothes all offer more than enough bait for even the most discerning homicidal maniac. Without going back too far, the genre has used them as a setting for some striking work, from the anvil-wielding Beast in Stacy Davidson’s awesome Sweatshop (2009) to horror royalty carving up a corn field in Freddy vs Jason (2003). Joining the gang this year is Rave Party Massacre, a new slasher set in 1992. The following paragraphs contain spoilers so beware, although most are given away on the movie’s promotional site.…
Under normal circumstances, this is where we would have a precis of the movie’s plot but Rave Party Massacre – also known as Deadthirsty – has a narrative in equal measure so painfully simple and so randomly confusing that it is almost impossible to summarise. Ostensibly, a couple visit a rave only to wake up the next day being stalked by a masked killer; so far so unremarkable. However, even with such a slight premise the movie makes very little sense. This is in some respects caused by the brevity of the whole thing; after almost seventeen minutes of rave footage – complete with horrible woop-woop music – the credits are rolling by an hour and ten. Even in the world of micro-budget movies this is very short.
If we are to be completely honest, most genre movies have lapses in narrative logic. Arguably, the entire slasher genre is based on characters who frequently act against common sense and self-preservation. The big reveal at the end of Rave Party Massacre is a surprise to absolutely no-one but their motivations make so little sense in the context of what’s happening that it feels very confusing. This is a movie which aspires to say something about domestic terrorism – part of the soundtrack is made up of a lengthy speech from George Bush Snr. and the credits feature a similar one from Bill Clinton – but when justifications are finally made they arrive from so far into left field that they simply raise bigger questions. In fact, the killer’s whole raison d’etre is to stick it to The Man – there’s lots of spiel about a new world order and references to events at Ruby Ridge – but somehow this translates to kidnapping four people from a room of dozens, locking them in an empty hospital, and then trying to kill them one by one. I am hardly a terrorist mastermind but the connection between the two seems somewhat nebulous; given that the entire building is also wired to explode – a fact referenced at the beginning and end of the film – would it not make more sense to simply blow it up whilst the party was going on? There are also numerous allusions to Nazi fanaticism and a throwaway comment / character backstory about the death of an unborn child which feel ham-fisted and add nothing to any kind of narrative development. In fact by raising such weighty issues as this the movie has a responsibility to deal with them sensitively and carefully but fails to do so; worse, it feels exploitative and crude in this respect.
Even by small budget feature standards, the cast here is very small – five in total. We are introduced to our main protagonists Sara Bess’ Rachel and her immediately suspicious boyfriend Branson played by Jared Sullivan very early on. The relationship between the two sets the tone for the rest of the cast; she is bland and unappealing, and he is clearly unhinged and unreasonably violent. Subsequent characters follow suit: Melissa Kunnap’s Claire appears and disappears without making any meaningful contribution other than to fashion an outfit from a bin bag; Pedro Ferreira’s Thomas is the casual fling to help Rachel escape her abusive and miserable relationship, and then proceeds to be equally as abusive and miserable; and Evan Taylor Williams hobbles around as Phillip, a character labelled as a weirdo simply because he isn’t wearing huge Day-Glo trousers or a feather boa. I appreciate that all productions to some extent are tied to the actors who apply for roles, but every one of the cast of Rave Party Massacre appears to be far too old for the characters they play; in fact, I’d suggest that they are more believable as people revisiting a Nineties-style throwback party from their youth than as young kids contemporaneously out for a night at a rave.
Not a single one of these characters has a satisfactory arc either. Horror fans will be able to establish how things will progress almost immediately, save for the random and unexplained decisions that pop up in unintentionally amusing fashion; an axe-wielding killer trying to break through a wooden door with the axe-handle rather than the blade and the characters’ inability to escape a building almost entirely made of windows and doors by breaking either are particular low / high points. On the subject of doors, I have never seen a movie with as many close-up shots of locked doors; to celebrate this, I propose a Rave Party Massacre drinking game – contestants should take a drink every time a locked door appears, another for every close up of a chain and padlock, and take yet another for every time someone rattles one in futile fashion. In this way, the audience can expect to be so drunk that they may, potentially, derive some dumb fun here.
There are some major technical issues here too. Director Jason Winn shows some neat visual touches here – a scene in which a character is locked inside a box is especially stark and interesting, along with a sprinkling of monochrome flashbacks – but the lighting is an issue. In gialli style Rave Party Massacre uses red lighting at various points, with some success, to create a sense of disorientation; however, the focus on the lights themselves actually takes the rest of the shot out of focus and makes things difficult to distinguish. Furthermore, the movie’s opening, an almost intolerably long rave section, features characters taking drugs, the effects of which are conveyed through blurred shots at discomforting angles. This is a competent and familiar strategy but as this goes on for nearly fifteen minutes it makes the audience feel almost as queasy as the characters themselves. The special effects are reasonable for a movie with this budget – some Windows 95-esque fire effects notwithstanding – and the incidental score is actually very good. The sound mix on the screener I saw was very poor though; there were real issues with music masking dialogue and vice versa, along with a sudden increase in overall volume around the forty five minute mark, but I suspect this will not be evident on the home video or VOD releases.
Some micro-budget filmmakers should be lauded. They’re endlessly creative, often operate far beyond their means, and arguably are even more dedicated to getting their vision out than their bigger budget brethren. However far too many, like Rave Party Massacre, fall at the most fundamental of hurdles; the issues here are not to do with money, they are not to do with a cast who acquit themselves reasonably well with almost nothing, they are not with the poor special effects. This is a movie that is poorly written, poorly conceived, and lacks any sense of audience awareness. With a runtime of a little over an hour, it feels twice that length, and is more like a student project than an actual movie. I love slasher movies. I love the free-spirited nature of the indie feature crowd. I want to champion creative, inventive horror, regardless of budget. This is why it gives me no pleasure to say that Rave Party Massacre is a lacklustre, tedious, entry to the retro-slasher genre and I cannot recommend it.