★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
When your school is built on the ruins of a creepy old hospital you’re just asking for trouble.
Directed by Jay Dahl
Writer/director Jay Dahl is back and he’s better than ever!
You may remember him from his debut feature film, There Are Monsters (2014). While his storytelling was thoroughly enjoyable his use of hyper-severe shaky cam and needless, out of focus extreme close-ups was near-universally panned.
Happily, Dahl’s sophomore effort, Halloween Party (2019), is a different animal entirely. His gift of crafting a clever story remains strong as we’re treated to a well-documented history and rich backstory to all the demonic goings-on. Never one to skimp on the details, viewers are shown documentary footage, maps of the school grounds, and even a lovely (if morbidly gruesome) coffee table book as clues in the “WTF Is Going On?” investigatory part of the film.
So, WTF is going on? In Dahl’s own words, he
…wanted to do something more ‘fun’ – not quite comedy-horror, but something more reminiscent of those great date-movies of the 1990s. Halloween Party is that film – a loose homage to those ‘classic’ 90s college horrors – The Ring, Scream – that kind of thing.July 2019, Entertainment Focus
Throw in a dash of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) — for reasons that will become clear once you catch this film — and Dahl hit his target dead center. Without giving too much away, Halloween Party has to do with mysterious deaths on a college campus that are tied to a low-rez yet otherwise sophisticated Halloween-themed computer virus. After Grace [Amy Groening; Teen Lust (2014)] loses her best friend in a brutal mauling by a Pig Man, she teams up with computer science nerd extraordinaire, Spencer [T. Thomason in their debut feature], to get to the truth.
The acting in Halloween Party, especially from the two leads, is impeccable. The dialog they’re given is quick and snappy and they’ve got great chemistry. The bond of friendship that develops between them as the movie progresses feels very organic and perfectly natural. While a couple of the bit players seem a tad forced, the majority of the rest of the characters come across as the usual motley crew of college folk. In particular, industry veteran Shelley Thompson [TV’s Trailer Park Boys (2001 – 2018)] adds an extra dose of validity to the proceedings as the requisite lady-with-the-answers, Dr. Barbara Macail.
As with any low budget project, Halloween Party isn’t what you’d call a “special effects bonanza.” However, Director Dahl manages to do a lot with a little most of the time. The sequence with the Pig Man (played by Bradley Bailey) expertly lets us see just enough of the creature that we can easily and disturbingly fill in the rest. Not to mention Bailey Maughan as the exceptionally horrific, Plastic-Bag-Inside-Out-Boy. Through some fairly simple make-up effects and well done camera work, that’s one messed up fella.
Unfortunately, there were a few instances — mainly in the last act of the film — where “less is more” was abandoned and the filmmakers try to do a little too much with only partial success. The final act of Halloween Party is actually were a few things break down; not just the occasional special effects overreach.
Throughout the majority of the film, the pacing is absolutely perfect. The investigation into the school’s darker history continually turns up the tension while the quick dialog and its excellent delivery by our two leads gives off a great sense of urgency. At least, until the last act of the movie.
What’s supposed to be the exciting culmination of everything we’ve seen so far kind of limps toward the finish line with a lot of panting and running. Which is followed by some more running and panting as our dynamic duo seem to lose the wonderful intelligence and effectiveness they’d been displaying up to this point.
As complaints go, though, this is a minor one. Halloween Party cements Jay Dahl as one of the best up-and-coming scriptwriters working in our favorite genre. His attention to detail and ability to craft a believable history are, frankly, outstanding for someone with only two feature films under his belt. Halloween Party is a fun, demonic romp with great dialog and excellent casting.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Halloween Party is available in select theaters and on major streaming services as of October 2nd.