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October 15, 2007

Young Blood

Williamsburg splatter epic Murder Party joins others to mobilize "hipster horror" genre

The cast of Jeremy Saulnier's Brooklyn horror comedy Murder Party, set for DVD release Tuesday (Photo: Dennis Kleiman / courtesy The Lab of Madness)

Axe in hand and donning a costume inspired by The Warriors' Baseball Furies, a killer named Bill mutters, "Fuck this whole scene. Everybody dies." He rushes into a side exhibit -- "Interactive Human Installation" -- at a Williamsburg loft show, slicing a pumpkin in two as an intended victim yelps: "We all have to fight him, or he'll kill us!"

A guy in glasses responds: "I'm a lover, not a fighter." He gets an axe firmly planted in his neck. A few minutes later, the room is covered in bodies and blood -- Jackson Pollock by way of Tobe Hooper. One of a trio of partygoers saunters up to the open door, musing, "Mmm, yes. Still-life as performance art."

This is just one element of Murder Party, arriving Tuesday on DVD through Magnet, the genre video arm of Magnolia Films. It also happens to be part of the new "hipster horror" (as coined by Radar), a style playing to the generation that grew up disillusioned and ironic through the late '80s and '90s, sucking all the weird out of Fangoria and Starlog that they possibly could. It's a media-convenient label to be sure, but Murder Party filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier is happy to call it whatever people want as long as they see his film.

"I'm respectful to not be grouped in with the poor Mumblecore kids who made very different films, happened to know each other and all of a sudden were categorized," Saulnier told The Reeler in a recent phone interview. "But 'hipster horror' is fine. That's pretty much what it is."

A portion of Party's appeal comes from its centralization on the Williamsburg art scene. It follows Chris (Chris Sharp) as he finds an invitation to the "Murder Party" and arrives at a warehouse housing five artists planning to kill him for grant money, the sleazy "art dealer" offering said cash and a dog named Hellhammer in a skeleton costume. If you don't get every reference or homage, you're not alone; Chris, a suburban Brooklynite, doesn't get any of the inside jokes either. Saulnier acknowledges unintentional references (one viewer said he took a shot from an imported director's cut of Blade Runner), but Murder Party's sly references to those in the 'Burg nevertheless presents them as the art school rejects that the rest of America can understand.

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"If you don't get it, you're with our protagonist," Saulnier said. "If you do get it, you're with the deranged artists."

Director Alex Orr, whose feature Blood Car recently screened at New York's Evil City Film Festival, also embraces the "hipster horror" connotation. "Whenever I'm trying to put people in seats, that's the crowd I'm going for," he said. "I think some of the jokes and film references are a little over the head of a 15-year-old kid, but that 20-something, early 30s hipster crowd? They really dig it."

Orr's film follows a theoretical future where gas is $40 a gallon and a good-natured, vegan kindergarten teacher tries to convert wheatgrass into fuel, but winds up making a car that runs on blood. By happenstance, Saulnier and Sharp worked on a Maxwell House commercial where Orr and his partners Adam Pinney and Chris Campbell were grips. The filmmakers have booked their films together since then, first appearing as a double feature at the 2007 Sidewalk Film Festival in late September.

"While any film festival in America or abroad will program 20 or 30 films about white people talking in America, they will only save one or two spots for a horror or comedy if it's not a genre festival," said Saulnier, who claimed the Audience Award at this year's Slamdance Film Festival. "We are always vying for the one slot."

Increasingly, though, the low-fidelity, low-budget style has crept into other festivals and theatrical programs. Die You Zombie Bastards! hums along with its tongue firmly piercing a Kayo-slathered cheek, and the T&A punksploitation flicks Stupid Teenagers Must Die and Punk Rock Holocaust 2 screen Oct. 26 at the Pioneer Theater. Thanks to the double bill and word-of-mouth, Murder Party and Blood Car are finding their own new lives at midnight screenings; Orr said his film will be available Nov. 6 on DVD through TLA Releasing.

"I'm not sure if there's a resurgence of horror or if it ever went away," Orr said. "[Or] if it was there but the movies weren't good for a second -- where the movies were the 'horror porn,' Hostel/Saw kind of stuff where there's not much fun to it at all."

Though it's easy to focus on the comedy aspects of Murder Party and Blood Car, each retains social commentary flourishes -- dissecting art, youth, education, gentrification and even gas prices -- native to their genre and generation. In fact, the cause of Bill's murderous rampage is never explained; it could be the pot and the video games, or maybe the fear of growing up evoked when he confesses he'd rather be at home with his mom and dad watching a DVD. But even as he chases Chris through another party, he stops at the open bar to order a Pink Panty Dropper, nodding along to another 'Burg-friendly dance track before spotting a shadow and resuming his chase. In the end, it's likely Bill just wants to kill because he's tired of petty things like work, pretension and upper-case "A" art.

"We know we are a film for a certain audience, and that's exactly what it was targeted and produced for," Saulnier said. "It was made to be a cult film. Our success isn't really measured by counting all the cash; it's really about getting into the mainstream through the subversive route of all the rabid horror fans out there who are very loyal. It's always the standards: you want to break in, you want to make a movie without any stars, you make a horror film."



Comments (4)

Don't forget about TRIGGER MAN, showing at the Pioneer Theater. It's a horror film about some hipsters who go into the woods with rifles to go hunting.

Is this burgeoning subgenre the reason some woman asked Gus Van Sant, after Paranoid Park screened at NYFF, if he'd call it a "hipster horror movie"?

He wasn't so happy with that question.

Hipster horror? Just sounds like Troma movies to me. Not that it's a bad thing, but people have been making these goofy splatter comedies for years.

How about "Douchebag Dreck?"

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