There's been a select few instances where the influence of extreme Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku has trickled into the American genre film landscape. The most obvious is Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (which was dedicated to the violent maestro), while the work of Neveldine/Taylor certainly owes more than a little debt to that auteur's hyper-kinetic camerawork. More recently, Joe Lynch's Mayhem felt like, if you replaced everyone but Steve Yuen (who was deliberately placed at the forefront of that DTV splatter opus) with actors of Asian descent, you'd have a rather obvious homage to the late Battle Royale and Yakuza Papers great.
Enter Monster Party. The latest from burgeoning lo-fi genre writer/director Chris von Hoffmann (Drifter), takes a premise we've seen a few times before – criminals breaking into the wrong house, only to find themselves confronted by pure evil (think: Don’t Breathe) – and filters it through the class conscience sociopolitical gore porn of Fukasaku's later output. The subtext becomes text as a trio of B&E brats (Sam Strike, Brandon Michael Hall, and Halloween’s Virginia Gardner) end up trying to rob the Malibu mansion of a serial killing family (Julian McMahon, Robin Tunney, Erin Moriarty, and Kian Lawley) who are holding their annual "intervention" dinner, celebrating "sobriety" from killing the underclass with fellow high society murder addicts. Don't even ask what's howling in the basement, as von Hoffmann seemingly isn't content until his picture goes full-blown People Under the Stairs by its ultimate digital reel.
There's a manic energy to Monster Party that keeps it propulsive and watchable, with von Hoffmann constantly moving the camera, as if the machine itself is uncomfortable with the events it’s capturing. Even when the lens is steady, the movie is elevated by creative setups, such as an early moment where the director mounts his rig to a creaky merry-go-round. This same live-wire sense of style carries over into the performances, especially the attendees at this messy abstinence party. Sometimes these turns tip over into ridiculous caricature (such as two coked out "blood brothers", played by Diego Boneta and Jamie Ward), but then cult leader Milo (a cool as always Lance Reddick) becomes gravity personified, reeling them all back in. It's a pretty neat track the young filmmaker pulls off with his performers, lending the low budget endeavor an air of schizo class.
Unfortunately, the lack of resources behind Monster Party sometimes gets the better of the movie. Cinematographer Tobias Deml's work is often under or flatly lit, lending many scenes a cheap, amateurish look. Simultaneously, von Hoffmann's love of nasty gore is certainly admirable, but a few severed hands and split heads look like nothing more than props purchased from the clearance aisle at Halloween Express come November 1st. You can do blood on a budget (just look at Tate Stiensiek's work on fellow RLJ title Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich for a solid example), yet one suspects von Hoffmann (wisely) committed a sizable portion of his funds to the recognizable faces on display.
Still, the ambition and daring knack for nihilistic violence is undeniable, even as the seams on this tiny production show. Damning a movie of this size because it tries to flex outside of its comfort zone seems like a rather foolish thing to do, as it's way more entertaining to see a contained picture attempt to go "big" and fall on its face a few times than play it safe and become another boring, middle-of-the-road Redbox Special. For a certain brand of cult film aficionado, Monster Party is going to be a ton of fun, as the influences are proudly worn on its sleeve, especially once our central robber arms himself with a literal samurai sword. Von Hoffmann's probably got a decent career shocking the shit of us in the near future. Let's just hope some ballsy producers give him a few more fun coupons to play with next time.
Monster Party is in theaters and on VOD now.