Available this week on most streaming platforms, independent film director Jason Winn unveils his latest offering, Rave Party Massacre or DeadThirsty. Winn has an interesting filmography as a director, which includes a Lifetime movie, The Assault, as well as a critically-acclaimed indie drama, The Fat Boy Chronicles. With no expectations from this little film, I was hoping to see a crazy, psychedelic-infused horror film like Dust Devil (1993) or The Tripper (2006). At the very least, I thought the idea of the “Dead Thirsty” hinted perhaps at drug-fueled zombie mayhem.
Rave Party Massacre is set in 1992, at the end of the George H.W. Bush presidency and what appears to be shortly before Clinton would take office. Party-girl Rachel drags her angry boyfriend, Branson, to an abandoned hospital scheduled to be demolished for a secret rave party. Her evening of dancing, hallucinogenic drugs, and sex gives way quickly to a nightmare. Waking the next morning from a drug-induced haze, Rachel, Branson, and three other revelers discover they are trapped inside the hospital with two masked killers.
A DIY Indie Slasher
Despite my best predictions, Rave Party Massacre is ultimately a micro-budgeted, indie horror film that most closely falls into the slasher subgenre. While Rave is missing some of the classic slasher elements, it does have masked killers stalking young adults in a remote, terrible place. Our young ravers also break the cardinal horror film rules – they have sex and do drugs.
Winn’s Rave Party Massacre is clearly limited by its budget; this is DIY, guerrilla film-making. From sound design to its small cast and grainy camera footage, Winn doesn’t have a lot to work with but does his best to put some interesting twists to the subgenre. He shows some nice flourishes with his camera work, particularly in the scene where Rachel wakes up in a morgue drawer. Rave Party Massacre is also a briskly paced film that doesn’t waste much time pushing its story forward. There are some surprisingly effective gore make-up effects with a couple of the death scenes. Additionally, the stripped down sound design gives some of the on-screen violence a raw effect.
What if There Was a ‘Massacre’ and Nobody Came
Despite some hints of potential here and there, Rave Party Massacre is pretty limited by its budget. For most of the film, there is a lack of a music score and while silence can be used to great effect in horror, the sound design here leaves a huge void in atmosphere and tension. Most of the film’s stalking and death scenes are awkwardly staged and, as a result, there are no real scares or jumps for the audience. Some viewers may also take exception to the distinct lack of an actual massacre in Rave Party Massacre. There’s a sparse cast in the film so the body count never really approaches a massacre.
With regards to its cast, there is a narrow range in the performances from the actors, with Rave Party Massacre marking the debuts for at least two cast members. The film’s killers turn in fairly wooden performances, which seriously undermines any tension once they’re required to explain their motivations. Lead actress Sara Bess does what she can with the material she is given as Rachel but, sadly, the film largely relegates her to screaming. Melissa Kunnap turns in the best performance in the film’s relatively smaller role as Clare.
Something About a ‘New World Order’
What might make or break Rave Party Massacre for some viewers is the film’s final act and Winn’s attempt at a larger social commentary. From its opening credits to oddly placed flashbacks of arguments between Rachael and boyfriend Branson, Rave Party Massacre makes references to George H.W. Bush’s ‘New World Order” and “A thousand points of lights” speeches several times. Unfortunately, it’s never clear what the film’s killers – the ‘Dead Thirsty” – intend or what they mean by a “new world order”. Is Winn likening these killers to a politically motivated militia? To what political turmoil is the film referring? Not much of this makes sense.
Rave Party Massacre could have embraced its nonsensical motivations and dropped audiences down a surreal ‘rabbit hole” like 1970s head-scratchers like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. And it almost goes that direction – there are times where it feels like Winn is going to let the film rocket off the rails into the truly bizarre. It just never fully embraces the surreal, opting to end on a rather uneventful note.
Not Much to Offer the Casual Horror Fan
To be honest, I didn’t hate Rave Party Massacre – it was certainly better than some of the other low-budget indie horror films I’ve reviewed on the blog (House of Demons, I’m looking at you). I would absolutely give Jason Winn’s films a look as he shows some interesting flashes and deserves some credit for tying to invest some political subtext. Ultimately, I would only cautiously recommend Rave to die-hard indie horror fans as I don’t think there’s much here for mainstream or casual horror viewers.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C-