Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Producers: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Stars: Michael Alig, James St. James
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAKES MENTION OF DRUG USE (KETAMINE, COCAINE) AND RACISM. INCLUDES IMAGES OF GORE (although it’s worth noting that the gore is fake, even in the context of the film).
What the hell did I just watch?
Granted, this isn’t an unusual reaction to a horror movie … but PARTY MONSTER (1998) (THE SHOCKUMENTARY, not the 2003 drama starring Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green) is a.) barely horror—though you will surely feel horror, particularly when you look upon the ghastly images I’ve included for your pleasure below—and b.) a documentary, and both categorizations belie the sheer amount of disorientation I feel after viewing this film.
PARTY MONSTER is the story of the little monster himself, Michael Alig. If you haven’t heard of Michael, you are probably, like me, a millennial born too late—Michael is known for being the ringleader of the “Club Kids” of 1980s New York. Andy Warhol died and, for better or for worse, Midwestern kid Michael Alig was there to replace him, starry-eyed and filled with mischief. He and close friend James St.
James—whose memoir by the same title is the basis for both PARTY MONSTER films—quickly gained notoriety for their bizarre, elaborate parties and indiscriminate drug use. Of course, when drugs are involved, we all know the way the story ends: eventually, someone has to fall. In this case, it was Angel Melendez, a dealer who made the rounds during the Club Kids’ parties at the Limelight and Club USA. Angel was brutally murdered, his body dismembered and tossed into the ocean. The reason? Sources can’t agree: it was either clothes or money.
Little monster, indeed.
The film is an hour long and, during that time, the filmmakers first brief the audience on Michael’s background, through the use of an interview with his mother (who is, perhaps most disturbingly, far more traumatized by Michael’s homosexuality than by the homicide he committed, quite possibly over clothes), then move quickly on to Michael’s rise to fame in New York. The brunt of the film is a trippy ride through Michael’s antics. I haven’t the faintest idea how it would feel to be stumbling around on horse tranquilizers and coke simultaneously, but seeing Michael’s visions through footage of his parties might be a hint …
Interestingly, Michael has a certain fondness for horror, in aesthetic and in sentiment. As a child, he and his mother often watched Herschell Gordon Lewis’s BLOOD FEAST. One has to wonder whether this inspired his own bloody crime, but regardless, we can say for sure that the film influenced Michael’s style. Once mentor Peter Gatien had essentially granted Michael permission to do anything and everything to draw crowds to his nightclubs, Michael made the most of the opportunity. Disco 2000—the party advertised in the images above—may have been perverse (an interviewee muses onscreen that the party was simultaneously “childish and silly” and “nasty and obscene,” which isn’t hard to imagine), but Blood Feast was on another level. Guests were paid to wear fake blood; fake daggers hung from the ceilings; fake guts and clear coffins proliferated. Blood Feast strikes me as an ’80s-slasher paradise: this I wish I could have seen. Too bad the gore had only just begun.
At its heart, PARTY MONSTER is a true crime documentary; Angel’s death is the climax.
Angel was a Latino man and most likely gay—though nothing is explicitly stated, the Club Kids scene, much like Warhol’s, is overwhelmingly populated by gay men—and, so, it is both gut-wrenching and unsurprising when an interview with Angel’s brother reveals that the NYPD blatantly dismissed Angel’s disappearance. Angel’s brother was left to investigate, offering as hefty a reward as he could manage. Michael’s popularity—and white privilege—granted him protection for a long time—Angel’s brother reports that all of his brother’s friends and associates were tight-lipped, refusing to rat out one of New York’s most influential. The footage of the young man sobbing onscreen at the memory is heartbreaking—and makes Michael’s baffling lack of remorse all the more sickening. The bizarre tale of how Michael is finally apprehended is one that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself—it’s a wild ride.
But while Angel’s death is appalling, the horror in PARTY MONSTER extends so far beyond that single incident, often more abstract than literal. Hard drugs, lies, superficiality … we may cringe at such sins, but my God, the physical manifestations of what must have been Michael’s hallucinatory visions are so much more terrifying. James St. James drenched in liver. A go-go chick (who is actually a chick). Blood. Glitter. Michael Alig, pissing in people’s drinks, inserting a champagne enema, chopping Angel Melendez’s body into pieces without a second thought. It’s awful. It’s beautiful. You can’t look away.
Whether you count gore as the fake blood spatter at Blood Feast, the grimy video of Michael and James snorting Special K, or the grotesque paint and glitter of Clubland, this documentary delivers.
This one’s not at all about suspense. While it’s interesting learning just how the arc of Michael’s life unfolds, you know from the beginning that Michael has killed Angel and that there is no clear motive.
The Michael Alig Story is beyond fascinating. The documentary, on the other hand, is sub-par … rushed, of mediocre quality, and often skimming over seemingly important plot points like Michael’s capture by the police and the fight that precipitated in Angel’s murder. This isn’t the grit of true crime, necessarily, but more a vivid and authentic portrait of a bygone subculture. Enjoy it for what it is.
I screened PARTY MONSTER: THE SHOCKUMENTARY on iTunes, renting it for $2.99. You can purchase your own copy of PARTY MONSTER: THE SHOCKUMENTARY on DVD on the B&N Marketplace, starting at $30.59.