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In ‘Party Monster,’ the Party Ends, but the Legacy Lives On

The queer cult classic has only grown in significance since its 2003 release

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Party Monster, World of Wonder’s glamorous and grim ode to New York nightlife currently available to stream on Peacock.

Party Monster is the true story of the glittering rise and bloody fall of New York City’s Club Kids, a group of underground nightlife personalities known in the 1980s and 1990s for their outrageous fashion sensibilities, pansexual behavior and predilection toward mind-altering substances. In particular, the film follows Michael Alig, the boy who would become the leader of the Club Kids, and James St. James, Alig’s mentor, best friend and rival. Together, they watch their stardom grow as they cultivate a glamorous world of queer debauchery. 

But their extravagant lifestyles can’t last forever, and as the drugs run out and the glitz turns to grey, the two men are forever changed. Alig (played by Macaulay Culkin in his first film role since he starred in Richie Rich nine years prior) brutally murders fellow Club Kid and drug dealer Angel Melendez, and St. James (played by an uncharacteristically femme Seth Green) writes a tell-all memoir about the entire fucked-up saga (on which the movie is based).

Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato — founders of World of Wonder, the production company now most famous for creating RuPaul’s Drag RaceParty Monster is at once glossy and gruesome, serving as both a recollection of one of America’s quintessential queer movements and an unnerving true crime story of celebrity gone wrong. Though the film’s visuals are nothing remarkable, it’s a feast of frivolity and fashion, featuring roughly a thousand outrageous costumes, some of which were provided by actual members of the Club Kids to add to the film’s authenticity. Like the audacious scenesters themselves, Party Monster is both messy and mesmerizing, pulling us into a fairy tale of gay excess, before reminding us of its terrible cost. 

Aside from the film’s constant assault of aesthetics, the performances from Culkin and Green are the best part of the film. Breaking away from his child star laurels, Culkin is incredibly camp and captivating as Alig, playing him as human but never entirely sympathetic — there’s always something slightly disturbing lurking under his behavior. As for Green, his turn as St. James is wonderfully against type, inhabiting the celubtante’s oddball mannerisms and catty charms. 

In the years since its initial 2003 release, Party Monster has gained a cult status, particularly in the queer community (I myself found the film at a pivotal time in my early teen years, shaping me into the audaciously faggy dyke I am today). And though the film held a powerful significance for me then, it’s given further depth by its real-life coda, with Alig having died of a heroin overdose just last Christmas. St. James, however, is now working as a creative personality at the very company that made the film about his life. Just because the party has to end doesn’t mean the glamour has to as well.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.

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