Knife Goes On The Right: Lessons Learned From Horror Movie Dinner Parties

From The Exorcist to Beetlejuice, the dinner party scene has traditionally been an oft-used horror movie trope.  My first experience with a dinner party horror movie was probably 1995’s The Last Supper, in which Cameron Diaz and her posse of liberal hipsters murder the various unsavory characters that they invite over for dinner.  But after 1999’s House on Haunted Hill, it seemed like dinner party horror went hiding in the kitchen with the wait staff. For years. And then in the early 2010s, a sudden, inexplicable resurgence of the sub-genre erupted all over the dining room.

I know, I know, much has already been written about these dinner party scenes/movies, from the class dynamic, to the character motivations, to the arch over-acting.  But we can all agree that the primary purpose of the horror genre is to inform and educate, and so we must ask, what can we learn from the actual dinner parties featured in these movies?  What lessons can be gleaned? There has to be a pattern here, some common warning signs that the dinner party is about to get all apocalyptic, or gruesomely violent, or both. Comparing the dinner party details of five recent films, I’m hoping to find some answers. Maybe we can even save some lives here.

Would You Rather (October 14, 2012)

When Jeffrey Combs and his Lambrick Industries throw one of their vaguely defined dinner party contests, Brittany Snow signs up hoping to win enough skrilla to save her sickly brother and the stupid beanie he’s always wearing.

Dress Code: Semi-formal, except for wheelchair bound Linda, who settles for classy beige slacks and her best gramma shirt.

Alcohol Consumption: Hard to tell. The liquor flows early on, wine is served with dinner, but nobody seems to be getting a buzz on. That cheap-ass Lambrick Industries probably watered the shit down.

Menu: Foie gras in a red wine reduction, served with asparagus, garlic leeks, and mashed potatoes.

Initial Party Vibe: Tentative. A moody goth girl wallflowers it over in the corner.  The dad from Home Alone looks particularly jittery. Mingling is at a minimum. There is no high-fiving.  Sort of a bummer.

First Red Flag: The presence of Jeffrey Combs at any dinner party is always a red flag.

Lesson Learned: Before fully committing to one of Combs’ dinner party contests, get some shit in writing.


You’re Next (August 23, 2013)

A rich, snooty family gathers for a dinner party at Mom and Dad’s fixer-upper country house so their son can introduce his hot new girlfriend.

Dress Code: Informal; blue jeans, flannel, more scarves than a blizzard-set ‘E.R.’ rerun.

Alcohol Consumption: Low. There’s wine on the table, but things get crazy before anybody has a chance to truly imbibe.

Menu: Undressed greens and a single dinner roll.  I understand this may have been only the first of many intended courses that were never served due to the blatantly rude dinner interruption by masked intruders.  But still, what a shitty first course.

Initial Party Vibe: Argumentative, with Joe Swanberg acting smarmy, picking fights at the dinner table, and just generally acting like a bit of a cockface.

First Red Flag: While staring contemplatively out the window, dinner guest Ti West takes an arrow to the forehead.

Lesson Learned: If your bro starts acting like a total douche at your next family dinner, you may want to preemptively start boarding the windows.


Cheap Thrills (March 23, 2014)

Loser friends Ethan Embry and Pat Healy, reunited at a bar after five years, are invited back to David Koechner and Sara Paxton’s pad for an impromptu drinking party.

Dress Code: In what seems like an obvious comment on classism, Koechner’s adorably hip fedora and Paxton’s flirty smock dress stand in sharp contrast to Healy’s ‘monkey suit’ car mechanic’s uniform and Embry’s flannel lumberjack shirt and home invasion beanie.  

Alcohol Consumption: Heavy, with the men pounding tequila shots and escalating dares before they even make it to Koechner’s place.

Menu: Appears to consist solely of tumblers of well-aged scotch.  Presumably ‘cause Paxton’s cooking skills max out at toasted bread.

Initial Party Vibe: Gregarious, fun-loving, with the exception of the whiny Healy, who is always blubbering about wanting to go home like some mama’s boy at his first sleepover.

First Red Flag: Paxton regales a bloody-faced Healy with a story of the time she heard a skateboarder get creamed by an SUV, describing the bone-snapping sounds with a little too much relish.

Lesson Learned:  If you find yourself out of work, that whole ‘boning Sara Paxton for $4500’ gig isn’t the worst way to make some quick cash.


Coherence (August 6, 2014)

A loose group of sarcastic friends and acquaintances gather for a dinner party on the same night a comet passes overhead.  Oh, and nobody likes that asshole, Amir.

Dress Code: This appears to be a dinner party without a code. Complete anarchy. A guest showing up in a pair of Osh Kosh overalls would not be entirely surprising.

Alcohol Consumption: Normal…although strangely, Nicholas Brenden is pushing the wine on the arriving guests pretty hard, like some shady, back-alley merlot slinger.

Menu: Salad, bread (yawn)

Initial Party Vibe: Gossipy (‘He’s bringing Lori!?!) and quippy, with the guests exchanging overlapping verbal barbs like a tableful of Chandler Bings.

First Red Flag: Mobile phone problems (a spontaneous fracturing of phone screens; a loss of phone service for all dinner guests).

Lesson Learned: Okay, so maybe it’s not a horror film, but Coherence has its share of eerie moments, and there’s still a universally applicable lesson to be learned here: If you’re a ballerina who was just squeezed out of her own ballet, don’t despair. Simply find your way to one of those comet dinner parties and make everything square again. Shouldn’t be too complex or anything.


The Invitation (April 8, 2016)

Logan Marshall-Green and his girlfriend respond to a formal dinner party invitation to find themselves at a reunion staged for a handful of old friends.

Dress Code: Some semi-formal (sports jacket), some casual (polo shirt), but when you factor in Marshall-Green’s shaggy-as-fuck shepherd look, it averages out to ‘Dress Code: Sloppy Rumpled Jesus’.

Alcohol Consumption: Medium-heavy. Every time the host breaks open a new bottle of ’85 Rothchild, which is often, the guests erupt with joy like they just won the goddamn wine lottery.

Menu: Beef roast; roasted red potatoes, carrots, and squash; dinner rolls; some other shit I couldn’t recognize. Couscous, maybe.

Initial Party Vibe: All New Age hippie love, everybody hearts everybody, with plenty of awkwardly warm embraces to go around.

First Red Flag: The hostess slaps the shit out of a guest who uses the word ‘crazy’ in a sentence.

Lesson Learned: Accept The Invitation, give yourself over, look only ahead…to more lingering, bearded bro hugs.

Admittedly, I was unable to find a single common thread that runs through all five films.  However, based on the above research, I strongly recommend that you immediately leave any dinner party that features two or more of the following:

- fedoras

- overhead comets

- cults

- Jeffrey Combs

- A bread and salad course

- scarves…most of all, scarves

Seriously, though, stay away from the whole scarf scene. You see more than one scarf at a dinner party, get the fuck out of there.