Bus Party to Hell opens like soft porn. It’s standard fare about youths behaving badly. They’re on a party bus to Burning Man, so that is the reasonable expectation. New riders get recruited into this laissez-faire lifestyle as the bus goes. It takes a good eighteen minutes for Bus Party to Hell to show us what’s on its mind.
The bus breaks down, and it becomes a different and better movie about murderous cults in the desert. The crew is brutally attacked as the aesthetic turns sharply. Strobing lights flash against heavy melodious guitar while all hell breaks loose in a literal way. It gets to be an exploitative, decent time in its own chaotic way.
We understand we’re still basically inside a porn shoot. In figuring out how to deal with putting up a sacrificial virgin to the cult, the group decides instead the young blonde should give it up so she doesn’t need to be sacrificed. One sacrifice for another, they decide. Meanwhile, women rub each other down lathered with blood. The movie is a music video for an orgy for a good while. A big old gory orgy.
Director Rolfe Kanefsky hasn’t given Burning Man much credit here. There’s little connective tissue. The cults are ritualistic and having a big party out in the sands and that’s about it. The movie plays into many of the misconceptions about what goes on out there. Tara Reid will be paraded around in front of it while she only plays a small marketable part. A few other women—especially Stefani Blake—do the real heavy lifting around Reid’s small scene work.
Where it really surprised me is in doing a bit of creature work. I’m not sure if it makes any kind of contextual sense or even matters, but occasionally it latches onto a fun fetishized aesthetic and runs with it. At its most satanic and basest level, it justifies its running time this way.
It ends with a final title card, “Bus Party 2 Hell and Back coming sooner or later,” and we think, “that is a bold move,” but this can totally exist on the far-side of B-movie franchises. That’s something we want to exist. We had it growing up and so will this generation.
Pop horror movies are a crowded field, mostly from only a couple of companies—the Blumhouses and A24s. So, it’s occasionally important to look outside what is already apparent and find your own fun. Bus Party to Hell is just what the name implies.