Directed By: Mark Rosman
“My water bed got slashed to shreds and all you can do is joke about it. I swear she was trying to kill me.”
It’s funny, think of the 80s for horror movies and chances are you’re thinking of a slasher flick. It’s fairly natural to do so being as it was a decade dominated by scantily-clad actresses getting offed in various ways, or so it seemed. I unapologeticlly dig those movies – while understanding that they’re objectifying in the worst ways – and yet it’s always surprising to see that wasn’t really the case.
It was a decade that was dominated by Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street sequels (It’s strange to think of the latter as slasher movies because they, by and large, are surprisingly not sexual, but they very much are) but they were the only holdouts. By the time this came out the genre had reached peak saturation. The great site hysteria lives! has 1985 onwards as being the post-modern era, and that’s something I’d agree with. By and large there was a cynicism on display where a hastily put-together plot was just an excuse for young women to get offed in various ways before they triumph over the killer and oh wait what’s that, he’s still alive. End credits. None of these people appear in a movie again (Seriously, check the IMDB pages on some of this stuff and it’s littered with people who worked like 3 times).
This is a bit of a pre-amble to say that I thought The House On Sorority Row was going to be one of those things and to my surprise it wasn’t. For one thing, look at that poster. This was a time when posters were notoriously misleading anyway but that one is particularly egregious. For one thing, whoever that woman is doesn’t resemble anyone in the cast. For another I don’t know where this idea that “nothing is off limits” comes from either. It’s probably one of those cases where someone hears the title and just assumed the rest.
So lets get to the bones of it. We kick-off with a black and white sequence (Arty) wherein a doctor gives a late-night call to a woman giving birth. When it’s all over we’re told that the birth wasn’t successful and…that’s kind of it. Cut to years later and the same house is a sorority house and the woman, Miss Slater, is known as a little bit of a battleaxe who seems to hate anything that might be misconstrued as ‘fun’. Most of the house is empty aside from our cast of seven ‘types’ (The Lawyer, The Athlete, The Socially Conscious one etc) who have decided to mark the end of term with a party at the house even though every year at the same time Miss Slater closes up shop. It’s all a big mystery you see, though the biggest mystery to me is why they thought that this woman, who cannot abide anything that has the letters F-U-N in them, would be cool with a raging party at her house.
Anyway, a little game of one-upmanship ensues until, shockingly, it all ends in tragedy and the girls have to cover up an accidental murder. Wouldn’t you know it though, someone is bumping them all off.
It all sounds so conventional but one of the things I liked about this is that, aside from brief bit of gratitious nudity, there’s a lot less of the male-gaze here. All the main characters are women and the few men of the movie are given just a handful of lines (Including spare dick/potential love interest/possible suspect Peter, who is mostly useless).
Also, I feel there was a whole glut of ‘Prank gone wrong’ motivators out there and it’s one of the laziest devices someone can use. Along with the aforementioned fake-out ending it’s overused to an almost comical degree, so of course this uses them both. It’s not all bad news though; I thought it was well-made and I largely liked the performances even though poor Lois Kelso Hunt has her performance as Miss Slater entirely dubbed over because she didn’t have the right ‘sound’. It has to be pretty debilitating for an actor to sit down and watch something only to see that someone else’s voice is coming out of your mouth. I also really liked the trippy final act, complete with giallo colour scheme and frenetic editing. It feels like one of those movies that just wanted to get to the third act because that’s where all the good stuff was going to be with everything else serving as a pre-amble. As such, the kill scenes seem to be striking a balance between artful staging and then quick shots of gore that were clearly added after the fact.
I also barely understand what actually happens, or how. It’s almost as if they had to throw a twist in so barely justified it, even though personally I would’ve been fine if the movie was just taking the vaguely supernatural bent that I thought it was. I honestly think the explanation to how any of this is happening is tossed off with one line and then the movie moves on. But it wouldn’t feel like an 80s peak slasher if it didn’t make the thinnest bit of sense.
On a final note, for afficiandos of ‘movie bands’ like myself. This features a pretty substantial appearance from the proposteriously named 4 Out of 5 Doctors. One day I’m going to put together a list of the best and worst bands to appear in movies like this. And really, just look at these boys.
The most annoying thing? They’re actually pretty good.