There’s a new horror movie out this week called SORORITY ROW. This isn’t that, it’s the original, which was called THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. Or actually HE HOUSE ON SORORITY RO on the (out of print) full frame DVD, because the credits get cut off. (I noticed that when I set my DVD player to zoom out it was less cropped though. So try that if you watch it before the new DVD comes out in November.)
This is the story of six or seven sorority girls staying the week after graduating to have a big party. The house mother is a real bitch though and tries to make them leave. One of them gets mad and pulls a gun on her as part of a “practical joke,” then accidentally shoots at her and knocks her into a dirty swimming pool and kills her.
It’s all the one girl’s fault, but sorority sisters stick together so even though one of them is kind of hesitant they all agree to wrap up the corpse and float it in the swimming pool under a bunch of garbage so they can go ahead and have the party and have a good time, etc. You know, college graduation is an important landmark in a young woman’s life, and I think it’s best to just drink and dance and then go get jobs, forget about all this “murdered an old lady” stuff. You know, things you do in school seem so huge and dramatic at the time but once you’ve been through more you grow up and you can laugh about it, if you even ever think about it again. That’s the thinking I guess.
Next thing you know somebody starts going around using the house mother’s cane and other items to murder various college students and partygoers. But there’s a new wave band playing and stuff, people partying, so they don’t notice until they happen to go off by themselves to do intimate things like, you know, switch into a nightie and drink rum in front of a Garfield poster. Then they’re in trouble.
You know me, there’s something about these ’70s and ’80s slasher movies that I enjoy, so I’m always happy to find a decent one I haven’t seen before. I’d say this is an average to slightly above average example of the slasher form. It doesn’t excel at all but it’s not one of the ones that’s so bad it just gets boring. I was kind of into it.
The slashing is fairly standard FRIDAY THE 13TH style. It opens with some hints at a mystery (most of it pretty easy to figure out) and then the unseen killer goes around killing people until they decide to reveal the mystery toward the end. Some of the gore is pretty decent. There’s a part with a severed head in a toilet. The weakest murder scene I think is the one where you see a shadow coming up behind a girl and then she makes an “I’m dying” face, but you don’t even see what happened. Did the killer stab her? Did she have a coincidental stroke? Nobody knows.
These sisters aren’t real bright, but I have to say they did come up with a pretty great plan for hiding the body. Not the swimming pool bit – later they bring it to the cemetery and find an open grave, and they try to dig deeper into the grave and bury the body there. It’s brilliant! Somebody buries a coffin on top of it the next day, nobody’s gonna find that body. So they’re good at planning but not executing, especially since they try to dig a grave wearing their party dresses.
This was back when they made real scores for horror movies, and it really works. The music is occasionally derivative of FRIDAY THE 13TH, which was derivative of PSYCHO, and that’s fine. Mostly it stands on its own and adds some class. Funny thing is the score is by Richard Band, Charles Band’s brother and creator of many a cheesy keyboard score. But here he’s got the London Philharmonic and it sounds great. Thanks alot, technology.
It’s a pretty solid writing/directing debut for a guy named Mark Rosman, who directs alot of TV now. I would rate this one higher if it had a better ending. From what I read there were a couple alternate endings that might’ve been better, but the one they used is awkward.
It starts to get much more exciting at the end, as the truth about what’s going on is revealed, the final girl is drugged and used as bait for the killer and tries to get away even though she can barely stand up. But at the very end it fumbles. I’m gonna spoil the whole thing so think about if you really want to proceed or not. The girl ends up fighting the killer in an attic. First of all, he’s wearing a harlequin outfit, which is not one of the cooler slasher looks in my opinion. Second, she gets him by taking the head off of a doll and using the spike that holds the head on to stab him. Now, I am not an expert on child safety, and maybe standards were more lax in ’83, but I don’t believe dolls had fucking spikes in their heads. In my opinion.
More importantly, what happens is she stabs him and knocks him out of the attic door. Looks like he’s dead. She collapses. Then his eyes open. Cut to credits. That’s it! Up until this point they seemed okay with most of the mechanics of the slasher movie, but that ending is a major fuckup. Nobody thought he was dead. That wasn’t a real scare. That’s the kind of fake death you have to set up the last ten minutes, it’s not the one you use to go into the credits. Come on fellas.
The killer, by the way, is the secret attic-dweller son of the house mother. He saw how the girls ganged up on her so he kills them for revenge. At some point he also murders a parakeet – not sure how the poor little guy got implicated. Maybe he saw the whole thing through the window and didn’t do enough to stop it, I don’t know. Seems like overkill to me. Also it’s unfortunate that they don’t show the killer’s face. I was hoping he’d be a mutant. A mutant who’s really into harlequins. He has a model airplane in his room too, that’s another thing we know about him. It would be cool if Jason had a model airplane hanging in his cabin.
I guess one nice thing I can say about it is that the final girl has a gun. Many people point out that nobody ever uses guns in slasher movies, but here’s one where they try. Doesn’t seem to work, partly because the gun sound effects aren’t very good. Actually, this whole mess is caused by a gun, and the gun fails to solve the problem. So it’s an anti-gun movie. And anti secret attic-dweller. You need to keep those kids out in the open so they can adjust properly. Be honest with the girls in your sorority, tell them it’s your secret son’s birthday and that’s why they can’t stay and have their party. These girls would be cool about it. There is a simple way to prevent these kind of tragedies, and it’s called “open communication.”
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.