Here’s a much dryer and less fun sorority-pledge-in-house-where-somebody-died-a-long-time-ago movie than KILLER PARTY. Actually, I’m not sure Beth (Angela O’Neill, ALIEN NATION) is technically a pledge. She’s a family friend of the house mother or something? Her aunt who raised her died recently, she’s staying with this lady who’s going out of town and leaving her with the sisters, who are very welcoming and keep saying she’ll like it and want to stay. Like they’re trying to sell her on their sorority instead of scare her away like in other movies.
In the KILLER PARTY review I talked about the fraternity/sorority movies, but this one is different. It might be trying for a more positive portrayal of sororities, but my guess is the rookie filmatists just didn’t put much thought into the story, or just wanted to have “sorority” in the title, because there’s no reason why these girls can’t just be friends or roommates. There is no hazing, no competition, no parties other than an upcoming “Pow Wow” with teepee that never happens, little drinking, less sex than HALLOWEEN. They’re not jerks, they look after each other, or at least after their guest.
Like in BLACK CHRISTMAS, the story happens when most of the sisters are away for the weekend and we’re with the group who stays behind. The first thing they do is try on the absent rich girl’s clothes which, judging from the number of cuts in the musical montage, must’ve taken hours. But Beth just sits on the bed and watches because she’s upset about some dreams and visions she keeps having about a guy with a knife.
Dreams are important in this – being in the house triggers memories that go into her dreams and are sent telepathically to a killer in an asylum, triggering him to flip out and escape and come to the house to kill everybody – but it’s not much of a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET feel. It’s actually an uncomfortably close rehash of HALLOWEEN, right down to the HALLOWEEN II revelation that she’s secretly his sister. She even finds out her real name is Laura!
The basic story is the same as HALLOWEEN: the psycho gets out of the asylum and we keep cutting back to his progress of traveling toward her, stalking her from the shadows, etc. And alot of the visual language seems to be modeled after what Carpenter did – slow tracking shots of the girls walking through their suburban neighborhoods, POV shots from inside his car (yes, a stolen station wagon), and also this scene where she’s the only one who sees something creepy outside the window while she’s in class (with HALLOWEEN comparison below):
This guy’s doctor is no Loomis, though. She doesn’t feel a responsibility to stop him. She just explains his background to a security guard over the phone and her job is done. Even that she doesn’t do for a while because she’s not home when they first call.
One trope it does have in common with ELM STREET is the thing where information about the mythology is explained in a teacher’s lecture. This takes that technique way past the line of acceptability, with multiple classes and conversations in a row to explain how she has a telepathic connection with this guy. One of the girls majors in dream analysis (I’m sure her parents were real excited about paying her tuition), another gets out a big book about the topic and they sit around and try to figure out what her dreams are saying. They figure the knife is a phallic symbol. But you know, sometimes a knife in a dream is just a knife that’s gonna kill you and most of your friends in reality.
It’s actually kind of sweet though that none of them seem that bummed out to have to babysit this sad girl that keeps waking up screaming. The sorority sisters in KILLER PARTY would’ve just made her clean the kitchen or something.
The killer is just a dude, no mask or anything. In one of her visions he’s even wearing a t-shirt with drawings of surfers on it (later in a flashback that’s the shirt he’s wearing when he kills his family.) I actually kinda like the movie’s willingness to have really banal junk on the screen, like the ugly posters and pinups on the girls’ walls. It looks more real than designed. Like, most filmatists wouldn’t want to clutter this apparition with the two North Face skiing posters:
The set dressing fits the killer. He’s very regular, not horror movie-y. He’s a mentally ill person, not a genre icon. A rare bit of realism in an otherwise not very authentic-feeling-in-any-way movie.
For the most part this feels like one of those movies that comes out of “I could make a horror movie I bet,” somebody trying to fit in instead of actually knowing and understanding the genre and having a good idea for one. But I did notice two sly visual jokes that hint otherwise.
First of all, they were apparently aware of the cliche that people in horror movies are always watching horror movies, because they have this quick moment where people in the movie are watching a horror movie where the people in the movie are watching a horror movie:
And my favorite visual joke in this mostly humorless movie is when the narrator grimly intones, “Death: it comes to all of us, yet how often do we consider our own mortality? Too frequently we’re caught up in daily matters of the self to face this aspect…” And guess what our girl is too caught up in to face this narration:
I can somewhat respect the way the climax flashes between the killer attacking the house and little visions that Beth is having. And also the part toward the beginning where she sees a bunch of creepy identical dummies enjoying dinner. It’s at least an attempt to do something a little different. But they don’t really got the horror chops to make this exciting. There’s no gore or clever kills, and the chase is only adequate. I guess the best part would be when he follows them up one of those portable chain fire ladders and they have to unhook it. The funniest part in that scene is the realistically sissy way they punch at his hands trying to make him lose his grip on the windowsill:
SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE is a Roger Corman production, written and directed by somebody named Carol Frank, whose only other IMDb credit is as a production assistant on the movie SUMMERSPELL. If Frank is a woman that would be kinda interesting, since women wrote and directed SLUMBER PARY MASSACRE for Corman, and critics therefore read all kinds of gender subtext into it. But for all I know this Carol is a dude like the Carol that directed THE BLACK STALLION or the Carol in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE or like Archie Bunker. I mean who knows. I’m not gonna start writing a college thesis until I know for sure. Also, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is just a better movie, this one is not worth rewatching.
By the way, a note to this lady Beth was supposed to be staying with: maybe the idea of abandoning a young girl in the house where her whole family was horribly butchered was not one of your better ones. I expect better judgment in the future.
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.