Tuesday, October 25, 2016

31 Days of Horror-Day 25: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

(dir. Mark Rosman)

Artists Releasing Corporation/Film Ventures International
*First time viewing

After a group of sorority sisters pull a prank that goes terribly wrong on their housemother, the girls begin getting picked off one by one on the night of their big party.

I love 80s slasher movies. I absolutely adore them, even recognizing that so many follow a similar formula and are victim to poor creative choices. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but I don’t believe in feeling guilty because of films I enjoy. So luckily, I was able to enjoy The House on Sorority Row entirely guilt free. The film is Friday the 13th-lite, to the point where parts of it feels like a rip-off, with the only thing being changed is the location and the primarily female cast. All of the familiar slasher beats, the wrongful prank, the irresponsible teens, the wholesome final girl, the vengeful mother, the secret son, and the POV kills with hands that could be anyone’s. And yet, despite all of these tropes, The House on Sorority Row is constantly engaging and suspenseful, to the point where there were moments I got genuine chills.

So why does this movie work? For one the cast is incredibly engaging. No one’s a good actor in this, the same is true for most of this particular horror sub-genre, yet each one of the girls has a defined personality and energy that just works for the film. Their panic works, their stupid ideas work, their bitchiness works, creating a perfect storm of bad acting that draws you in. Beyond that, a haunting score by legendary horror movie composer Richard Band heightens the eeriness and surreal quality that parts of the film have. On the subject of the surreal, the film begins with a flashback that looks like it was shot through cheesecloth and then cuts to years later and we open on an idyllic, dreamlike trek through campus. The film maintains this quality almost throughout its entire runtime, with scenes having slight shades of Heather in terms of look if not tone. And then this dreamlike gauze is ripped off during the climax as the killer is revealed and viewers are taken back to the bodies of each of the dead victims and forced to look upon the brutality reaped. This scenes of gore were added after production as studio notes, and while they may not have been part of the original vision they act as a kind of wake-up call that’ll make you go “oh shit.” For all of its expected motions, The House on Sorority Row does make a few surprise stops along the way.

Scare Factor: 3/5 Maybe it was watching it alone in dark house at night, but The House on Sorority Row sent some shivers up my spine. If B-movie slashers are your thing, then this will be right up your alley.

**Available to watch on Hulu.

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