THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW
Director: Mark Rosman
Year of release: 1983
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 90 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "The house on sorority row...where nothing is off limits", "Seven graduates of sorority sisters stalked as they hold a guilty secret" and "Nothing can prepare you for what happens when she fights back".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: As their sorority house closes up for the summer seven of the sisters decide to stay a few extra days in order to throw a house party. This goes against the wishes of the strict house mother Mrs Slater who always likes the girls packed off to their families and the house closed up by June 19th which is the day of the planned party. After rising the ire of Vicki who is seen as ringleader of the girls by humiliating her in front of her boyfriend Mrs Slater finds herself as the victim of a revenge prank. It goes horribly wrong however resulting in the house mother being accidentally killed on the morning of the 19th. With the party already arranged and people beginning to show up the girls panic and instead of reporting the situation they instead dump the body in the dirty and rarely used swimming pool. Soon however the girls responsible for the demise of Mrs Slater begin getting picked off by someone who seems intent on making them pay for what they have done.
Good points: I like the story here which although very simple is effective and entertaining. It is predictable as there aren't any zany twists or turns here but that can in many cases be a good thing as sometimes all you want in a slasher is something simple and fun and not something that try's to be too clever and is ultimately confusing. The basic plot premise of this one with guilty youngsters being killed off due to a secret they share has been imitated many times since which indicates the quality of the subject matter.
The film has a good musical score that really helps set the mood. It isn't anything truly memorable like say the music in Candyman but as I've said many times in other reviews what we have here is something that suits the film very well and adds to the creepy vibe and atmosphere without ever being hugely catchy or noteworthy on its own. It quietly goes about getting the job done if you like.
The characters in this one are pretty good too with Kathryn being someone we can easily get behind being the only one in the group to really show any remorse or conscience for the Slater prank plus being the only one to stand up to Vicki. Vicki herself is always entertaining and I also rather enjoyed the scenes with Dr Beck. Some of the sorority sisters weren't all that attractive either which made for a nice change and added a touch of realism. Well the two I'm thinking of Jeanie and Liz weren't ugly by any means but not super hot either as is often the case in the genre. The same to a lesser extent could also be said of Kathryn who had a bit of a dowdy bookish vibe going on.
Though I found the first few kills to be disappointing it goes on to improve in this area and we see much more blood and some decent effects towards the end such as Vicki's death and what is found in the bathroom.
The attic lair comes across as being quite creepy with so many old fashioned toys on display the jester suit among them which is used to good effect towards the end (even if it did deny us a proper face shot). For a couple of the kills toys are used to distract and catch the attention of the victim which is a nice touch. Maybe April Fools Day was inspired a bit by this in later years.
Bad Points: A tiny thing but there is some confusion with the final girls name going on throughout. She is called Kathryn but quite often is called Katey but you would think they would call her Cathy/Kathy if shortening her name and not Katey. Also early on just as Vicki is about to tell the others about her idea for the prank it sounded like one of the girls called her Annie. I may have misheard that though as I was watching an old DVD copy without subtitles. Perhaps it was in fact "One last prank won't hurt any" and I misheard "any" for "Annie".
In another very small thing there was a bit of confusion with the gun as I thought it was a bit odd how Kathryn completely missed hitting the killer when he was standing right in front of her. I think perhaps the gun is supposed to be filled with blanks which could mean she did hit him but it just didn't do any damage but if that was the case how did Vicki kill Mrs Slater at the start or break the glass with her first shot? If the girls set it up to have one real bullet (to break the glass to scare Mrs Slater) then how did the second real bullet get in there that killed Slater? Maybe I'm wrong about all this and I missed something that explains it so I'd have to watch it again to be sure but I remember it sticking out for me at the time.
I wasn't overly keen on the cane as the primary weapon. It was distinctive and tied in very well with Mrs Slater but wasn't very intimidating and it seemed like a relatively flimsy thing really. Maybe they should just have used it for a couple of the kills and then used other methods for the rest.
I didn't like the first kill with the random male party guest being killed by the pool. It seemed like a bit of an odd decision to have a completely random guy knocked off that had nothing to do with anything. Would have made more sense for it to have been Vicki's boyfriend as at least we knew him. It wasn't even as if this guy that had been previously introduced in the brief party scene beforehand.
For the very little that we saw of the killer I felt he looked pretty decent but I was left disappointed that we didn't see more of him. We only got one brief shot of his face towards the end when Kathryn is looking down at him from her position on the staircase with the rest of the time him just being seen in silhouette or in closeups of his hands etc. This would be fine if we got a payoff shot at the end where we get a proper long look at him but we didn't really get that with things going down the jester route instead. Not that this was a bad way to end it but I was hoping for a better look at our killer.
I wasn't sure who the dancing couple were supposed to be in Kathryn's hallucinations towards the end after she was sedated by Dr Beck.
Verdict: This is generally considered one of the strongest and most fondly remembered stand alone slashers of the eighties and I'd go along with that and say it is deserving of its acclaimed status (well acclaimed among slasher fans anyway). It isn't perfect as I would liked to have seen more variety in the method of execution and a proper look at the killer would have been nice not to mention a more definitive ending. In the version most commonly in circulation today it isn't clear what happens to Kathryn. This is still a definite one to pick up and add to the collection though despite a few niggles.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Mrs Slater: Accidentally shot by Vicki.
2) Random man at party: Jabbed in throat with sharp end of cane.
3) Stevie: Stabbed repeatedly with cane though we only see it in shadow on the wall.
4) Morgan: Impaled from behind with cane.
5) Dianne: Stabbed in the hand with cane and then stabbed further off camera presumably in other body parts.
6) Jeannie: Attacked in the bathroom and severed head later found in the toilet.
7) Liz: Throat cut and body dumped in open grave.
8) Vicki: Stabbed in the torso and the eye with cane.
9) Dr Beck: Attacked with the cane which causes him to fall over the staircase bannister to the floor below.