House on Sorority Row, The (1983)

Author: Josh G.
Submitted by: Josh G.   Date : 2009-09-10 04:01
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Directed by: Mark Rosman
Written by: Mark Rosman and Bobby Fine
Starring: Kathryn McNeil, Eileen Davidson and Lois Kelso Hunt


Reviewed by: Josh G.







ďOne more fling wonít set us back any.Ē


My beautiful slasher babies of the post-Friday the 13th boom have all grown up (and never mind the fact that I was born after most of my favorites of the golden age were even on video, just go with it!). With its Sorority Row remake just around the corner, I thought it was about time to get the ball rolling on one of the more classy, smarter and elegantly made 80s knock off productions in the genre here at OTH!. Thereís no real surprise as to why House has remained a cult classic or cherished darling over these twenty-six years since its release. It has more than enough going for it; looking at the big picture, itís almost like Wes Cravenís Scream and its latter 90s counterparts, but made a decade and a half earlier. Raking in a fair enough box office with its lower budget considered, The House on Sorority Row was a triumph in its day. After all Psychos in Love mentioned it, so it must be good, correct? With Soap Opera star Eileen Davidson, this gem canít possibly go wrong.

Most of the girls at Theta Pi sorority are getting ready for their big leave after graduation. All but seven girls that is, who will be putting on a going away party within the next few nights, filled with fancy gowns, boys and live music. But cranky old house mother Mrs. Slater feels cross, and wants to kick out the graduates before they run amok her house with booze and panties flying everywhere. Vicki (Davidson) doesnít want to simply bow down to her wicked Slaterís demands, so she gathers up plans from the other six girls to give olí Slater a frightful prank sheíll never forget in revenge. Only on the day that the party is to begin, and the prank goes into full motion, the plan backfires, sending Mrs. Slater to her grave and the other girls in shrill panic! Dumping the body in the Theta Pi pool, the group sticks together during the party like glue to ensure nobody ever finds out about what they did until long after they have left. But didnít Stevie (Ellen Dorsher) go to the basement to check the lights almost twenty minutes ago? And where is Diane (Harley Kozak) with that car? Somebody is killing off the remaining sisters, and more shockingly, theyíre sporting Slaterís own walking cane as a weapon! Thatís crazy though. Mrs. Slater is dead Ė isnít she?

Whodunits often make the best slasher films. Not always, but often. And as I said, this is class slash, though not at the level of a giallo in terms of mystery and style, is still significant stories above many bottom barrel muck that most of the genre is notorious for. Itís all the more evident with the opening theme song. No synth (though I love it so), no plinky scoring, but an actual orchestral structure with instruments Ė like a drama instead of a horror. Donít even get me started on the acting. Whether itís lead Kathryn McNeil (who plays heroine Katey Rose) trying to correct the wrongs of the school gals, bad girl Vicki who will stop at nothing to keep her hide out of jail, frightened-for-her-life Jeanie (Robin Meloy), hilariously ditsy Morgan (Jodi Draigie, who has some of the funniest moments in the film), or the queen bee of bitch herself Mrs. Dorothy Slater, itís all top notch. Not just for the time either. You probably couldnít wish for a better cast.

Starting off with a light touch, each scene becomes progressively darker and darker, until eventually youíre stuck in a vicious slasher that you canít seem to remember how you got into in the first place. Bloody and kind of gory, House maintains its class once again by preventing itself from becoming an all-out gorefest like The Prowler or Blood Rage, simply keeping the kills inventive and effective. I mean, who kills with a cane anyways? Few and far killers, thatís for sure. Perhaps people believe that a cane is too weak of a tool to use, but there lies the stronger point of using it. It must take a strong person to stab or claw one in the neck to the point of bloodshed with just a cane, which leads the viewer to the question theyíve been asking since the beginning of the carnage: is it Mrs. Slater? The prologue showed us a clip of Dorothy giving birth, with a doctor saying ďIím sorry Mrs. Slater.Ē Just what is going on? If youíve seen enough movies in this ilk youíll no doubt be able to guess the ending before the final girl chase, but that doesnít take away from the viewing experience one bit. It kind of enhances it as youíre almost playing a game, one very similar to the one Katey has to play in her dire situation.

Itís about balance. Where other slashers head full throttle into dark and grim, or light and spoofs, The House on Sorority Row mingles together sexy, dramatics, haunting, blood and even comedy to sweeten our tastes. Iím glad to say it works out for the better, because Iím always sceptical about these types of horror-making. The case happens to be that usually when attempted to make an all-around genre sensation marketable to different types of people, the film falls flat on its face (take 1986's Killer Party for instance). But who could hate a slasher movie that has a fat boy swimming in a pool proclaiming to be a ďsea pigĒ? Or a character like Morgan who has to make it an effort to say each word in a seven syllable sentence? ďHow - do - we - know - she - is - still alive?Ē Oh dear Morgan. You dumb, lovable goof. But this leads to the next phase of Sorority Row. As you probably guessed, the girls grow worried and seek out the body of Mrs. Slater that is laying at the bottom of the pool, or so they thought. The hunt goes on and the gang splitting up begins.

As if it didnít stand out among the crowd enough already back in 1983, originality once again sets in with hallucinations by our lead heroine, thanks to drugs given to her by a small bit character who illuminates the story for all of us to see and understand fully. The dreamy bits arenít scary for the watcher, but Iím sure for poor Katey, it was more than her mind could handle what with all the going ons. Not much is to be said against Row, with only a little cheese dampening it and a creepy killer costume thatís sadly limited in screen time. But then itís the battle between two evils: do you leave out the getup, or show your killer in plain sight? In hindsight, they did the best they could and accomplished so much. Sororities have been known to be top slasher settings (Black Christmas comes to mind) but this one has so much more added on. A body in the pool; a knife chase through the bathroom stalls; a dead budgie in the attic. Eventful and done with care. Nothing more to ask of it.

No wonder this received a remake. It has all the workings of a slasher done right and entertains just about any type of viewer itís meant for. Well written and suspenseful, The House on Sorority Row is available through Vestron Video, which at the moment, is probably easier to find than its DVD. The Elite Entertainment DVD, long out of print, is accompanied by a trailer, but for those with less time on their hands try the new Liberation Entertainment DVD due out later 2009. With the nine year gap Iím sure the picture will be that much stronger. All prints are fine and sound is clear. It sure holds up well for a film from 1983, hardly dating itself at all. Shocking. If you wanted to see a slightly obscure 80s slasher, but werenít sure if the ride was worth the admission, Iím here to tell you it is. Oh, is it ever! Stylize yourself! When you know youíve committed a grave mistake, go to the police. Donít wait to be cut into pieces! If by some chance you survive the night with a vengeful cane-carrying killer, remember my words, run out to the store and Buy it!




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