Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #58
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: January 21, 1983
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $10,604,986
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Mark Rosman
Producer: John G Clark
Screenplay: Bobby Fine, Mark Rosman
Special Effects: Rob E. Holland
Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
Score: Richard Band
Editing: Paul Trejo, Jean-Marc Vasseur
Studio: VAE Productions
Distributors: Film Ventures International (FVI), Embassy Video (UK), Vestron Video
Stars: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Janis Ward, Robin Meloy, Harley Kozak, Jodi Draigie, Ellen Dorsher, Christopher Lawrence, Michael Kuhn, Michael Sergio and Lois Kelso Hunt as Mrs Slater
Suggested Audio Candy
Richard Band “Main Theme”
Other than the prospect of genital lice, if there’s one thing that makes both my dick and balls itch, it’s killjoys. To some, the idea of others enjoying themselves when their own miserable lives are in free fall is too bitter a pill to swallow. Traditionally this happens once we reach advanced years and the grim realization sets in that we are no longer visible to the wider community. No more wolf whistles from lusting construction workers, nary a compliment on our brand new cardigans, and surreptitious snickers at the vague whiff of urine that accompanies our every shuffle. There are two options available once the inevitable occurs: either we refuse to act our age and live in hope of happening across the swimming pool from Cocoon or make damn sure that everyone around is miserable as sin too. For the record, I plan to grow old minus the grace.
Hold that thought momentarily as this leads me rather conveniently to the next forgotten curiosity to be placed under my crimson spotlight. One of the lesser publicized slasher movies of its era, Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row first made itself known to me under the UK guise House of Evil in 1983. Despite enjoying a reasonably but decidedly brief profitable theatrical run-out, it was swallowed up on VHS soon after. Nevertheless, it has gathered quite a name for itself over the years in horror circles and seems positively ripe for the recollection. Having been afforded the opportunity to work alongside Brian De Palma previously and gaining much from the experience, Rosman decided that a slasher would provide him the launch pad required to propel him to the place he really wanted to be – making mainstream movies. So not so much a labor of love then as a means to an end.
The House on Sorority Row introduces us to close-knit Theta Pi sisters Katherine (Kathryn McNeil), Vicki (Eileen Davidson), Liz (Janis Zido), Jeanie (Robin Meloy), Diane (Harley Kozak), Morgan (Jodi Draigie) and Stevie (Ellen Dorsher) as they wind down from graduation. There seems no better way to relieve all that stress than one last party to end all parties and, given that girls just wanna have fun, they feel well within their right to throw a doozy. Regrettably for them, their cane-wielding hag of a house-mother Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) doesn’t share their enthusiasm and thwarts their plans at the eleventh hour. Given that we are in the eighties, what better way to exact revenge on this sour-faced spoil sport than a good old-fashioned harmless prank? If you ask me, the old vulture has got it coming. Needless to say, it misfires spectacularly.
With their undesirable shadow now permanently out of commission, the horrified girls have some options to weigh up. Do they inform the authorities and take the murder rap? Or do they go ahead with that one last hurrah and deal with the repercussions after the hangover wears off? I think we all know the answer to that conundrum. After opting for a watery burial in a shallow swimming pool on campus grounds, they attempt to refocus on their post-graduation hoedown and the unprotected sex and copious liquor that it entails. However, either they don’t wrap the tarpaulin shroud tight enough or the pool is backed up with the revitalizing Cocoon eggs I mentioned at the offset as Slater’s savage cane soon swings back in action.
It’s not long before the celebrations are in full swing and the usual inebriated college stereotypes come out in their droves. This rowdy rabble consists of dozens of beautiful co-eds and just as many far less attractive alpha suitors. What is it about the eighties that afford these tank-top donning non-entities the opportunity to punch so far above their weight? Anyhoots, after the unlicensed tracheotomy of one of our peripheral party-plebs, The focus of our anonymous killer turns towards the group of sisters, some of whom are struggling to come to terms with the unfortunate “accident”, while others are more concerned with getting soundly wasted. Little do they know, they’re about to be granted that very wish.
As numbers are promptly whittled down, our remaining pledges team up (unsuccessfully of course) to attempt at keeping a lid on the escalating events although, by now, they’re only too aware that not arousing suspicions is no longer a realistic goal. Despite his leanings not being towards the genre specifically, Rosman manages to create an oppressive mood which hangs over proceedings ominously throughout and, while it doesn’t take a genius to work out where Jim Gillespie got the inspiration for his 1997 teen slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer, he still has an ace up his sleeve and leaves it until last doors to play it. By the time we reach our inevitable reveal, things have begun to take a darker turn and the question of who is actually performing the executions becomes less clear-cut.
Time for a little digression methinks. Clowns have long held a morbid fascination to me and, after watching Tobe Hooper’s quintessential eighties chiller Poltergeist, it was high time for heightened security. Years of cramming porn magazines beneath my bulging bed was testament to the effect this particular clown had on my impressionable mind. I had no reason to hoard such a comprehensive arrangement of skin mags and my obsessive nature was partly to blame for such a truss of tacky titillation. However, it simply made me feel more at ease knowing that there were no crawlspaces for these harlequins of harassment. The House on Sorority Row has itself one such mean-spirited jester and it assists no end in making the conclusion particularly eerie.
It is also aided in no small manner by Richard Band, whose impeding score performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra perfectly matches the dream-like hallucinatory visuals of the closing act. All of this culminates in a film that sits comfortably within the upper tier of the eighties slasher ranks. Stewart Hendler’s 2009 remake, simply called Sorority Row, introduced Rosman’s tale to a new generation and did a more than adequate job but couldn’t quite match the original for ominous tone. The House on Sorority Row may not be the best of its ilk and the grue falls considerably short of its more bloodthirsty stable mates, but it remains an intriguing and well produced slasher with plenty to commend. It’s also the reason I plan to grow old disgracefully.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Alas, this is not one of the more grisly slashers of the period and is culpable of the dreaded off-screen kill on more than one occasion. In addition, the FX work is not of the high standard of many of its competitors and the quality fluctuates from one dispatch to the next. Nevertheless, there are some moments to savor including multiple spearings courtesy of that razor-sharp cane and a particularly well-executed latrine decapitation which left me far less willing to survey the drop-out of any subsequent restroom visits. In addition, there is a dash of bare skin on display although we have to be content with quality over quantity.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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