Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #169
Suggested Audio Candy:
Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & The Crypt Kickers Monster Mash
Over the years, the horror genre has been somewhat spoilt for choice with regards to massacres. Whilst the word was in circulation long before Tobe Hooper decided to run with it, the craze started in Texas, where a mean-spirited man-child by the name of Leatherface took his trusty chainsaw and fed a group of twenty-something stragglers to its serrated teeth. Consequently, this started something of a trend and before we knew it we had Hospital Massacres, Swingers Massacres, Drive-In Massacres, Nail Gun Massacres, Naked Massacres, Mountaintop Motel Massacres, Microwave Massacres, Mardi Gras Massacres and even Whale Watching Massacres to contend with. That’s a whole lot of massacring by anyone’s estimations and there are a number of others that I haven’t even touched upon.
For the most part, the word has been used just to guarantee an audience and the level of bloodletting has been pretty woeful on the whole. Sorority House Massacre appeared in 1986 and, like so many of its namesakes, was relatively bloodless. However it managed to strike a chord somewhere and ended up spawning two sequels, neither of which had anything whatsoever to do with their predecessor. Fuck, the third entry wasn’t even set in a sorority house. Go figure! Today I bid to tackle all three as a bundle deal of sorts and, while this may seem like an audacious feat, it is more down to the fact that 2000 words can pretty much cover the spectrum with this particular trilogy of terror.
Hardly the most dominant of species, it does have a loyal fan base and, alongside the similarly ridiculous Slumber Party Massacre threesome, has earned its place in enough hearts to warrant a sound running over. I’m even wearing my flannel pajamas and have my marshmallows already toasted to mark the festivities. Damn right I’m going method. You best just be thankful I’m not placing Naked Massacre under the microscope as I haven’t bathed in almost a week. Anyhoots, without further ado, we have three massacres to embark on and some rose-tinted spectacles to don. Anyone for a pillow fight?
Sorority House Massacre (1986)
Director: Carol Frank
Stars: Angela O’Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio, John C. Russell, Marcus Vaughter, Vinnie Bilancio, Joe Nassi
Carol Frank’s original gets the ball rolling and introduces us to sorority sister Beth (Angela O’Neill) as she prepares for a weekend of truth and dare with her fellow pledges Linda (Wendy Martel), Sara (Pamela Ross) and Tracy (Nicole Rio). To make up the numbers, a trio of gormless alphas infiltrate their soirée and we already know things aren’t going to end well for these numbskulls. Unbeknownst to the revellers, Beth also has a sibling and Bobby (John C. Russell) is what you would refer to as the black sheep of the family, having slaughtered them all many years ago. By a bizarre stroke of misfortune, the sorority house in question also happens to be her childhood home and, when Bobby escapes from the nearby loony bin, it’s time for a little family reunion.
Inspiration is at a distinct premium for Frank’s film, much as it was for fellow filly Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre four years previous. What basically boils down to a Halloween retread is provided with a dash of dream seasoning à la A Nightmare on Elm Street and hasn’t an original bone in its body. She wisely plays it straight down the line and endeavors to tick as many of the boxes as slashers strive for but fails to excel in a number of key areas in particular. The body count is comparatively meager and the kills muted so, whilst appearing rather slick and atmospheric, it is all too easily forgotten once the credits roll.
Meanwhile, the killer isn’t exactly inspired despite looking suitably unhinged. Clad in black and deciding against wearing a mask, he goes about his business like any other psycho killer, gate crashing a tee-pee party and whittling the numbers accordingly, including any males whom are, of course, utterly superfluous to proceedings. Eventually we reach our final girl(s) scenario and the whole thing ambles to its dreamlike conclusion. Interestingly by the close I too was starting to question whether the whole experience had been some elaborate phantasm as it kind of washed over me.
Sorority House Massacre is just content with existing, serving up a reasonable slice of what we were growing increasingly accustomed to during the mid-eighties and painting very much by the numbers. That said, despite not once rising above industry standard, Frank’s film does possess a certain degree of eighties retro charm. Moreover, it never veers towards parody and that, in itself, is reason to celebrate. In many ways, it resembles fast food as it slides it down effortlessly enough and, while offering zero nutritional value, fills a gap as we await something more substantial. Given that the latter part of the decade was a time of grumbling bellies, I guess beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Sorority House Massacre: 6/10
Sorority House Massacre II (1990)
Director: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Gail Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago, Barbii, Dana Bentley, Jürgen Baum, Toni Naples, Mike Elliott, Bridget Carney, Peter Spellos
Suggested Audio Candy:
Chuck Cirino Main Theme
Step up cult B-movie extraordinaire Jim Wynorski under the cunning guise of Arch Stanton for a baton change that was far from inevitable. Considering the original was spectacularly unspectacular, one owuld be forgiven for expecting foreclosure on the Sorority House in question. However, Wynorski spotted something worth exploiting and, with a résumé that includes Chopping Mall, Return of Swamp Thing and Not of This Earth it was clear from the offset that a shake up was in order. Rules were destined to change and change they did. Gone was the straight-laced stalk and slash of the first film and, in its place, was pure condensed spam. Cue a several minute flashback to set us up for the next meal Wynorski put on the table, a staple diet of tits and asses.
Enter Linda (Gail Harris), Jessica (Melissa Moore), Kimberly (Stacia Zhivago), Suzanne (Barbii) and Janey (Dana Bentley) and I’m assured they won’t complain if you do. After purchasing the Hokstedter house on the cheap for their upcoming sorority festivities, each of the five buxom belles take the obligatory celebratory shower, before mooching around in skimpy lingerie and pouting a lot while delivering lines of sheer Camembert such as “it’s nights like tonight that make me wish I had a guy like Eddie”. With this quintent of soapy naked bodies now thoroughly perused, it is time to cut to the chase and meet the neighbors.
Regrettably for the girls, nearby resident Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos) has taken a vested interest in their nocturnal pursuits and decides to pick up where their predecessor left off five years earlier. While Bobby may not have been a direct threat to the likes of Michael Myers, Orville appears more hazardous to a bucket of fried chicken wings than anything else and is hardly representative of the stuff nightmares derive from, unless you’re battery fed poultry in which case he’s a truly terrifying proposition. Any fading hopes of suspense are promptly obliterated and all impetus then placed on the all-important dispatches. Thank the heavens for bloody murder right? Not on this occasion. When the kills arrive on cue, there are mostly off-screen (of the silhouetted arm raising fisherman’s hook, high-pitched scream and move swiftly on variety).
Regardless of any lack of deep red relish it actually does a reasonably adept job of building what tension it can from the scenario and there is plenty of searching with flashlights (still in bra and panties) to temper our fast-accelerating frustrations. There is also a handkerchief-thin strip bar subplot that is mildly diverting although for all the wrong reasons. Wynorski can’t resist adding to the already bloated breast count, storing up wank bullets and making no attempt at concealing it either. Speaking of outrageous, Yorkshire lass Harris has possibly the most farcical cross-breed accent ever regurgitated and ends up strangely endearing. This sequel may well be shambolic in the extreme but it just about gets by on sheer sass.
Sorority House Massacre II: 5/10
Hard To Die: Sorority House Massacre III (1990)
Director: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Gail Harris, Karen Mayo-Chandler, Deborah Dutch, Melissa Moore, Bridget Carney, Toni Naples, Jürgen Baum, Peter Spellos
Suggested Audio Candy:
Beethoven Symphony No. 9
Also known as Tower of Terror, this is considered by many to be the strongest entry in the trilogy (no great stretch there). I wholly disagree with that sentiment as, when all was said and done, Wynorski’s second stab is little more than a rehash of his last threadbare outing. Featuring many of the same cast members, including Harris once again with those uproarious hybrid tones, it goes one step farther by shoehorning in the identical flashback scene from Wynorski’s last effort. Lines are repeated, key scenes xeroxed, and it still finds sufficient time to slide down a further notch into the realms of the ridiculous.
Playing third time out seemingly for laughs, which are already pretty thin on the ground to be frank, it even sees fit to move the drama away from its sorority house origins and instead adopts the Die Hard high-rise approach by setting up inside an eerily unoccupied skyscraper. Alas, there isn’t a whiff of Hans Gruber although rehabilitated series regular Orville does take a similar swan dive at one point, in addition to being stabbed, shot, and receiving a knee to the crotch. That’s harsh treatment considering he’s not even the killer this time. The deaths here are the weakest of the entire series and, when you consider the powder-puff competition, that’s not saying a whole bunch.
However, it is something of a titty carnival and the extended shower scenes are present, correct, and without the slightest hint of shame. To add insult to injury, this time out said interludes include ludicrous soundbites (squeaking breasts anyone?) just to heighten the feeling of regression back to a near-fetus whilst watching. Because it is so blatantly sending up the genre and even its own predecessor there is a certain degree of impish charm about the whole thing and, by the time the least accurate firefight in history breaks out, we have been partially won over, worn down, whatever. However, Wynorski’s reluctance to develop the story in any way and laziness with old stock footage and identikit scenes is both disconcerting and way beyond forgivable.
Having said that, let’s study the facts. The film is set in a lingerie firm and the threadbare workforce consists of buxom beauties who strip down to said skivvies after a sprinkler misfire. That, in itself, may tick a few less discerning boxes. Add the prowling Orville, who has now morphed into some raw meat masticating demon hunter and literally refuses to die, and you have to possess a heart of stone (or good taste)not to glean just a little fun from Hard To Die. Just remember that, as far as guilty pleasures are concerned, this is of the lock the door and throw away the key variety.
Hard To Die: Sorority House Massacre III: 4/10
If you prefer your slasher of the more highbrow variety then I would advise you avoid this decidedly low-rent trilogy like that mustachioed auntie at family gatherings who keeps threatening that lingering kiss. However, if you are less discerning and not fazed by a fairly unanimous dearth of grue, then you may well find some scraps here or, better yet, sniff that faint whiff of nostalgia as they really don’t make them like this anymore. Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Try as I may to discount the Sorority House Massacre trilogy as outright garbage, that would just be pointing out the obvious as it is under no illusions to begin with. That said, should I have a hankering for a good old-fashioned massacre, then Texas will always be my holiday destination of choice. Admittedly the only showers involved are the ones I have after viewing to wash away all that stubborn grime. But I do have cable.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)