Review: Sorority Row (2009)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #774

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: September 11, 2009
Sub-Genre: Teen Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $12,500,000
Box Office: $27,200,000
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Stewart Hendler
Producers: Darrin Holender, Mike Karz
Screenplay: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
Based on Seven Sisters by Mark Rosman
Special Effects: Steve Riley
Visual Effects: Ron Thornton, Aaron Brown
Cinematography: Ken Seng
Score: Lucian Piane
Editing: Elliot Greenberg
Studios: House Row Productions, Karz Entertainment, Summit Entertainment
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Stars: Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge, Julian Morris, Carrie Fisher, Matt O’Leary, Caroline D’Amore, Matt Lanter, Maxx Hennard, Rick Applegate, Ken Bolden, Nicole Moore, Deja Kreutzberg, Natalia Dove, Debra Gordon

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Marilyn Manson “Disposable Teens”

[2] Aimee Allen “Emergency”

[3] Dragonette “I Get Around”

[4] Lykke Li “I’m Good, I’m Gone”

Teenagers deserve everything they’ve got coming to them, if you ask me. When not tipping buckets of pig’s blood over the unsuspecting, they’re too busy engaging in unprotected sex to notice ten-year-old boys drowning, playing cruel pranks on school caretakers that leave them horribly disfigured, chanting the names of madmen above a whisper even though implicitly instructed not to, and ignoring health and safety regulations to throw private parties in dilapidated mine shafts when there’s a psychopathic killer on the loose. It should come as no great surprise to learn that the average life expectancy for sorority girls and frat boys in the heyday of slasher was around eighteen and nobody in their right mind could argue that they didn’t have it coming to them.

Almost thirty years past the fact, not a damn thing has changed it appears. Thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream and the glut of glossy teen slasher flicks that arrived in its wake, this sub-genre has enjoyed something of a resurgence of late. However, fresh ideas have been at a distinct premium, and eventually the only path forward seemed to entail dialing us back to the eighties for the obligatory remake.

Rare bright spots like Patrick Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine aside, the majority have been woefully uninspired. Nelson McCormick’s Prom Night and Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas failed to generate any interest whatsoever, while Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th reboot may have performed well theatrically, but it brought absolutely nothing new to the table. If slasher was looking to make a rousing comeback, then it has been going about it all wrong.

One of the lesser known body count flicks to drop off the production line over the past decade, Stewart Hendlers Sorority Row is a loose remake of Mark Rosman’s 1983 dorm slasher, The House on Sorority Row. The original turned a reasonable profit back in the day and was decent enough, although some way from front of class with regards to fulfilling its gore quota.

That said, what Rosman’s film lacked in memorable kills, it made up for with eerie atmosphere and a spirited cast of lambs to the slaughter. Hendler retains the spirit and camaraderie of the original but, other than that, it’s all change. You see, what previously centered around a totalitarian house-mother who came a cropper to a misfiring sorority prank, now recruits the old dear as shotgun-toting defender of the realm.

This is a bold move on Hendler’s part as he is essentially tampering with the legacy and using it to his own ends. However, while key members of the personnel may have switched allegiances, the ladies of Theta Pi themselves are every bit as frisky and foolish. Once again, a practical joke gone horribly wrong forms the crux of their folly.

The difference this time is that one of their own bears the brunt of their kittenish antics and it’s an early bath for poor Megan (Audrina Patridge) after a payback attempt on her cheating boyfriend Garrett (Matt O’Leary) backfires in spectacular fashion. This leaves the remaining sisters with a stone cold stiff on their hands and only a conveniently placed mine shaft on hand to dump it into, along with the bloody tire iron used to snuff her.

While I’m the first to encourage taking leave of both our senses and grip on logic when watching a movie like this, it tickles me that a world exists whereby a young girl can go missing and local police don’t think to check a rundown mine shaft being circled by buzzards. Nevertheless, it appears as though the guilty parties have gotten away with their transgression and, eight months later, campus life has resumed without a hitch.

Moreover, it’s graduation day, and it would be positively disrespectful not to throw the party to end all parties in her honor right? Naturally all proceeds will be ploughed straight back into Theta Pi to assist in ushering forth the next batch of heartless bitches. But, if they know Megan like they think they do, then she wouldn’t want them to sitting around glum-faced, letting a little thing like being accomplices to murder spoil their fun.

I guess it would be the done thing to introduce you to the Theta Pi Class of 2009 and let you make your own minds up. First up we have top dog Jessica (Leah Pipes), who rules the roost with acidic tongue and specializes in rallying the troops with rousing pep talks whenever it suits her. Like any queen bitch, she has recruited a pair of prize sheep, in the pretty vacant Claire (Jamie Chung) and booze swilling Chugs (Margo Harshman). Less enamored with her game plan is Cassidy (Briana Evigan), who has opposed the group’s actions at every turn and only played along because blackmailed into doing so. And the cherry on the flan is timid little cry baby Ellie (Rumer Willis), after all, what sorority would be complete without a spineless geek in bifocals who screams each time she ovulates?

As for house-mother Mrs. Crenshaw (Carrie Fisher), well she’s a far cry from the haggard old buzz kill of yesteryear and most protective of the young ladies placed in her care. Alas, Mrs. Crenshaw will be required to vacate the premises on red herring duties for the lion’s share of the evening, along with a handful of alphas also deemed as potential suspects, but the force will be strong on her return. Until that time comes, it’s down to the sisters of Theta Pi to keep a lid on their treachery and attempt to keep their pretty little heads on their shoulders, without the amount of air between their ears spiriting them away. I believe this is what is known in slasher circles as game on.

Would you mind terribly if I was frank at this point? You see, Sorority Row is so overloaded with cliché, that suspension of disbelief becomes mandatory. This is where a keg of beer comes in handy, along with a handful of fair-weather friends to help extract as many belly laughs from its well-worn premise as feasible. The characters are stock, sisters slain strictly by-the-numbers, and each decision made by our dwindling group is more preposterous than the last.

In addition, originality is a swear word here, and there’s absolutely nothing from stem to stern that hasn’t been plucked straight out of Slasher 101 and applied a fresh lick of transparent paint. I’d imagine you’re currently removing this from your watch list as we speak and won’t try and talk you round, if that’s your resolution. That said, things could actually have been a darn sight worse.

Hendler’s direction is competent throughout and the whole package is sleek and stylish. Better yet, while the girls themselves are a typically obnoxious bunch, we’re not here to search for our new BFF and they generally pout and scream in all the right places. Genuine suspense may be at something of a premium, but incident certainly isn’t and, as a result, 101 minutes coasts past fairly effortlessly.

Then there’s the small matter of our beloved Princess Leia and her twin barrels of pain and, while Fisher’s attendance here is essentially an extended cameo, it provides the dash of class that Sorority Row so desperately needs. Granted, you’ll spend the majority of your time rolling your eyes, particularly when the time comes for the all-important reveal. But boredom should never figure into the equation.

As a man frantic for slasher to enjoy the resurgence it’s long overdue, I should be putting Sorority Row in detention for under achievement. The thing is, while studio dross like this has long been the cancer spreading through our industry and rotting it from the inside out, I have a duty to my readership to judge every film on its own merits. It may not bring anything new to the party but neither does it bring any fresh shame to the game, and it never grows old watching spoiled teens disposed of in orderly fashion. Besides, how can I be too harsh on any movie that shoehorns in a slo-mo pillow fight?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: To give him his dues, Hendler has evidently been brushing up on his Slasher 101 as he sidesteps the PG-13 banana skin that slipped up Prom Night and provides both some reasonably inventive kills and the obligatory T&A that enthusiasts demand. Aside from one delightful dispatch I like to call “bottleneck”, the weapon of choice here is a customized tire iron and it’s given a reasonable run-out, all things considered. That said, it’s all a bit too clean and the cuts come too fast to revel in any of the handiwork depicted. As for the skin quota, well we have communal showers to thank for the brief flashes of co-ed flesh supplied but it’s hardly reason to break out the hand lotion. Alright, just a quick squirt then.

Read The House on Sorority Row Appraisal
Read Scream Appraisal
Read Urban Legend Appraisal
Read Black Christmas Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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