The House on Sorority Row (1983)

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“After a seemingly innocent prank goes horribly wrong, a group of sorority sisters are stalked and murdered one by one in their sorority house while throwing a party to celebrate their graduation.” — IMDb

The House on Sorority Row is one of the many cult classic slasher films to come out of the 1980s. The director, Mark Rosman, had studied under Brian de Palma in his early days. As a result, I feel like — despite this being a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher flick — it has a slight leg up as a result, especially considering it was Rosman’s first feature film (and he was only 24 at the time). But not much.

The story centers around a group of seven sorority sisters who are trying to plan their final hurrah — their graduation party — but being thwarted by their house mother’s increasingly rigid rules and stifling attitude. They decide to play a prank on her to lighten the mood, but things become darker than ever when it doesn’t go quite as planned…

** SPOILERS! **

I had pretty high hopes for this movie going into it, and even during the first 30 minutes or so. It’s a fairly well known cult classic and I had heard the name about a million times before finally caving and watching it. I am definitely guilty of building up what I think a movie will be like in my mind and, unsurprisingly, am often disappointed (or surprised, at the very least). I love 80s slashers so I knew I wouldn’t HATE it, but I definitely wish I had liked it more.

The initial backstory of Mrs. Slater’s (Lois Kelso Hunt) traumatic birthing experience and her subsequent mental breakdown was promising. When Dr. Beck (Christopher Lawrence) says into his handheld recorder “there’s a good chance that any traumatic episode could act as a stimulus for the patient’s latent violence” I was like, OH DAMN, we are IN FOR IT.

Even more so when the girls deliver their prank, which was pretty fucked up even for spoiled sorority girls.

But it went a bit downhill from there. There were decent chunks of the movie when I was more occupied with boredom than suspense (most of all whenever they’d show Katie’s “date”, Peter, just tiptoeing around looking rejected — get a life, dude). Or just studying the various plot holes (does being injected with a sedative really mean you can still run around mostly unhindered save for a few moments of stopping to catch your breath?).

The kills were largely mediocre (save for the throat slitting in the van, that was pretty solid). I won’t lie, I like my slashers to be bloody, and this just didn’t deliver in that aspect (and a couple of them were too fake-looking to even be shocking). Though the head in the toilet was pretty fantastic.

The acting was surprisingly good for such a cheesefest, with a few genuinely funny moments (“I’m a sea pig!”). And I did really enjoy the music (the atmospheric soundtrack written by Richard Band — who has a number of 80s horror classics under his belt — and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, NOT the party band — 4 out of 5 Doctors — who were a fitting addition but not altogether pleasant).

I thought it was going to take a more interesting, dark turn when Dr. Beck ties Katie up and tells her “you’re the bait”, hoping to lure Eric in… but that didn’t really pan out either. It redeemed itself for a moment when Eric turns out to be hiding inside that super creepy jester costume and mask that are inexplicably hanging in the attic… but that was so short-lived it’s barely worth mentioning.

Ultimately, worth watching if you’re interested in seeing a fairly mild, cheesy slasher flick with a decent storyline and acting… but not among my favorites.

Rating: 4/10 | Director: Mark Rosman | Writer: Mark Rosman, Bobby Fine | Music: Richard Band | Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt | Starring: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Janis Ward, Robin Meloy, Harley Jane Kozak, Jodi Draigie, Ellen Dorsher, Lois Kelso Hunt, Christopher Lawrence, Michael Kuhn

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