The House on Sorority Row (1983)
The House on Sorority Row (1983)

Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: January 21st, 1983 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mark Rosman Actors: Kathryn McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Janis Zido, Robin Meloy, Harley Kozak, Jodi Draigie, Ellen Dorsher, Lois Kelso Hunt

 


 

“T

he House on Sorority Row” is a painfully vacuous horror film. It arrived at a time when slashers were at their height of popularity, but the entire scenario, character designs, and even fatalities scream of generic endeavors. Regardless of which pieces were actually original in 1983, this tired formula has been done to death and with more competence than what is exhibited here. While most of the other thrillers of the ‘80s tried to create a unique villain at the very least, “The House on Sorority Row” suffers from a completely forgettable antagonist – even devoid of a favorite grisly weapon – who only becomes mildly entertaining when briefly cloaked in an eerie jester costume.

Stubborn, bitter Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) runs her sorority house like a reform school. Her foreboding, mysterious past is more unusual than her governance, highlighted by her annual closing of the domicile every June 19th. But this year, the sorority sisters are as rebellious as their housemother is obstinate, and no one will get in the way of their plans to host a graduation party in the building. Not even Mrs. Slater. But after a vengeful prank against the callous old woman goes too far, panic sets in and the girls attempt to hastily cover up their misdeed. But someone knows what they’ve done, leading to sorority girl’s bodies turning up barbarously butchered as some sort of sick message – coaxing young Katey (Kate McNeil) to uncover the terrible secret behind the house on Sorority Row.

It starts with a bad flashback – the kind that doesn’t go anywhere, fails to snap into reality at an unsettling moment, and remains foggily disorienting for much too long. Once that’s out of the way (and 24 years later), the film establishes the bubbly, giggling college girls who drunkenly sit in a circle, toasting themselves while in sexy nightgowns – just how everyone imagined sorority girls to behave. When victims start piling up and the sisters get separated (for intelligent reasons, such as locating a pool light breaker in a dark, atmospheric bunker, just to prevent someone from accidentally turning on a light in a filthy swimming pool that hasn’t been used in ages), all signs point to Mrs. Slater and her wickedly pointy cane. Perhaps they should have stuck to their original prank of putting glue on her toilet seat.

Even in the face of murder and killing, the party must go on. “The House on Sorority Row” doesn’t try to persuade audiences that it’s anything more complex than a series of bloody deaths (and brief nudity), loosely tied together with a ridiculous plot. Most of the attacks are shown as agonized, screaming faces before the shots cut to black. And the more gruesome demises probably weren’t convincing even during the original premiere. With an unsatisfying, incomplete conclusion (thanks to a hasty re-edit) and sparse seriousness, this Z-grade flick is most entertaining as a comedy, or as a what-not-to-do guide to horror filmmaking. At least viewers will learn that when running from a ruthless killer with no escape route in sight, falling on the floor in despair is an invaluable defense mechanism.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10