Horror month – #3 – The House On Sorority Row (1983)

The psychotic matriarch and her over-protected offspring. Where would horror cinema be without them?

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So, The House On Sorority Row. The title alone comes with certain expectations. I’d say most of the action will be set in or around one house. Surely there will be a party. And sex of course, since this is a house full of college girls. What else are they supposed to do? We need a killer. It would be good to have a special date, a tradition that is somehow interrupted, thus providing a catalyst for our bloodbath.

In this particular case most of the above boxes are ticked. That is not to be seen as a criticism. Familiarity is generally celebrated in horror films and as long as I (as an audience member) get at least some small alterations to the formula, I’m pretty happy.

The film starts with a blue-tinted, soft-focused flashback. It’s 1961 and a young girl, Miss Slater, is giving birth under rather suspicious circumstances.

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“She’s the last one”, a young doctor murmurs as a dodgy caesarean is performed. The mother survives but it’s suggested that the baby is gone.

Cut to the present day and it’s graduation day.

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A jolly bunch of sorority sisters are posing for photos and preparing for the summer break. Just one final party to go before they have to enter the real world!

An older lady is at the hospital. Turns out it’s the same Mrs Slater and the doctor from the flashback. Something obviously isn’t right with Mrs Slater.

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“We both knew the risks. For twenty years you’ve been blaming me for what happened!”. He urges her to stay away from the house and when she refuses, he gives her a tag to be worn at all times. Just in case!

Meanwhile, a couple (Vicky and Rick) go to try a gun in an old abandoned house.

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There’s really no purpose in this scene apart from telling us that there is a gun and that it’s quite likely that it’ll be used later.

Back at the house and our girls are getting drunk, sharing stories and thanking each other for the good times.

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“I wanna thank you all for helping me become what I am today…wasted!”

Mrs Slater shows up and she really isn’t impressed.

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When the girls tell her that they were hoping to stay on a few extra days to have their graduation party in the house, she is having none of it. She wants them out by Friday! The girls are a bit perplexed “Why does she always close the house on June 19th? Every other house stays open through the weekend.”

Indeed. Why?

Later on, Vicky and Rick are trying out Vicky’s new waterbed.

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Mrs Slater hear them through the walls and storms into their room, raising her dangerously sharp walking stick/cane.

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“You filth! Trash like you doesn’t belong in my house”

But she doesn’t kill them. That would be a tad over-the-top, although she certainly seems capable. Instead she punctures Vicky’s water bed. Vicky’s not too happy and starts screaming about revenge and how she’ll get back at her.

Vicky really isn’t going to let this one slide. She tries to convince the other girls into playing a good old-fashioned sorority prank on their house mother.

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The only one who isn’t too keen is Katie, who is shaping up to be our “final girl”. She seems relatively reasonable and innocent.

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Also, someone appears to be watching them.

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Then our old doctor friend is making some audio notes for himself, noting how a “slow progression towards a psychotic break has been evident” and how he recommends living under close supervision.

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But, but, but, I hear you say. Enough with the yadiyadi. Where is the killing? We get it! Old lady Slater is pissed off and has had a tough life! When is she gonna start chopping up these hormonal young ladies?

Patience!

We soon find ourselves at prank time and Vicky pointing a gun at Mrs Slater…which seems a tad excessive to me! But, then again, so was the destruction of the water bed, so whatever.

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What was supposed to be an innocent prank (or humiliating psychological torture of on old lady, depending on how you see it) quickly back-fires. Mrs Slater is shot and all hell breaks loose.

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The girls decide to hide the body in the pool (which has been deemed too dirty to use anyway) for the duration of the party. Katie keeps objecting and suggest they call an ambulance, but she is quickly out-voted.

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That’s probably enough of a set-up. Obviously when the party kicks off, someone ends up in the pool and the girls panic. And surprise, surprise…Mrs Slater’s corpse isn’t there anymore.

Is she dead? Did someone move her?

And then the bodycount starts.

And the only thing we really see is that sharpened cane.

So, now. Who’s behind it all? Well, that’s for you to find out.

The House on Sorority Row is not a bad little slasher, actually. The girls’ erratic behaviour is a bit annoying at times, but it’s to be expected. I mean, what are the odds of ten young girls all deciding to cover-up the accidental murder of an old lady? They seem a lot more concerned about getting caught than about the fact they just killed someone. This cold attitude towards their actions is a bit disappointing and just means that you never really care about any of them. Katie’s really the only one who’s showing any sort of remorse or conscience at all. I also found it a bit weird how the bodies start stacking up while the party’s in full swing and no one really notices anything. They’re also pretty relaxed about the whole corpse-disposal business. Obviously, I’ve never had to deal with a similar situation, but I imagine I would be a lot more distressed about having to schlep a dead body around.

Apart from a severed head being left on a toilet seat, there isn’t a whole lot of blood here.

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Gore-hounds will probably find it a bit unsatisfying, but if you just want a well-paced and competently executed slasher, you could do a lot worse. The script is tight enough to keep us guessing until the end and although I had my suspicions about the killer’s identity, it was well-covered-up and not completely obvious.

Now, I should really call my mother.

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