The House on Sorority Row 1983 Review
The House on Sorority Row 1983
aka House of Evil aka Siete Mujeres Atrapadas
Directed by: Mark Rosman
Starring: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Harley Jane Kozak
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In 2009, there was a great, but brief, period of revival for the slasher movie. What with My Bloody Valentine 3-D doing impressive business at the box office and the special edition DVD of the original feature providing fans with all those eagerly anticipated gore scenes during the same week, it was most definitely the freshest breath of life for the category since the release of Scream in 1996.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the special edition of MBV and it motivated me to dig through my collection and re-visit a few other cycle entries that had been gathering dust on my shelves. It seemed then to be the latest trend to remake eighties slasher movies and The House on Sorority Row was another that was picked to receive an updated re-birth.
If titles such as Madman and The Prowler were rivals to the gore-led Friday the 13th films of the early eighties and were inspired by Sean Cunningham’s visually graphic depiction of the slasher formula, then Mark Rosman’s bizarrely under-rated entry took its lead from Carpenter’s ‘less is more’ approach. Sorority Row does not boast a bunch of outrageously gory kill scenes and its bogeyman does not sport an audacious mask. It does, however, offer a slick suspense-fuelled runtime of classy directorial embellishments and down-to-earth and believable characters.
In order to get revenge on their unforgiving house-mother, seven sorority sisters plan an audacious prank. Unfortunately, the joke backfires and the elderly owner of the house ends up dead. The youngsters do their best to cover-up the ‘accident’, but it seems that someone witnessed the killing and begins to stalk and gruesomely slaughter them. Who could be behind the murders?
Slumber Party Massacre is generally recognised as the key sorority slasher, which is a shame, because The House on Sorority Row is much stronger and infinitely more deserving of that status. From the off we see that this is a cool and classy thriller thanks to Rosman’s razor sharp direction and some tightly edited scares. The film successfully juxtaposes the innocence of child-like imagery such as clowns and dolls with the dementia of a revenge-fuelled maniac and creates a deeply macabre atmosphere. There’s some chilling flourishes spaced frequently throughout the feature, which include the victims finding toys before they are slaughtered and the classic ‘decapitated head in the toilet’ trick.
The director skilfully utilises John Carpenter’s use of shadow-play to build suspense and the bogeyman remains mysteriously shrouded in the darkness of his non-identity. Perhaps one of the film’s key strengths is the realism of its characters. Many of the latter Scream-inspired slashers would fail because of their persistence in attempting to make a cast of purely beautiful people seem factual. Let’s face it, we don’t all look like glamour models and we don’t all have a rich mummy and daddy a phone call away, so how can we relate in any way to a story depicted using that methodology? Rosman recognised this and instead of a giving us a synopsis full of brainless-bimbos, the characters here are natural and in effect, not without their flaws.
Rosman had previously worked alongside Brian De Palma and was the Assistant Director on Home Movies from 1980. He learned a lot along the way and some of the stylish photography was particularly impressive considering that this was the twenty-four year old’s feature début. The hallucination scenes towards the climax are creative horror-imagery at its finest and the operatic score is at times pulse-raising. That final scene, which sees the killer raise from the shadows in creepy clown attire, is as iconic as anything from the life-span of the genre and the fact that the heroine is heavily sedated only adds to the plausibility of her chaotic state of mind.
Credit also must be given to the cast who carry the plot comfortably and Kate McNeil was superb as the easily-manipulated Katharine. Eileen Davidson puts in a good stint as Vicky and the dramatics remain competent right the way through. Like many eighties slashers, the final version that was released was not as the director had intended and an extension to the ending was filmed and re-edited just before release. Let’s hope that one day we will get a special edition disk with all the deleted scenes restored.
The director has stated in the past that he was not a particularly big fan of horror cinema and that he made this feature just to get a foot on the Hollywood ladder. That’s somewhat tough to believe as House is a movie that’s well-aware of its genre trademarks. The links with Halloween are too numerous to be coincidental and its doubtful that such stylish horror-imagery could be conveyed by a half-hearted auteur. The fact that Rosman was executive producer on the remake must prove that he still has a place for terror somewhere in his heart. Luckily, said rehash turned out to be good enough not to be an embarrassment to the legacy, but it still never got close to the classy style that was delivered here. One of the key attributes to the original’s strength is its realism and the sympathetic motive of the bogeyman, which was somewhat lost in the recent bigger budgeted update.
This is by a long way one of the best of the early eighties slasher flicks; if you haven’t already seen this suspense-marathon, you need to be asking yourself why not???
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl: √√√√√