In the never ending quest to watch a decent slasher movie I will often check out the headlines of reviews to see if a movie could be worth a watch. Under normal circumstances if a film is described as having “competence” it’s generally seen as damning with faint praise. However, if you’ve seen as many slasher movies as I have over the years then competence is a rare and wonderful thing, I mean have you ever seen Don’t Go In The Woods? They don’t know the meaning of the word.
So if The House on Sorority Row is competent then we’re already onto a winner. Fortunately it is much more than that.
The plot is… oh I don’t know why I bother explaining the plots of slasher. They are the same every time with only a small variation. This time, although not for the first time, events are set at a sorority house (maybe the title of the film gave it away) rather than, say, a woods or a campsite or shopping mall. We are into the slight slasher sub sub genre of I-know-what-you-did-last-summer-itis in that the girls of the sorority accidentally kill someone and have a pact to never tell anyone but are then picked off one by one blah blah blah. The difference here is that instead of the main events taking place a year after the accident they happen immediately. The girls haven’t even got rid of the body yet and someone is already chopping them up.
This is probably what sets this film apart from some of the others. The girls foolishly pull this stupid prank on their mean sorority mother moments before they hold an end of year party at their house. The upshot of this is that they have to cover up their crime and their own repulsion with themselves whilst trying to pretend that they are having a good time. It also gives a vaguely valid reason why they have to separate off quite a lot. So they are alone in a basement or attic trying to cover up the murder and it doesn’t seem so dumb when they are killed. They are acting more like normal human beings would under the circumstances rather than idiots.
The girls are also wracked with grief and self loathing so they don’t suddenly forget themselves and start partying. In fact there’s one great shot as the camera pans across the party revellers to each of the girls looking dumbstruck with the horror of what they have done. All the actresses are well above “competent” too, making their situation genuinely engaging. Well apart from the blonde and busty actress who plays Morgan. She struggles keep her head straight let alone deliver her lines (as she removes her top) but looking at her credit list she never worked before or since this movie. Who knows why she was cast?
The party they hold doesn’t seem that great. Everyone seems like an idiot there and there are far too many shifty looking moustaches for my liking. Also the lead singer looks like this:
Did anyone think that that was a good style in 1983? I thought we’d all moved onto the New Romantic look by then.
As WAS common at this time there is a question of who-done-it? which was soon abandoned for the more straightforward Freddy-did-it approach to slasher where it was only ever a madman in a mask/hat. This more traditional mystery killer approach seems almost quaint nowadays, like they were still trying to convince you that the movie was an Agatha Christie adaptation even whilst covering the screen with teenage gore.
Talking of which, there is a modest amount of gory deaths on display here, none of it very memorable but at least they tried unlike some slasher which wholly missed the point. It really does seem like unless you had Tom Savini involved in your make up effects your movie was going to be at a distinct disadvantage. Other artists just didn’t seem to have the knowledge and skill that he did, so you end up with stuff like this:
Which, you know, is fine and all that but loo death will never be anything other than silly. And this isn’t really an effect at all, just some poor actress having the indignity of having to shove her head through a toilet bowl.
The House On Sorority Row is a well shot, well acted and well directed slasher made at a time when you’d be lucky if one of those boxes was ticked. In fact being more than competent but actually pretty good means it’s one of the best slashers from that early eighties boom. Who’d have thought that from the word “competence”?