Thursday, June 13, 2013

The House on Sorority Row (Mark Rosman, 1983)

A maniac wearing a giant owl head chopping up actors with an axe, a disgruntled aerobics instructor who kills people with the aide of a large safety pin, and a mysterious figure in a black motorcycle helmet slaughtering a wide assortment of three-toed yokels and trucker hat-wearing reprobates with an air-powered nail gun. These are what I consider to be the gold standard when it comes to onscreen psychopaths. You could also include driller killers who do their best stalking while wearing a jean jacket, but I think the three I mentioned are more than enough. Are you ready to add an old lady in a blue bathrobe who murders college age women with the spiky part of her walking stick to the long list of iconic horror movie icons? Am I reading that right? Are you sure the killer wasn't just a man wearing an old lady mask and that his cane wasn't just a hatchet in disguise? No, it was old woman with a cane, all right. Hey, since when do the fine folks doing the hacking and the slashing in horror flicks have to be demented men who use garden tools in a manner that can best be described as unorthodox? Why can't the killer be an older woman? I mean, they have axes to grind, too (no pun intended). Yeah, but don't you think an old woman hunting down and murdering seven sorority sisters in a single night is a little far-fetched. Not at all. And besides, what is this, a documentary? I can tell you right now that it's not. It's a film called The House on Sorority Row, the decrepit hosebeast vs sorority girls extravaganza with one of the least appealing final girls in slasher film history. Ouch! That was a tad harsh. Well, what can I say? I thought she was a major buzzkill. And I knew she would be one the second she made her first appearance. I was like: Oh, man. This chick is going to be no fun at all. And I was right. Now, you would think that I'd be a fan of a character who repeatedly goes against the will of the majority. But everything she objected to was fine in my book. Check this out, she was against getting wasted, being fixed up on blind dates, and, most importantly, she was against pulling an elaborate prank on their overbearing house mother. I know, she clearly states in a toast that she likes getting wasted. But I didn't buy that for a second.
You have your doubts about the killer and you didn't care for the final girl, is this anything you did like about this film? First of all, I didn't say I had any doubts about the film's killer. I was just stating that some horror fans, the close-minded variety, might have trouble excepting the fact that an elderly woman, who's not actually that old when you think about it, is the film's primary object of menace. And another thing, there are those who won't be able to grasp the idea of a woman killing other women, as it goes against everything they've been taught about gender dynamics and horror films. Which goes something like this: Men kill women. Women kill men. Monsters, on the other hand, kill everyone.
Doesn't the walking stick killer dispatch a man first? Oh, yeah. You're right. They do rub out some guy who was wondering the woods near the sorority house in the film's title. I don't know why they killed him, as he had nothing to do with the prank that lead to their decision to take up serial killing. I guess they, writer-director Mark Rosman, included it in order to make us think that anyone, even random dudes wondering the woods, could be targeted at any given moment.
Oh, and, by the way, walking stick killer?!? What? They kill people almost exclusively with a walking stick. Hence, they're the walking stick killer. Hey, if they can use a hatpin in Murder Rock, why not a walking stick?
Opening with a prologue that takes place in 1961, June 19, 1961, to be specific, we watch as a woman is told that the baby she just gave birth to is dead. Call me paranoid, but I think this incident is going to play a major factor over the course this film. Mark my words, it will play a factor. There's no need to mark your words, we believe you. Oh.
Jump forward to 1981, and it's graduation day for seven seniors. Wait a minute, don't tell me I'm going to have to keep track of seven white women? Please tell me one of them is at least Nepalese? Nope, there are no Nepalese chicks in this flick. Great. This is all I need.
(Left to right): Jeanie (Robin Meloy Goldsby), Diane (Harley Jane Kozak), Stevie (Ellen Dorsher), Vicki (Eileen Davidson), Morgan (Jodi Draigie), Liz (Janis Ward), and Katherine (Kate McNeil)
I guess that sort of helps. In meantime, we're treated to a montage that includes girls packing up their clothes, girls putting on makeup, girls painting their nails, and girls shaving their legs. It would seem that everyone preparing to leave the campus. All but the seven I listed above. Why are they staying, you ask? That's simple, they want to use the sorority house to throw a party.
Wearing those square-shaped academic caps, six of the girls are sitting in a circle drinking champagne out of giant beer mugs. Hold on, I thought you said there were seven of them? Well, that's because Vicki's off gallivanting with her boyfriend (his name is not important at this juncture, nor will it be at any junctures in the not-so distant future). During the circle drink, we learn a little about the girls. Like, for instance, Stevie plans on being a flight attendant for Pam-Am (despite the fact she's afraid of flying), Jeanie uses the phrase "fullest capacity" (not sure what she meant by that), and Diane is wearing a black CBGB t-shirt, which automatically makes her the coolest chick in the group.
The most attractive sorority girl is Morgan, a ditzy blonde with a thing for slinky nighties. She also has a thing for booze. Which she's vomits up when Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), their house mother, shows up unexpectedly. Putting an abrupt end to their fun, Mrs. Slater scolds them for using her house for such debauchery.
You think drinking champagne without pants is bad, wait until she hears Vicki having waterbed-quality sexual intercourse with her condom-sporting boyfriend, she's going to flip out. She expresses her outrage by slashing Vicki's waterbed with the spiky part of her walking stick mid-coitus. You mean they were still going at it when Mrs. Slater attacked Vicki's waterbed? You bet she did. Oh, man. I'm no behavioral specialist, but Vicki's going to be super-pissed.
As everyone knows, Vicki does her best scheming while wearing jean shorts by an unclean swimming pool. In-between the moments when she wasn't tossing half-eaten pieces of fried chicken into said unclean swimming pool, Vicki plans her revenge. Though, it should said that Vicki isn't hatching the ultimate prank all by herself. No, the other girls are helping her. Some are even pitching her ideas. Well, everyone is helping except Kate. She thinks all this prank talk is juvenile, especially for a group of women who have just supposedly graduated from a prestigious college that may or may not be located in the state of Maryland.
However, beyond throwing Vicki several disapproving looks, Kate is powerless to stop the prank. In other words, sorry, Kate, the mob has spoken. The next morning, Mrs. Slater wakes up to find that her trusty cane is missing. Ooh, it looks like the prank has already begun. Told to go look for her cane down by the unclean swimming pool, Vicki and the gang, including Kate, follow Mrs. Slater as she angrily stomps towards the prank infamy.
I don't have to tell you what happens next. As with most pranks, they seem funnier during the planning stage than they do when they're actually being implemented. And just like that, Vicki, Morgan (who looks leg-tastic in those purple short shorts), Jeanie, Liz, Diane, Stevie, and even Kate are dumping Mrs. Slater's lifeless body into the unclean swimming pool.
Now that that's taken care of, who's ready to party? Clearly Freshman Girl #1 (Ruth Moss) Freshman Girl #2 (Hilary Crowson) and Freshman Girl #3 (Nanna Ingvarsson) are ready. I mean, look at them.
And get this, the sorority girls have hired 4 Out of 5 Doctors to play their party. Who are they? Why, they're just the best new wave band currently rocking the sorority house party circuit. My vagina is going to explode if they play "Modern Man."  Seriously, though, I'd put 4 Out of 5 Doctors appearance in The House on Sorority Row up there with the likes of The Wigs in My Chauffeur and Paula E. Sheppard's rendition of "Me And My Rhythm Box" in Liquid Sky as far as live music acts who perform in movies from the 1980s.
With Mrs. Slater's body languishing in the unclean swimming pool, the party should go off without a hitch. That is, if no fat guys decide to take a late night swim. And wouldn't you know it, here comes a fat guy now. And, of course, he's wearing nothing but a pair of garbage bag size tightie whities. Meaning, he's down for some night swimming. Won't he see the that pool is A) Filthy. And B) The makeshift watery grave of the soon-to-be bloated corpse of Mrs. Slater? Don't worry, the girls are way ahead of you. Their concern, however, was all for naught, as Mrs. Slater's body is no longer languishing in the unclean swimming pool.
Where could Mrs. Slater be? I'll never tell. One by one the girls are stalked and killed by a killer wielding a cane. The end. Wait a second, before you go. You should know that all the rooms in the sorority house were designed by Vincent Peranio, the film's art director. Do you mean the Vincent Peranio? The guy who designed Mortville in Desperate Living? The very same. Wow, this little nugget of information, along with Diane's CBGB t-shirt, 4 Out out of 5 Doctors, Morgan's hotness and Jeanie's white pleated skirt (perfect for cowering in washrooms), has caused The House on Sorority Row to move up a few pegs on the slasher meter. I also liked how I had never seen any of the actors in anything before, even Kathryn Davidov, who plays "Girl at Party." I wish more movies would use unknown or, as I like to call 'em, one movie and out, actors in their movies, as I sometimes get sick of seeing the same stupid, Apatow-approved faces in every other movie.

video uploaded by TheSlasherMovie


  1. I hate Judd Apatow. I just had to get that off my chest...again.

    Where can I get one of those owl heads?

  2. I have another Judd Apatow reference coming in a future entry... so be prepared. ;)

    Oh, and don't worry, I'm not reviewing This Is 40.

    Owls heads? I don't know, try the prop department of your local community theatre. Or better yet, Owl Heads R' Us.

  3. @Karim Amir: I dislike him as well. I don't think I could take on of those movies. Just the commercials during ball games makes me ill.

  4. I had no idea about the John Waters link. That makes sense. I love the pastel look of the movie. One of my favorite slashers! SLASH!

  5. The director of HOSR mentions the John Waters link early on during the film's DVD commentary.

  6. This is the film with the head in the toilet scene right? I watched Streets of Fire after this one to stop me having nightmares lol

    1. Yeah, a poor sorority gal gets her head tossed in a toilet.