The 1983 film, The House on Sorority Row, is one of the best (and sadly, one of the more underrated) slasher films to be released during the slasher boom of the early 1980s. Yes, I know that the poster above probably makes it look a little generic. And “Where Nothing Is Off Limits” sounds more like a tagline for a film about snowboarders than a rather engaging and occasionally even witty suspense film.
But no matter!
The House on Sorority Row is a masterpiece of the genre. (Avoid the remake, Sorority Row. ALWAYS AVOID THE REMAKE … except for The Maltese Falcon, the Hammer Dracula films, The Departed … you know what? Use your own damn judgement. )
Seven sorority sisters are excited about graduating and want to throw a big party. However, their strict and slightly insane house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), has a strict no party policy. She also has a strict “everyone out of the house once the semester ends” policy and she’s not very happy when she discovers that the seven girls are planning on staying for the weekend! She demands that they all leave. She then proceeds to use her cane to destroy a waterbed while one girl is on it with her boyfriend. As the hallway floods, the girls wonder what’s wrong with Mrs. Slater.
Of course, what they don’t know is that Mrs. Slater has a tragic past. Well, actually, they kind of do know it. At the very least, they suspect it. They know that Slater does have a reason for always closing the house on the weekend immediately following the end of the semester. They know but they don’t care. Instead, they plan an elaborate hoax. That’s right! V for Vengeance!
How does the hoax work out? Well, like most college hoaxes, it ends up with two laughing girls, five angry and/or worried girls, and one dead house mother floating in the pool. OH NO! They’ve got to both throw a party and hide a dead body! See, this is why I never joined a sorority. I can throw a party. And I can hide a dead body. But not both in one night!
At first, things go okay. Nobody discovers the body. The party goes off as planned. Everyone’s having as good a time as you can while trying to cover up a future-ruining felony. But then suddenly, the body disappears. And then the girls start to disappear, one-by-one…
So, let’s just be honest here. Plotwise, The House on Sorority Row is not going to win points for originality. Though the film does include a few clever twists, it’s pretty much your standard slasher film and it has its share of scenes where the girls stupidly split up, drop knives that they really shouldn’t drop, and hide in silly places. I always feel bad for the girl killed in the bathroom stall because seriously, that’s the last place I would want to die. (Add to that, her head later turns up in a toilet. BLEH!)
While the plot may be familiar, The House on Sorority Row is a triumph of style. Director Mark Rosman may have told a familiar story but he told it well, putting more emphasis on suspense than gore. Regardless of how silly the story may be, you still get caught up in it. Rosman is at his best towards the end of the film when the final survivor has to fight off the murderer while under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug.
Finally, the film is far better acted than your typical slasher film. Though the majority of the characters are definitely familiar types (there’s the bitchy girl, the slightly less bitchy girl, the best friend, the mousy girl, the smart girl, the dumb girl, etc), the actresses who play them are all sympathetic and likable. You actually care about them. Yes, you even care about self-centered, immature Vicki, even though she’s the one who came up with the hoax in the first place. Vicki is played by Eileen Davidson and she gives one of the best performances in slasher film history. It’s hard not to relate to her exasperation as it turns out to be harder to cover up a murder than she originally assumed.
That said, having watched the film, I’m glad that I never joined a sorority. Between the waterbed and the murders, I don’t know how I ever would have ever graduated.