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Sorority House Massacre
(1986)
 

Director:Carol Frank                                   
Cast:
Angela O'Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross


Once in a while, Roger Corman's New Horizons or Concorde Pictures makes a really good movie, like Cheyenne Warrior, Confessions of a Serial Killer, or Brain Dead. But usually we get movies like Sorority House Massacre - cheap, unimaginative, and badly made formula-driven productions. What makes this particular film more of a chore to watch than usual is that it comes from the slasher genre, which hasn't produced a lot of originality, or even rehashes filled with energy. Even the relatively easier ways a movie of this kind can please the fans - blood, nudity - is woefully lacking. Especially the breasts, both in quality and quantity.

The movie begins with the end - to be more specific, the first thing we see is a young university student named Beth in a hospital bed. An older woman comes into the room and asks her what happened. Beth replies, "It must have all started when I entered the house...", which cues in a flashback that lasts for the rest of the movie. I've never liked it when any movie, slasher or otherwise, starts off with a character looking back at the events he or she just went through, consisting of the remainder of the movie. The reason is obvious: we know that the character is going to survive through the ordeal, whatever it is. Since we know that Beth is going to survive the title incident, there is no suspense concerning her character. So the only think possible we can feel about her character is a sense of impatience, knowing full well what her fate is going to be.

Back to the plot. In the flashback, Beth is invited to the Theta Omega Theta sorority for the weekend, so that the girls there can decide whether to take her on as a member. At the same time, across the city (wherever this city is - there's no sense of which city or university this is), some guy locked in in an insane asylum seems to sense her entrance in the house, and starts making a large fuss. He is quickly strapped down in his bed by the orderlies, who strap his wrists so loosely, he could easily pull his arms free. Neverless, it takes him some time to free himself from the bed and the asylum, finally arriving at the sorority after more than half of the running time has gone by, but then he tries to make up for this lost time by immediately going after everyone in and around the sorority.

That's about it for plot. The script does try to build in one of those "twists" you usually find in this kind of film, giving us clues the way by some dream sequences. These dream sequences are, at least at the beginning, not so bad, giving out a little eerie atmosphere. But they quickly become boring, with Beth in her dream walking from room to room, taking a long time to do so. The twist, by the way, is so blatantly slapped in our face early on, Beth's unseeing of it time after time makes her look pretty stupid. The fact the movie runs only 75 minutes gives you a better clue that we're dealing with a pretty weak script. In another scene, one of the girls says, "Let's try on Cindy's clothes!", leading to a montage of the girls wearing various outfits and making various poses. It's quite a coincidence that all these girls happen to be the same size as Cindy, for these outfits fit perfectly. Of course, this scene is also an excuse to throw in some nudity, but it's all a tease, quick flashes of nothing really spectacular, if you know what I mean.

The big nude scene actually comes from one of the four jocks and nerds that drop over just before the killer arrives. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw a close-up of this guy, naked except for a pair of shoes, running back to the sorority after his girlfriend is killed in their teepee. However, I did laugh after he ran into the sorority, because peeking out at the bottom of the screen you can see that he has suddenly grown a pair of underwear. Possibly the director didn't get the shot framed correctly; if so, this scene then becomes just another example of the incompetence of the direction. Though some of the night photography isn't bad, it's otherwise strictly amateur hour and fifteen minutes here. The sorority itself isn't convincing, looking too posed, too clean to be a real sorority. The interior of the asylum looks like an abandoned school or clinic - no place seen in this movie is the least bit believable. The strangest aspect of the direction is how the killer is directed. Early on in the movie, we get a clear look at the killer's face. Yet for much of the remainder of the film, his face is obscured by darkness or by being off camera. It's almost as if the director suddenly realized during the shoot that some of the more popular slasher movies have had killers who were masked or unseen.

In fact, there is a definite influence of one of those famous slasher movies here - Halloween. Like in that movie, the killer here escapes from an asylum, traveling back to a dwelling where he was in the past. There's even a scene where he steals a car, and creeps into a store to swipe something to aid in his preparation. The only difference in that latter scene is that here he kills the owner of the store, in a manner so almost casual, it at least provides a few unintended chuckles in this sea of boredom. Having already established the quality of the nudity, this gives me the opportunity to discuss the movie's other supposed raison d'Ítre - the killings. While close reflection on the movie reveals that the body count here is about average, the killings themselves are so lame, and so spaced out, it seems that there are much less murders than there really are. The first murder doesn't happen until a third of the movie is over, and between the next and subsequent murders, we are treated to endless sequences where people are surprised by people walking up behind them and touching their shoulders. The amount of blood is about the equivalent of a few squeezes from a plastic ketchup bottle - in fact, the phony blood looks like ketchup. The killer himself doesn't try to make the killings interesting - almost all the victims are lamely stabbed by a wimpy looking knife. The knife is so wimpy, you can see it has no blade as it repeatedly enters and exits its victim in one knifing. Being mute and mostly unseen, we have a psycho here that is boring, though once he impressed me by managing to jump from the ground to a second story window. I can live with a stupid slasher movie, as long as it's lively and sleazy enough, but there is absolutely no excuse for a slasher movie that is as boring as Sorority House Massacre. A sequel was produced four years later, but I don't think that it will be any improvement, especially considering Jim Wynorski was the director.


UPDATE: Jim Noble sent this along:

"How ya doin'? I remember the filming of Sorority House Massacre as if it happened a million years ago. My then best friend and roommate, John C. Russell, was cast as "Bobby" the psychotic slasher. John and I were trying to break into the film biz at the same time, and I had gotten a small part on another classic... Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers. We would, when possible, visit each others set, and I even did something terribly STUPID and asked director Carol Frank why Bobby was trying to kill his sister. She whispered something into a production assistants ear and walked away: I suspect she cursed the day I was born, but the production assistant calming explained to me that "it's all about blood, guts, and carving up your sister."

"Sadly, my good friend John C. Russell passed away five years ago, but somewhere he's smiling about the fact that people are actually watching Sorority House Massacre and arguing about how bad it is."

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See also: House Of Usher, Skinner, To All A Good Night

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