The early 1980s were the golden years of the slasher film. The stage had been set by the likes of Halloween and Black Christmas and we had already been introduced to Jason Voorhees. What came after was a steady parade of slashers in different settings but following a similar formula.
1983 saw the release of The House on Sorority Row. This film told the story of sorority sisters who play a prank that goes horribly wrong. They cover it up but, as we all know, these things have a way of coming back to haunt the perpetrators. The concept was retooled in the wake of Scream for a new generation of horror as I Know What You Did Last Summer (whether intended or not). Now, in the present, we get a mash-up of the original idea and the retooling bearing the title Sorority Row, and you know what? It is not half bad; of course, that makes it not half good, too.
I read that there had been a plan in place to have this movie cut for a PG-13 rating following the "success" of Prom Night. Fortunately this idea never came to fruition — if there was one obstacle this movie did not need to overcome, it would be to be saddled with a lack of blood. There is not much worse than a bloodless slasher. Of course, blood alone does not make a good horror movie, but in most cases it does not hurt, and in some cases it can make a bad movie somewhat watchable for the typical gorehound.
Sorority Row does not break any new ground in its depiction of pranks gone wrong and the results that come from that. We open with a walkthrough of the Theta Pi sorority house in the throes of a knock-down, drag-out kegger. Hard bodies litter the rooms, the stairs, and the pool. Our tour ends with a focus on our primary victims… er, girls as they set into motion a series of events that will ultimately lead to their downfall, even though they do not yet know it.
It seems that one of the girls' boyfriends was caught cheating. In retaliation the girls have planned a prank where one of them fakes a seizure and death. The guy freaks out as the girls band together to help the poor guy out, but things go wrong when the distraught fellow takes a tire iron to the "dead" body. This reveals the ill-planned prank and forever bonds them as they plan.
The not very likable collective argue, bicker, and bitch at each other about what they should do. Should they go to the police? Perhaps continue with their prank conclusion of hiding the body by dumping it down a well? Is there really any question about what they are going to do?
Jump ahead a number of months. The girls are graduating, and while they still miss their friend (well, at least a couple of them), they are looking toward the future. However, as often happens in these films, the past comes back to haunt the present. The girls begin to receive text messages and pictures of the damning tire iron. They all begin to freak out — could their friend be back from the dead? Or is someone else behind the messages? Hmm….
Well, the girls and a few of the guy begin to get killed off in mildly interesting fashion. The girls run around, argue, scream, and die. Lather, rinse, repeat. When it comes right down to it, Sorority Row is decent slasher film. It does not try to reinvent the wheel, nor does it feel watered down. It works at atmosphere and even a bit of dread, mixes in some humor, and has the big reveal at the end.
On the other side of the coin, it also brings some bad elements along with it. The characters are almost entirely unlikable. They all fit a variety of stereotypes, but I cannot say I ever really cared about any of them. Then there is the bad guy — he pops up in a hooded robe. He is not all that menacing, and in a slasher movie you really need to have a scary killer, someone imposing. Then there is the fact that it doesn't try to reinvent anything. Sure, doing the old formula in solid fashion can be fine, but sometimes you need that extra little push over the top.
Oh yes, the best part of the movie is Carrie Fisher. She plays house mother to Theta Pi and steals every scene she is in. Fantastic.
Bottom line. Not a complete waste, but probably only good for the curious teens and for the hardcore genre fans. There are better examples of the genre on home video. Still, it was a decent time for a horror movie. At least it was R.