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Rental Review: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

August 19, 2011
  • Dir. Mark Rosman
  • Released by Film Ventures
  • Written by Bobby Fine and Mark Rosman
  • Rating: **

The Golden Age of Slashers was nearing its end by the time that this picture was released, and slasher films of the late 1980s would focus more on solidifying the new pantheon of iconic monsters rather than merely attempting to emulate the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980). With the subgenre preparing to enter its transitional phase, much of its product by 1983 was either substandard or passé. Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row is nowhere near the worst slasher of its time, but it also falls short of truly distinguishing itself as a notable entry.

Part of the problem is that Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) had already set the standard for sorority slashers nearly a decade earlier, and most of Row‘s other ideas resemble plot points from movies such as Paul Lynch’s Prom Night (1980). Almost nothing in the movie feels fresh, and the few bold decisions made for the movie appear too fleetingly to save the overall project from its own mediocrity. Even the murder scenes feel uninspired, lacking either the emotional impact or Fangoria thrills necessary to grip the audience.

However, the movie has one great strength: Kate McNeil as the final girl, Katey Rose. As the only character reluctant to go along with a prank that leads to the den mother’s death, and the only one unwilling to endorse the hiding of the body, and the only one who displays any semblance of reason or dimension, she obviously should be the most likable character, but McNeil portrays her with enough honesty to make her genuinely worth our sympathies.

Katey also serves as the source for the best moments in the film, which occur when she is drugged in the third act and begins hallucinating. Her compromised state raises the tension considerably, and if the film had dared to be more surreal, it would have been far more satisfying. Rosman also considered using a genre-defying ending in which all of the characters died, but the producers’ insistence that the ending be more ambiguous (once again, a la Black Christmas) was probably wise, as such a conclusion would possibly eclipse all other merits of the movie.

As a dead teenager movie, it is rather bland. As an exploitation flick, it is rather tame. As a slasher that strives for a compelling final girl, it is actually not bad at all. Bolder experimentation and overall better execution might have resulted in a movie that would have something to offer non-fans of the subgenre, but as it is, only slasher devotees can hope to be anything but bored throughout the largely by-the-numbers whodunit horror.

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From → Film Criticism

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