The House on Sorority Row
- Kathryn McNeil as Katey
- Eileen Davidson as Vicki
- Lois Kelso Hunt as Mrs. Dorothy Slater
- Christopher Lawrence as Dr. Nelson Beck
- Janis Zido as Liz
- Robin Meloy as Jeanie
- Harley Kozak as Diane
- Jodi Draigie as Morgan
- Ellen Dorsher as Stevie
An 80’s slasher that has a lot more brains than many, The House on Sorority Row is a fun, well paced and frightening horror that boasts a few more embellishments and substance than most of its kind.
Seven sorority sisters; Katey, Vicki, Liz, Jeanie, Diane, Morgan and Stevie are graduating and soon to be going on to different things. As one last goodbye to the sorority and their time there, they plan to throw a party, under the command of leader Vicki. The house mother Mrs. Slater, who always closes the house on the same date every year had other plans and wants all the girls out as soon as possible. She is a stern woman who knows how to exercise control and discipline. Angry at this, Vicki coerces the other girls into constructing a prank against the cranky Slater to teach her a lesson. Katey is reluctant and not sure of what this prank will achieve, but is drawn in to it in the end. The rank goes as planned; they will take Slater’s prized walking cane and place it in the dirty pool, there she will have to retrieve it at gunpoint. It all goes ahead but Vicki accidentally takes it one step too far and shoots Mrs. Slater, which kills the old women. Thrown into a tailspin, the seven girls are forced to make a decision. They agree to cover up the death by sinking her body in the pool, though Katey is appalled by the lengths that the prank has escalated too. The party goes ahead as planned, but the worry and shock is still there and is about to get a whole lot worse for them. What the girls don’t realise is that there is now someone who knows what they did and has violent intentions for them, as they are somehow connected to the late Mrs. Slater. The person in question begins stalking the girls, slowly picking them off one by one using the prized cane of Mrs. Slater as a murder weapon. Adding to the tension and horror is the fact that the girls can’t call for help without implicating themselves in the death of Mrs. Slater. Just who will survive as the body count rises in the house?
While I had heard the title of this film before, I find that now having watched The House on Sorority Row is an underrated gem in the horror canon. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but it has a lot of things going for it that rise it above simply a predictable slasher. Mark Rosman, as both director and writer, made his debut here and his skill set in creating suspense is on show. There are clearly no signs of debut nerves here as he takes a simple plot and works wonders with it. His choice of camera shots is extremely impressive, particularly when the girls are trying to keep up pretense at the party but as the camera swoops over their faces, the collective fear is palpable. His script too actually brings out some great exchanges between all the girls that makes them characters that you enjoy to watch, due to their chemistry. There is a real sense of mystery about the film as the ghosts of the past come back and also how the killer is not shown outright. We get faint glimpses of the murderer, but not until near the end do we lay eyes on them. I preferred this approach as opposed to other movies that constantly showcase the killer which in the case of this movie, would have lessened the impact. Despite the film having a relatively low budget, it only ever comes through on the rare chance. Other than that, considering that it wasn’t made for a lot, The House on Sorority Row looks amazing straight off the bat. Beginning with a strange prologue that is saturated in blue, the incredible cinematography continues by highlighting various frightening and unnerving parts. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the dirty pool is viewed: it’s practically brought to life in a sickening green that functions as both a warning for the girls of their actions and the horrors that will commence as a result. There are some very striking moments in this film, particularly when the killings of the sisters starts. There is the discovery that the body of Mrs. Slater is gone that sends the girls into a deep panic. We have the creepy dread as the most timid girl hides in the bathroom as the killer looks in every stall, before reaching her and proceeding to murder her. And the finale of this film is a definite corker as Katey, in a disorientated state, does battle with the killer through the house and into the attic. Now while a horror film which does have its share of blood spilled, The House on Sorority Row wisely decides to not go outrageous with gallons of blood. Rather, it uses blood sparingly but effectively so when it gets gruesome, it is hard to mistake. The score, as composed by Richard Band, is simply sublime in crafting a strange lilting quality of a child’s lullaby that runs throughout events. Yet this is underscored by sinister switches and the two polar opposites form an ambient clash that ideally adds to the film’s success.
For a slasher, the acting is a lot better than many may have expected. Each of the girls is written well, though two of them stand out the most. The most clear cut character is Katey, who is excellently portrayed by Kathryn McNeil. She has a real depth and intelligence that is reflected in the role as she is the one who never wanted to be caught up in all of the events but forced to be part of them. McNeil makes a resourceful and relatable heroine whose smarts stand her in good stead when the bodies start hitting the floor. On the other end of the moral spectrum is Eileen Davidson as the bitchy and sassy Vicki, whose idea for the prank sets the horror into place. She plays Vicki as girl with no thought for any but herself, yet with a sense of impudent humour to boot. We know that she will eventually meet her maker, but it must be said that she’s an undoubtedly fun and naughty character in the long run as played by Eileen Davidson. The rest of the girls are played well by the respective actresses and the shared fears of all of them are pretty clear. The grouchy old crone part of Mrs Slater is portrayed by Lois Kelso Hunt, who in her brief screen time displays a sense of sadness and haunted regret of the past that eventually come out in murderous ways after her untimely demise. As one of the only men in the picture, Christopher Lawrence is pretty good as a mysterious doctor from Mrs. Slater’s post who knows more than he is letting on.
Eerie and atmospheric, with a witty script and competent cast, The House on Sorority Row comes highly recommended from me as an effective horror to watch as Halloween approaches.