Sorority Row [Theatrical Release]
Mark Rosman's THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW was a very decent 1983 slasher movie : gruesome in the right places, with a strong final girl, efficient suspense scenes and a pleasingly surrealistic finale. It's not a classic, nor (until later this year) has it ever had a proper DVD release, but it is an 80's horror movie, so it obviously needs to be remade so that we contemporary audiences don't need to watch anything made before 1998.
The new movie with a shortened title has token references to the older movie : it unfolds at "Rosman College", briefly features the bird-like cane that was a memorable murder weapon in the 1983 film, and has a scene of corpse-dumping. Otherwise, the moments that feel familiar in SORORITY ROW could have come from any number of 80's slasher films, and the elaborately nasty prank that triggers the plot is more reminiscent of the exposition in movies like SLAUGHTER HIGH. It's barely a "remake", and the opening titles confuse matters more by stating "based on the screenplay SEVEN SISTERS" - that being an early title for HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW.
Curiously, the new film's core story and structure are very close to I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and it has an almost identical group discussion scene before the body - dumping that sets off the slasher plot. It doesn't't directly reference other slasher movies, but its smartass attitude, in which characters in peril crack self-aware or callous one-liners, is very much in tune with the SCREAM slasher era of the late 90's. It feels like a film out of time - though, luckily, it has more to offer than most.
The set up is as simple as you'd want. A bunch of really bitchy co-eds (all of them hot in some way, with one who pretends to be dowdy but we know the truth) unwittingly wind up with a dead sorority sister. This is the result of a prank that drives the prank victim to kill a girl, while, afterward, her friends decide that for the sake of their future, it's best to throw the body down a mineshaft and never speak of this event again. Eight months later, it's Graduation and, because this is 2009 not 1997, those involved receive mysterious, threatening text messages rather than notes saying "I know what you did...". A killer in a graduation gown wielding a pimped up tire iron, does them in one by one.
Many of the clichés you know and love are present and correct in SORORITY ROW : mobile phones with no signal when you need it ; fake scares involving the medicine cabinet mirror ; a double twist finale with back-from-the-dead shenanigans. It's far from perfect : the killer, when he's finally unveiled, is fatally bland, and the climax involves a raging house fire that conveniently pauses itself to allow the protagonists to fight to the death with said killer without burning up.
That said, it's often stylish, with a neat, visually striking malfunctioning-Jacuzzi death and an extended opening tracking shot through the sorority house (with clever hidden cuts) that bids to be the slasher movie equivalent of memorable moments in GOODFELLAS and BOOGIE NIGHTS. It's sharply written and acted, with a nice ear for the sheer bitchiness and scathing wit of teenage girls : the dialogue skews closer to HEATHERS than to regular slasher flicks, and the banter and intentional laughs are a lot of fun throughout. Carrie Fisher gets a scene-stealing bit as the gun-toting badass house mother (a totally different character to the crabby bitch in the 83 film) who says rousing things like "He, she or it is about to get two rounds to the face".
Unlike a lot of the post-SCREAM slashers, this slick, well directed, fast-paced movie ensures that the exploitation movie expectations of the typical audience are fulfilled. This means a bunch of pleasingly bloody kills (stand-outs involve booze bottles and flare guns), and gratuitous boob shots that make you feel like 1983 never went away. It misses out on the genuine creepiness of Mark Rosman's under-valued movie, but this is still worth a look.