Monday, December 12, 2016

The House On Sorority Row (1983)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

The Story:
After graduation, seven sorority sisters come together for a farewell graduation party. Katey (Kathryn McNeil), Vicki (Eileen Davidson), Liz (Janis Zido), Diane (Harley Kozak), Morgan (Jodi Draigie), Stevie (Ellen Dorsher), and Jeanie (Robin Meloy) share an unquestionable bond as sorority sisters, but one irreversible incident will test the limits of loyalty and trust within their group.

Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) is the strict, no-nonsense housemother, and she won’t tolerate any foolishness. Mrs. Slater runs the sorority house with an iron fist, and Vicki reaches a boiling point, when Mrs. Slater use her cane to destroy her waterbed, ruining Vicki’s night with her boyfriend, Rick (Michael Sergio). Vicki comes up with an idea for a prank with a gun to scare Mrs. Slater, with plans to lure Mrs. Slater to the pool, forcing her to retrieve her cane at gunpoint. Surrounded by the sisters, Mrs. Slater reluctantly goes into the dirty pool to grab her cane with Vicki holding the gun. Mrs. Slater grabs her cane, and she decides to fight back, but the gun accidentally goes off during the struggle.

Mrs. Slater is presumably dead, sparking a panic amongst the group. After a heated debate, the sisters agree to hide Mrs. Slater’s body in the pool for the time being, and after the party, they’ll deal with the messy dilemma. During the party, the sisters do their best to hide any signs of foul play, but everything changes, when the group returns to the pool for a startling discovery: Mrs. Slater’s body is gone.

The scramble to find Mrs. Slater’s body begins, but the sisters have another problem on their hands, when an unknown killer, using Mrs. Slater’s cane as a weapon, targets the group. Vicki is dead set on finding and burying Slater’s body, but Katey is looking for answers after she calls the number on Mrs. Slater’s medical ID bracelet. Dr. Beck (Christopher Lawrence) has the answers to the questions in Mrs. Slater’s mysterious past, but the killer is closing in. Has Mrs. Slater returned from the dead? Or, is someone else determined to kill the sisters one by one for revenge?

Review: Lois Kelso Hunt brings the essential demeanor of a cold and nasty authoritarian to Mrs. Slater, and the creepy cane is a great accessory for her character. Mrs. Slater is a hard woman, but she has a few vulnerable moments here, and it’s almost impossible to not feel any sympathy for her, when the prank takes a wrong turn. Eileen Davidson’s performance as the cocky and arrogant brat, who’s fed up with Mrs. Slater and her rules is spot on. Vicki is truly the perfect adversary for Mrs. Slater, with the “you can’t tell me what to do!” attitude, the bossy and condescending persona, and she’s someone, who’s not afraid to break all the rules.

While everyone else is panicking, losing their minds, or following Vicki’s lead, Katey is the only one, who has the guts to stand up to Vicki. She’s not afraid to question everything, bringing morals into the group’s conundrum, and you get the feeling she’s more concerned with doing the right thing, while Vicki pushes the rest of the group to save their own asses. Kathryn McNeil is undeniably innocent and kind as Katey, and Katey proves she’s a fighter, who won’t quit, when she comes face to face with the killer towards the end.

So after a while you start to realize Mrs. Slater is not the killer. She’s not a zombie, and she didn’t crawl out of the pool to seek revenge on the group. So who’s the killer? Well, it turns out Mrs. Slater had a son named Eric years ago as a result of Dr. Beck’s illegal experiment. Eric was hidden by Mrs. Slater, living in the attic, where he witnessed the murder.

Dr. Beck will do anything to keep his work a secret, so he injects Katey with a sedative. Dr. Beck plans to use Katey as bait to capture Eric, but his plan backfires, when Beck accidentally shoots Peter (Katey’s date) with his tranquilizer gun. Eric eventually shows up, and he turns the tables on Beck. Eric murders Beck, but Katey manages to get the best of Eric during her last stand. Eric is presumably dead, while an exhausted Katey is lying on the floor, but Eric’s eyes open at the last second for an “it’s not over yet” cliffhanger.

Charles Serio’s Eric fits the bill for a menacing threat. The disfigured face, the stringy long hair, and the dark, shadowy shot of Eric raising his mother’s cane in the air before he murders Vicki is excellent. Katey making it to the end as the final girl is no real surprise, and you know it’s only a matter of time before she makes her miraculous comeback. Still, The House On Sorority Row delivers an entertaining finale. Questions are answered to fill in any holes (i.e. Mrs. Slater closing the house before Eric’s birthday) during the home stretch, and Katey’s hallucinations after Dr. Beck injects her with the sedative are really freaky and eerie. Eric (wearing a jester costume) jumping out of the corner is a nice surprise, and the attic is the ideal setting for Eric’s lair. Littered with toys, and other gifts from Mrs. Slater, the attic is dank and spooky, and you know it’s the last place you want to be, if you’re trying to fight a killer.

You’ll see a good amount of horror tropes (people fall down, while running, splitting up, making stupid decisions, etc.), and predicting the final girl is pretty easy. But if you’re a die hard horror fan and you love slashers, The House On Sorority Row is a real treat. The slow burn approach to storytelling really works, when you consider the hysteria amongst the group, because they have no idea what’s going on, or who’s trying to kill them.

The House On Sorority is a “just right” horror film, because nothing is too extreme or over the top here. The nudity is kept to a minimum, and you’ll see a fair amount of blood and grisly images (Jeanie’s severed and bloody head in the toilet, the dead bodies floating in the pool, the dead bodies in the pool opening their eyes during Katey’s hallucinations, etc.), but The House On Sorority Row is not a gore fest or a bloodbath horror film. And I can’t forget about the nostalgic black and white intro, featuring Mrs. Slater giving birth. Ranking and placing 80’s slashers in the upper echelon is a tricky task, because it’s a crowded pack, but The House On Sorority Row deserves its status as a cult classic, and there’s no denying it.  

Rating: 8/10


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