Review Date: December 10, 2009
Released by: Liberation Entertainment
Release date: 1/12/2010
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
From the director of Lizzie McGuire
, A Cinderella Story
and The Perfect Man
comesÖone of the most appreciated films from the slasher era? Everyoneís gotta start somewhere, and that somewhere in the early eighties, and still very much today, is horror. The House on Sorority Row
was Director Mark Rosmanís calling card, and it was the same for Stewart Hendler, who used the property for his own big league directorial debut with this yearís Sorority Row
. That remake crashed and burned, despite modest praise from critics, but how about the original? Itís been 25 years now, so letís once again head down sorority row and see if Theta Pi is a place worth pledging.
Itís 1961 on a dark and stormy night. Dorothy Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt
) is giving birth to her first child. Itís not coming out easily, and after a lot of screaming, Dr. Beck (Christopher Lawrence
) comes back with some bad news. Devastated, Dorothy breaks into sob as we fade to black and come up anew in 1981. The film never hit until 1983, so thereís your first tip of how long these things take to churn out. Anyway, weíre introduced to the Theta Pi house on the day of their graduation. We see bad bitch Vicki (Eileen Davidson
, who before becoming a soap opera star had the dubious distinction of being credited as ďBJĒ in a film called Goiní all the Way
!) going off to shoot a pistol and have sex (hey, why not?) while the requisite slasher tomboy, Katey Rose (Kathryn McNeil
, Monkey Shines
, Beach House
) is busy packing her belongings. When plans for a year end celebration off campus fall through, the girls decide to stay a few extra days and hold it at the sorority house. One problem: Mrs. Slater.
Dorothy is all grown up now and curmudgeon-like as the housemother and matron of the complex. Hey, if you canít have kids of your own, may as well have a bunch of horny sorority sisters, right? Mrs. Slater does not take well to the impromptu party announcement, and demands not only that it be canceled but that all the sisters leave the house effective immediately. If youíve ever been to college you know the world seemingly revolves around you, so the sisters get together and decide to play a little prank on old crater Slater. Not really a group for charm, they think it will be funny to get Mrs. Slater to go into the muck infested pool at gunpoint. In an occurrence nobody could see coming, the gun goes off, Slater falls dead and the girls start to panic.
Katey wants to call the police but Vicki and the rest of the girls donít want to ruin their summer. They bag up Mrs. Slater and hide her in the pool Ė at least until the big party is over. Well, when they go to check on her mid-party, they find her body no longer there. Whatís worse, people are dying in vicious ways, often at the hand of Mrs. Slaterís iconic bird-topped cane. Does this old bag really have what it takes to exalt revenge, or is she nursing help from another? Whatever the case, the sisters of Theta Pi will have a shorter summer than expected.
The House on Sorority Row
is a tough film to rate. On one hand itís incredibly uneven, not getting to the catalyst first murder until 26-minutes in (the similar ďband together and tell no oneĒ Prom Night
managed so in the first 5-minutes) and ending with one of the most anti-climactic finales the genre has ever seen. On the other, though, itís got some spot on young people dialogue (with additional dialogue credited to Bobby Fine, whoíd, uh, write for Full House
), enjoyable performances by the two female leads and a few nasty deaths. Granted, there isnít a whole lot of gore, but they donít skimp on the blood, and a few of the deaths, like the head in the toilet and the cane through the neck still get a lot of mention in slasher circles.
But then on the other hand, thereís that ending. I hate the ending to The House on Sorority Row
. It just cuts off. Whereís the last reel? Part of the pleasure of watching a slasher movie is watching how the killer is revealed and how they either meltdown in gushing, psychosexual torment or how in revealing a piece of themselves they somehow live on. In the former, in movies like Prom Night
, Donít Answer the Phone
or Friday the 13th
, the endings add a sympathetic tragedy to a clearly disturbed individual. The latter sees iconic monsters like Michael Myers, Madman Marz or Kropsy refusing to let their legends die. In The House on Sorority Row
we get a great killer and a satisfying twistÖand then nothing. The filmmakers turn their back on the character and even the logic of his/her existence and turn what should have been a fascinating reveal into a shallow nothing. Not only do they fail to pay off the killer, the fail to deliver an ending, too. Again, in virtually any movie with the Final Girl, thereís a moment when the girl gets the killer down before the killer comes back again for the true climax of the movie. Michael rising from beside the bed only to be shot down by Dr. Loomis in Halloween
is perhaps the most famous example. Here, though, and I guess this would be a spoiler if I was actually revealing anything, the killer opens his/her eyes after a death scare and done. Cue the credits. What?! There isnít even a nice music string to take the viewer outÖit just goes to a cast list. How lame is that? It would be like taking Friday the 13th and the second Alice gets Mrs. Voorhees downÖblack. No Jason. No scare. No resolve.
The House on Sorority Row
is a fun little slasher that gets the formula right, but like a screenwriter at an open window lets the final pages of the story disappear in a gust of breeze. Itís more frustrating than anything, given the flourishes in acting and in cinematography (that last act stop motion hallucination is very effective). Still, the movie does give us some classic shots and a one liner that should get you laid at any frat party (ďIím a sea pig!Ē). So even if it does go limp on the final thrust, The House on Sorority Row
still delivers, as Linda Lovelace would say, some ďtiny tinglesĒ.
I see lines upon linesÖyep, sad to say, weíre interlaced. The House on Sorority Row
is presented anamorphic in 1.78:1, but itís the interlacing that stands out worst of all. Why anyone would interlace in this day and age is beyond me, but it distracts from an otherwise serviceable picture. Liberation Entertainment isnít new to the game, so why they interlaced is a mystery to me. Interlacing aside, though, the visuals here arenít exactly reference quality, either. I found the general picture quality to be on the softer side, and there are a few moments when some vertical scratches take up seconds of the film. The entire print could have used a bit of masking on the sides, too, since sometimes frame and projection elements are visible in the overscan. The print isnít clean from dust or debris either. Another problem I noticed was an uneven light distribution throughout the print, with the edges of frame sometime providing some darker vignetting. On the plus side, though, blacks are strong and colors are vivid. This is one of the rare slashers to actually take place in the early summer (as opposed to dead leaves usually meaning dead bodies) and the vivid greens throughout really pop.
The colors also really popped in the old Elite discÖand that disc was progressive scan. In comparing the two, itís very tough to spot any difference other than a skin tone thatís ever so slightly warmer on the new disc. The older disc does a slightly better job of masking out the undesirables in the edges of frame, but even on the Elite disc itís still a bit wider than it should be, with those edge flares or vignetting still noticeable. Ultimately, though, this boils down to two things. Progressive scan, which the old transfer has, and availability, which the old transfer doesnít. The interlacing is a drag, but at least weíve got essentially the same print (not this "recently discovered pristine 35mm print" as advertised) back into circulation for slasher fans.
The video certainly wasnít much of an upgrade from the original disc, but the audio has now been expanded from Eliteís mono to full fledged 5.1. The mono track is included, too, which is nice, but what about this surround track? Well, Liberation actually makes good use of the 5.1 spectrum, utilizing a surprisingly crisp and hiss free audio source and dispersing it well. There are moderate directional effects, although it could have been utilized a lot better. Still, itís nice to see a little bit of movement when cars are moving or ambiance is shifting during the party scenes. The score gets a nice kick all the way around, too. Again, the track sounds very sharp without hiss, but I did notice a lot of shrill notes whenever the ladies would raise their voices. Overall, a pleasant surprise and a nice upgrade over the previous disc. This sounds a lot better than it ought to!
If you look on the back of the box the first extra listed is the theatrical trailer. Itís not bad, overly long but a decent display of the film. Itís the next feature that most people will be wondering about, however. Reunited are sorority sisters Eileen Davidson and Kathryn McNeil along with director Mark Rosman for a feature length commentary. Initially the slight echo of the lower quality recording is a put off, but itís all forgotten shortly after the three engaging speakers start chatting. Rosman serves as a great moderator and controls the track with a razor sharp memory of the production, while both ladies are at times inquisitive and at others humbled, but always entertained and nostalgic about their first big acting experience. Itís a ton of fun with Davidson serving up some nice color commentary, but wholly informative too, with Rosman talking about dubbing over Mrs. Slater (how cool would it be to hear the original audio stems?), living on set and running out of money midway through the film.
Now the next extra is curiously titled ďAlternate EndingĒ, but sadly thatís just a misnomer. Itís actually more of Rosmanís commentary overlaid against a still from what was once the alternate ending. He describes what happened in the scene and why the distributors were against it. This added ending would have definitely provided more punch and a bit more closure to the film, but even with it Sorority Row
would still be missing a climax proper.
Normally itís nothing to dwell on, but the storyboard comparisons are wonderfully done. On one side you see the page of the boards in sequence, and then on the top right you see the film play out, while on the bottom right it zooms in on whatever frame from the storyboard the film is syncing with. We get it for 3 different scenes, the whole thing running 4 and a half minutes.
Rounding off this disc is a short photo gallery with some promotional stills as well as behind-the-scene photos, all animated and set to score from the film. Lastly, it should be mentioned that the menus are of a, um, lesser quality. Now the menus on the Elite disc were plenty bad, but youíd think in nine years thereíd be some progress. It looks more like a home movie menu maker. Thankfully, though, the content is worth it.
The House on Sorority Row
is a classical example of the slasher genre, but one that falls slightly short of the mark due to a bulky start and a lean finish. Still, there is some catty dialogue, strong lead performances and a few noteworthy death sequences that should more than please fans of the genre even if it ends with a whimper. The image is interlaced and not quite the best, but the 5.1 audio is a marked improvement. Building on that, the reunion commentary and storyboard comparisons are ter-Row-fic! While itís a shame the alternate ending is only talked about and not seen, fans of the film or eighties slashers will find this House
more than welcoming.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour and 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English mono
- French mono
- Commentary with director Mark Rosman and actors Kathryn McNeil and Eileen Davidson
- Storyboard comparisons
- Alternate ending discussion
- Theatrical trailer
- Photo gallery