A good friend helps you move, a great friend helps you move a body, the joke goes. Fatalism is a key component of film noir and The House on Sorority Row introduces us to a fatalistic “what have we done?” moment that’s atypical of your typical slasher.
A group of extremely attractive sorority girls hoping to have one last throw-down before becoming adults, hoist steins, toast their futures and go wild…but then their kill-joy sorority mom Mrs. Slater catches one in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend and trashes their waterbed with a very sharp cane: “Trash like you doesn’t belong in my house!”
The thwarted Greek girls, one of whom is pretty handy with firearms, plan a big party and hatch a plot to scare the old bag to death and…well…mission accomplished. Suddenly, the film noir moment arrives: what to do with the body? Besides, we’ve got people coming over!
After realizing they’d be fingered if they called the cops, the girls decide to sink the corpse in the dirty backyard swimming pool with one hold out — a sensible brunette. They quickly get her to keep her mouth shut and then the women reluctantly party down while a truly awful band entertains the assembled. In the meantime, they are systematically hunted…by a killer…wielding a sharp cane.
And the hunting is well, Carpenter-esque with lots of false point-of-view shots to deceive the viewer into thinking they’re looking through the killer’s eyes. In The Horror Film, Peter Hutchings says this about killer point-of-view shots:
The disparity between our knowledge and the victims’ knowledge can induce anxiety as we, helpless spectators, anticipate the killer’s attack.
This is used to pretty good effect a la Halloween. The film’s well shot and above-average in terms of acting and the creepy doll motif is actually very well done. There’s some fun gallows humour too (a sorority house banner reads: Everything’s coming up roses right after the body is sunk).
Also, a morality play in which on some level, the victims kinda deserve what’s coming to them is an interesting conceit, especially for a film from this period.
However den mother Mrs. Slater’s backstory — a pregnancy gone awry that affected her brain and the killer’s use of a cane as a ridiculously unfathomable red herring are serious hindrances (the audience is asked to accept that a sexagenarian could’ve extricated herself from tarpaulin / ropes from a pool bottom…and absurdly, one of the girls isn’t even fully convinced of her passing until well on into the film).
A potentially interesting alpha film noir crossover ultimately reverts to your typical beta gamma slasher.
*** (out of 5)