When I was in college I couldn’t stand the fraternity and sorority crowd. They were obnoxious, a bit full of themselves, and since my dorm was on the same street as many frat houses, they kept me up all weekend long blasting Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” over and over and over again. So when given the opportunity to watch a flick where a bunch of sorority girls are terrorized by a killer…yeah, I’m down for that. Now, the title of this one sounds a bit like it belongs in that back, curtained-off corner of the video store, but I assure you it’s a horror flick…1983’s The House on Sorority Row.
The film begins just after graduation with seven sorority sisters all ready to take on the world. However, first they need to hold a big graduation party. Problem is, their strict house mother, Mrs Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) won’t have it. She is very strict about everybody being out of the house by a certain date and has been for years. Fed up, the girls stage a prank that, long story short, results in the old woman being shot dead. With guests arriving for the party at any time, the girls dump the body in the murky pool to deal with it later.
The party begins and the girls have a hard time keeping people away from the pool. The pool lights even get turned on at one point but the body of Mrs. Slater is nowhere to be found. Luckily there are more than enough bodies to make up for it as a shadowy figure wielding Slater’s cane starts picking off the girls one by one. Of course, everyone assumes the cranky house mother is still alive. However, her body later turns up in the attic…so now the girls have to get rid of the body while still dealing with a mysterious killer making a mess of their party.
I don’t think I had ever heard of this film until I spotted it on one of my streaming services a few months ago. After watching it I’ve got to wonder why this film isn’t more highly regarded in the annals of 80’s slasher films, because I found it to be tense, a bit funny, and full of surprises. I’m purposely avoiding going into who the killer is, the backstory, and how everything fits together because it’s just too fun to spoil…but I will say that every time I thought I had things figured out the film kicked me in the head and said, “no, that’s not it you moron!”
As it progresses the film does have a bit of a comedic bent to it as we watch these girls bumble their way through trying to cover up their crime. They literally bump heads with each other as they try to stuff a body in a dumpster, argue over who’s car they’ll use to transport said body, and one even sighs and dramatically rolls her eyes upon noticing she got blood on her nice dress. For a bunch of recent college grads, these girls are really stupid. Even while we get these more lighthearted touches, though, the horror element gradually amps up. There is some legitimate tension and some nice jump scares. The kills also slowly become more gruesome as the film progresses. Probably the most notorious scene involves the discovery of a head in a toilet which is all at once pretty gross yet gloriously cheesy. The horror in the film’s third act is actually handled very effectively, though…and for those of you freaked out by the whole creepy clown phenomenon going on right now, this film’s got one.
The cast turns in nice performances across the board, especially our seven sorority sisters. Some of them are faces you may recognize like Harley Jane Kozak, Kate McNeil, and Eileen Davidson. Davidson is one of the standouts as the manipulative leader of the girls, Vicki, and MacNeil really shines as the final girl. Some of the other girls looked so familiar to me but I just couldn’t place them. I was sure I knew Robin Meloy, who plays the skittish, pig-tailed Jeanie…but this seems to be her only movie role. She’s more notable as a pianist and composer, Robin Meloy Goldsby. For the life of me I can’t figure out why her face is so familiar to me. But now I’ll always recognize her face from appearing in a toilet.
For fans of 80’s slasher movies, The House on Sorority Row is one not to be missed. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It has strong performances and some solid suspense. Though it certainly has many of the tropes of the slasher genre, it’s also one of the more original early 80’s slasher flicks I’ve seen..