HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.78. THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW 
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
AVAILABLE ON DVD
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Offical HCF Critic
Seven sorority sisters; Katey, Morgan, Stevie, Liz, Vicki, Jeanie and Diane, all pull a prank on their strict house mother, Mrs. Slater, who is known for carrying a sharp walking cane. Despite Katey’s objections, their idea is to put Mrs. Slater’s cane out in their dirty swimming pool and force her at gunpoint to swim through and retrieve it. The prank goes awry when Vicki, who is holding the gun, accidentally shoots Mrs. Slater. The girls all agree to hide Slater’s body in the pool until a graduation party being held in the house is finished. As the party begins, a guest wanders around the pool and an unknown figure stabs him through the neck with Mrs. Slater’s cane and drags him away……..
Though I know that this very site’s Ross Hughes is even more of a fan than me, I have a considerable affection for ‘Stalk and Slash’, which remains one of the horror genre’s most maligned subgenres. I personally though tend to prefer the slasher films of the 80’s that followed in the wake of Halloween to the second wave of films that emerged in the 90’s after the success of Scream [and is still producing some]. There is a rawness, an edge and oddly also an innocence to them that many of the more recent films don’t have, and for me good old-fashioned make-up effects beat CGI any day! Some of this might just be nostalgia of course, as I grew up watching some of these films. The House On Sorority Row is one I never got round to seeing till now. The 2009 remake Sorority Row was a reasonable effort, and even had a slight 80’s feel to it, though upon viewing the original movie they changed quite a bit of the plot. The 1983 The House On Sorority Row was clearly influenced by the 1973 classic Black Christmas more than Halloween, and may in turn have inspired I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Held up for two years after completion and then subject to a few studio-imposed alterations, most notably the black and white opening sequence being colourized and the heroine surviving at the end, House didn’t make much of an impact in an over-crowded field and is certainly no Stalk and Slash classic, but it is a decent way for fans of this kind of movie to spend an hour and a half. The opening scene is actually rather eerie the way it has been semi-colourized with black and blue and has exaggerated soft focus. It gets things off to a fine start and even though the next half an hour is devoted to setting things up, you shouldn’t mind because the setting feels quite genuine, the filming is of a higher quality than many similar films of the time [though director Mark Rosman didn’t really do anything of note afterwards and some of his work, such as The Invader, is very poor], the girls mostly look nice and even the acting is reasonable. Star Kate McNeil, whose only other major cinema role I can think of is in Monkey Shines, looks like Kristen Stewart but can actually act. Win!!
The remake moved at a much faster pace and I suppose some expecting tons of creative gore and chasing around may be disappointed, but after the accidental death and the first kill, the pace does pick up and there is some suspense if not quite enough. More than that, the film just isn’t scary enough [though Jack-in-the-boxes and clowns never fail to make me feel uneasy!]. I couldn’t stop thinking of how frightening the original Black Christmas,which had a similar setting and even a similar style in places, is, even the second and third times you see it. Individual scenes are very well staged; good mileage is made out of cliches like the body in the swimming pool, the swinging light and being trapped in cubicles, and there’s a decent surprise when you think the killer is in the back seat of a van and he comes at the victim from somewhere else. There are also some very well composed shots, with some effort obviously being made to make the film look good and more expensive than it actually is. The climax throws away the great potential of the heroine having to fight off the killer whilst drugged when the effect seems to wear off in minutes and she’s able to run around and climb, but there’s some seriously good lighting in the bit where she’s tied to a chair, she being bathed in purple/reddish hues while all around her is blue. Alfred Hitchcock would have appreciated some nice black comedy involving the disposing of a body.
The killings, all with a cane, are pretty brief and tame, even with two shots restored to the DVD that were missing from UK and US theatrical prints. With only brief sex, nudity and swearing too, the film doesn’t at all justify the ‘18’ certificate it still has and should be lowered to a ‘15’. Overall this has a less exploitative feel than many slashers of the time and I think that, added to its general avoidance of cheap scares, even if you generally don’t enjoy this subgenre much, you might actually find The House On Sorority Row more enjoyable than you might expect. The script is nothing to be ashamed of and I even guessed the killer wrong. There’s nothing really remarkable or outstanding about it, but I have a hunch it’ll stick in my mind for longer than the remake, which to be honest I can hardly remember at all now!