If nothing else, Sorority Row may win the title “Most Unlikely Remake of a Slasher Film”. 1983’s House on Sorority Row grossed just over $10 million (the remake cost $16 million), although since it was a an independent film that cost just under $500,000 to make, it certainly was a success on its own limited terms. Beyond making some bank, it never spawned sequels (and even slasher film also-rans like Prom Night and Silent Night, Deadly Night managed some in-name-only sequels), didn’t gain a cult following (like, say, My Bloody Valentine), and has a rep as being “okay” at best. Unsurprisingly, the fact that there was no name recognition, cult following, or other built-in audience, meant that Sorority Row barely made back its $16 million budget, earning $26 million internationally. The film was Executive Produced by the original’s writer/director, Mark Rosman, who went on to moderate success as a director of TV shows and low-budget films. Still, other than including a prank gone wrong, a sorority, and graduation, the film pretty much ignores it’s predecessor for a brazen attempt to simultaneously appeal to the sorority and Maxim demographics that doesn’t come together.
Theta Pi is the most exclusive sorority on Rosman University’s (so clever!) campus, and we’re introduced to them via a ludicrous party which crams every frat/sorority party cliché into one event, including a trampoline, pillow fight, feathers flying everywhere, girl’s getting the fat on their body marked out as part of a hazing ritual, and so on. We’re introduced to the sorority’s queen b’s: bland good girl Cassidy (Briana Evigan, coming soon in the equally unasked for remake of Mother’s Day), self-styled top dog Jessica (Leah Pipes), nerd Ellie (Rumer Willis), spineless follower Claire (Jamie Chung), and shameless sex/alcohol/drug addict bad girl Chugs (Margo Harshman). The girls meet and insult each other, then get down to the business of watching Chugs loser brother Garrett (Matt O’Leary, Frailty) date rape Megan (Audrina Partridge, reality show refugee), who’s passed out from the roofies Chugs gave Garrett to give to her. This is all a prank so that Megan can get back at Garrett, who used to date her and cheated on her; never mind that she cheated first-hos before bros as the sisters tell us. Megan throws up then goes into convulsions.
The plan is that Megan fakes death, then the group takes her out to a convenient abandoned quarry(?)/mine(?)/something(?) to dispose of the body. Unfortunately the prank goes wrong because Garrett is a bit too eager and shoves a tire-iron through Megan’s body to make sure she doesn’t float. The group makes a pact to hide the body and never speak about it again; when Cassidy objects all agree to blame her if it comes out, so she stays silent.
Before you can say “I Know What You Did Last Semester” it’s graduation time and Jessica is trying to seal the deal on her senator’s son dream boy Kyle Tyson (Matt Lanter, from the unnecessary War Games sequel), Ellie is near losing it, Claire is in a failing relationship with a horndog, Chugs is still a vapid alcohol/drug/sex machine, and Cassidy is doing charity work and dating Valedictorian Andy (Julian Morris, Cry Wolf). After the ceremony, the sisters start getting threatening text messages and soon someone in a graduation gown and hood is stalking and killing people. Can they unite long enough to survive?
Sorority Row is a muddled mess of a film, jumping between fitting in with the scare-free PG-13 remakes of minor slasher films like Prom Night and When a Stranger Calls and fitting in with older slasher films with lots of gore and skin on display. The film also seems to flit between a “Sorority=terrible, terrible people” and a “girl power, Sorority rock” narrative, particularly in the end when not one but three of the girls survive, Megan’s sister joins Theta Pi despite knowing her sister’s friends got her killed, and we see the sorority rebuilt. How this jibes with nearly 90 minutes of the Thetas being shallow, cruel, sniping harpies is unclear. There’s also a strong “Maxim demographic” component, so that even a house fire is nothing more than an excuse to make sure the actresses are glistening. This plays into the strong streak of misanthropy (while the film does seem to hate the women a bit more than the men, the men don’t fare too well either) and strangely anti-sex while it gleefully gives us fantasy scenes of the sorority. Everywhere the film tries to have is cake and it too, doing nothing well. The ending is as confusing as the rest of the film, with a red herring who shows up, with an axe in his hand, seems to imply he’s the killer, attacks with the axe, gets killed, but then the REAL killer shows up. So what the hell was the first guy doing? Was he just a Johnny-Come-Lately? Was the ending changed last-minute to be more of a “twist”?
The production values, as with most modern slashers, are quite high, and the film has a slick but empty quality-the genre reduced to its minimum requirements, but without any sense of reality, urgency, tension or suspense. The actresses are a mixed bag, but even the best of them-Evigan and Chung-can’t do too much with the lame characters they’re given. The worst, like Pipes, hurt the film, further confusing the issue of exactly who it is the film intends us to sympathize with, though in all fairness the male actors are even worse. Carrie Fisher (Star Wars Holiday Special) steals every scene she’s in as the house-mother who’s tired of dealing with these idiots, and she is the only one we really sympathize with. When she shows up toting a shotgun in the third act, you can’t help but cheer; unfortunately she’s gone again far too soon. The killer is awful-not only is his reason for killing weak, but his outfit-a “graduation gown” with a hood (guys, those aren’t actually functional in any but the most expensive models)-is considerably less than fear inspiring, though it does lead to one great, ludicrous line, “It’s graduation day! Half the college is wearing one of those!” Why is this ludicrous? Because it’s the night after graduation, by which point NO ONE should be wearing one, and this killer should stick out like a sore thumb. His weapon, a bladed tire iron not only looks ludicrous, but defies physics when it is thrown at victims, making the filmmakers look like closet fans of Krull.
Sorority Row is tired, lacks scares, and can’t seem to settle on what it is attempting to do, but all of this makes for a fairly entertaining “So-bad-its-good” film, like the film that it is a true remake of, I Know What You Did Last Summer. I can only assume that Sorority Row will, like that film, become more amusing in time as its references date poorly.