The early 1980s saw a literal flood of imitators of Halloween and Friday the 13th. One of the many was The House on Sorority Row. The House on Sorority Row never seemed to gather much of a following, cult or otherwise, although it did make a profit at the box office and, if it is not loved or admired, its reputation is not odious either. The film was mostly just forgotten until the remake craze of the 00s brought us Sorority Row.
The film opens with the obligatory flashback to a bad event in the past, in this case a birth that goes bad. When we cut to the present day (and out of one of the worst attempts to fake old black and white stock without actually using black and white film I’ve seen). Mrs. Slater (who we saw in the flashback) is now the house-mother at a sorority, and she’s a cranky old battle-axe that no one likes. Slater closes up the house early every year, but this year the girls plan to throw a party there, over her dead body if need be. After a prank to get back at Slater goes awry and results in her death, the girls attempt to cover up their crime by dumping her body in the filthy pool behind the sorority house. Of course, the band shows up before they can do any more, and as the party goes on someone begins killing the girls-with Mrs. Slater’s cane….
There are good reasons that The House on Sorority Row never had a sequel or a cult following. Mainly because it’s just not terribly exceptional. The film mostly follows the formula Halloween established-trauma in the past begets violence in the present, with a last, good girl survivor the only one making it through the night. It adds in the wrinkle that the victims are paying for their own crime, but does little with this idea. There’s also a mad science angle which also adds little, but radically changes the nature of the Loomis character. The cast is weak with a few stand outs-Kate McNeil (Monkey Shines), who plays good girl final girl Katherine; future Soap Queen Eileen Davidson, who plays bad girl Vicki, and Harley Jane Kozak (Parenthood) who plays the no-nonsense Diane. Director Mark Rosman fails to deliver much in the way of thrills or scares though there are a few creepy moments involving a clown/jester outfit and a jack-in-the-box. Fans of truly terrible musical interludes will enjoy the performance of 4-out-of-5-Doctors at the party, and the film is interesting to compare in its low-budget spare realism with the utter Maxim-fantasy of the remake, and its mild “bad girls” to the reality show inspired monsters who populate the latest film. Still, only major fans of the sub-genre will find checking the film out worth the trouble.