Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988)

Directed by David DeCoteau
Starring Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Buck Flower
Rated R

"Goddamn that fuckin' imp."

A sort of Holy Grail for 80's cheese-seekers, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is very much a product of its time. Over the top titles were all the rage (See Surf Nazis Must Die, Flesh Eating Mothers, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, etc), and it certainly had that. Mall culture was at its zenith, and it took place at a mall. Nerds were the heroes of the day, and Sorority's got three of them in lead roles. Most importantly, there were three major female horror stars at the time - Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, and Linnea Quigley - and this film featured all three. Plus, it had bowling. And a foul-mouthed imp. How could you not like this movie?

Three quintessential 80's nerdboys - Calvin (Andras Jones), Keith (John Stuart Wildman), and Jimmie (Hal Halvin) - are sitting around their dorm room one listless night, chugging Bud, watching splatter flicks, and reading skin mags. To relieve the boredom, Keith mentions that he knows where the new pledges for the Tri Delta sorority are being initiated, so our three bungling heroes head out to peep some coed flesh. And they get quite an eyeful.

Taffy (Brinke Stevens) and Lisa (Michelle Bauer) are the two pledges in question. The cabal of sadistic sorority sisters include Rhonda (Kathi O'Brecht), Frankie (Carla Baron), and queen bee Babs (Robin Rochelle, RIP). In a fetish-baiting scene, Babs paddles the girls, and then sprays them with whipped cream.

Afterward, they take a well-deserved shower. The fellas are Scooby-dooing outside the sorority house the entire time, running from one window to another, taking in all the kinky girl-on-girl action.

Eventually Babs catches on and nabs them. In one of those only-in-an-80's-movie plot developments, their punishment for peeping - and the final step of the pledge's initiation - is to break into the bowling alley down at the mall and steal a trophy. Figuring this is a great way to get to know Taffy and Lisa a little better, they boys agree, and away they go.

Getting in is surprisingly easy, since the absent-minded janitor (Buck Flower) has locked himself in a closet, and has left the front door unattended. However, they are not the only surprise guests at the closed alley. A spandex-suited cat burglar named Spider (Linnea Quigley), is already inside. So is Babs, Rhonda, and Frankie. They're in a control booth, watching the action through video cameras.

Meanwhile, Buck is still stuck in the closet. He bangs and bangs on the door, but it will not budge.
"Fuck," he grunts, "that's stuck tighter than a nun's cunt."

Jimmie grabs the biggest trophy he can find, and the gang prepare to split. Spider's part of the gang now, too. Evens up the girl/boy ratio. But then he drops it, and smoke begins to pour out of it.
"Holy shit," mutters Spider.
"No," says Calvin. "Unholy shit."
They peer over the cracked trophy as it hisses and pops, and are stunned to find a wisecracking latex imp huddled inside. From the get-go, the pint-sized, big eared monster seems less than trustworthy, but he is offering free wishes to thank the kids for releasing him from his bowling trophy prison, so a few of them take him up on it. First is Jimmie, who wants money. The imp gives him a pile of gold bricks. So, he's psyched. Then there's Taffy.

Brinke Stevens is the only 80's scream queen that was ever capable of pathos. Even in light-hearted romps like this, there's a palpable sadness to her characters. Taffy might be one of the saddest. When it's her turn for a wish, she asks to be prom queen. The imp outfits her in a lacy white dress. She spins around and around in it, deliriously happy. Later on, of course, the dress is revealed to be nothing more than tattered garbage bags, and poor Taffy is forced to fight demons dressed like a deranged hobo for the rest of the film.

Keith wants to bang Michelle Bauer, naturally. He is granted his wish, and innocent young Lisa is suddenly transformed into a hot-to-trot vixen who just wants to fuck. She drags him into a locker room (I'm not sure why there's a locker room in a bowling alley, but then it's not really my business), and gets to work. There really is no downside to this particular wish, except that it turns out Keith is afraid of sexually aggressive women. Lisa quickly disrobes and then spends the next ten minutes trying to yank the clothes off a squirming, panicked Keith. I'm not sure what the cautionary tale is in this particular bit, but no matter: Michelle Bauer is the undisputed queen of maneater roles, and she's both hilarious and dead-sexy in this short-but-boner-popping scene.
"Keith, I have your pants!"
Indeed you do.

Spider is having none of this, and decides to just bail. The skittish Calvin joins her. Good thinking on their part - already, the wishes are going sour. Jimmie's gold turns out to be nothing but hunks of wood sprayed with gold paint. Taffy's dressed in rags. Keith's terrified of Lisa's vagina. Up in the control booth - or whatever is - things are also going awry. The sorority sisters had nothing to do with the imp at all, and yet they get a dose of Imp-juice (or whatever; it looks like a bolt of lightning), which turns Rhonda into a budget Romero zombie, and Frankie into the monster's bride. And then they pick up axes and start chasing the other kids around.

Taffy, already crushed because of the dress, quickly runs afoul of zombie Rhonda and Bride-of-Frankensteined Frankie. They snatch her up and snap her in half. Keith, crazy-legging his way out of sex with Lisa, runs into the terrible two as well, and they French-fry his face. The imp corners Babs and turns her into Elvira, for whatever reason. And then I think she death-lesbos Lisa. I'm not sure how that works, but that's what happens.

Around the one-hour mark, Buck's crazy ol' janitor finally gets around to explaining the current wave of mutilation. Thirty years ago, at this very alley, a terrible and much-abused bowler named Dave McCabe started bowling perfect games. Soon after, everyone who'd done him harm began turning up dead. "Awful dead, all tore-up", even. Naturally, Dave got popped for the murders and was promptly sent to prison, but he went to the gas chamber claiming that he'd used black magic to become a better bowler, and that things just got out of control. It was the imp that had done all the killin'.

"That is about the stupidest damn story I've ever heard," says Spider. It is pretty close.

Buck tells the kids they've got to get the imp back in the trophy, or his reign of terror may never end. And so, the plucky Spider and her hapless geek-pal Calvin run around the alley, battling the monster girls and chasing the imp.

There are poorly staged fight scenes, a girl-on-fire gag, and even a low-speed car stunt in an empty-parking lot at 3AM. And, as was the standard for the 80's, an improbable-but-satisfying ending. Roll credits.

While the towering trio of scream queens is a rare treat (well, sorta; there's always Scream Queen Hot Tub Party and Nightmare Sisters) and the goofier-than-usual tone is hard to dislike, Sorority Babes is still marred by a couple of annoying factors. For one, every print that's surfaced since '88 (if, indeed, there's even more than one) has been too dark. You literally have to squint half the time just to see what's going on, especially in scenes that feature the imp. Also, there's no real standout moments, no classic and/or unforgettable scenes. What most people remember about the film in Buck's semi-demented, sandpaper-throated mumbling - and you can find that in dozens of films - and the three actresses. Again, nice to see 'em all in one place, but they spend 40 minutes together in a bathtub, naked, in Nightmare Sisters. So, it's not really about that, either. We don't not go back to Sorority Babes because it's good or because it's particularly memorable, we watch it over and over because it represents a time and place in the world when many of us were blissfully unaware teenage numbskulls, when even the simplest pleasures kept us enthralled.

An imp trapped in a bowling trophy would not pass muster in this thorny modern world, but in the 80's - pre-cell phone, pre-internet, when Casios seemed like magic and a VCR was a gateway to narcotic wonderment - yeah, sure. Imp in a bowling trophy, why the fuck not? And here is the most important part - spoiler alert, by the way - at the very end of the film, nerdboy Calvin vrooms off into the sunrise (it was a long night) on the back of Spider's motorcycle, having accepted an invitation to 'her place', presumably for a good boning. Imagine, a world where you fight ancient evil at the mall, and afterward, you split to have savage 80's sex with Linnea Quigley, the most lusted-after b-queen in history? That is the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy for aging cult-goons like myself. It still sounds like the best night ever to me.

The quintessential 80's movie is different for everybody who lived through the decade, really. High school zeroes prefer the Breakfast Club or Revenge of the Nerds, former mall-queens love Dirty Dancing and Footloose and Flash Dance, some dig Back to the Future or Nightmare on Elm Street or New Wave Hookers, but for many trash-film fans growing up in the era, this one managed to encapsulate all of their interests and desires into one adorably cheeseball premise. Girls, monsters, bowling, the shopping mall. An 80's movie-nerd paradise. For that reason, it will remain a beloved cult item until we're all dead. And after that, who gives a fuck?

Significantly, most of the people involved with Sorority are still working today, over 20 years later. Although he appears to be concentrating mostly on gay-themed films at this stage in his career, director David DeCoteau has a long and winding resume full of fun junk like this: Dr Alien (1989), Beach Babes from Beyond (1993), Creepozoids (1987), and of course, Nightmare Sisters (1987). Linnea, Michelle, and Brinke are all still going strong: Brinke appeared in ten films in 2009 alone. Genre legend Buck Flower had a hell-for-leather run through the lower-rungs of the movie business, acting, writing, producing, and growling his way through hundreds of brain-boiling B & Z movies before his time finally ran out in 2004. Producer Charles Band is still a major figure in indie-film, and his Full Moon production company continues to crank out nutball opuses like the Gingerdead Man series. Soundtrack composer Guy Moon has racked up an armful of Emmys over the last two decades for his work in children's television. Even the voice of the Imp, Dukey Flyswatter, managed to carve out a niche for himself. When he wasn't acting in cult-films like Surf Nazis Must Die, he was fronting shock-rockers Haunted Garage. A bonafide Hollywood legend, Dukey still pops up in odd places here and there, and is plotting out both a Haunted Garage resurrection and a stageplay as we speak. Carla Baron joined the surprisingly lengthy list of former cult actresses turned (ahem) "psychics". Unfortunately, Robin Rochelle, a glamazonian, scene-gulping, b-goddess-in-the-making most remembered as the Final Girl in the original Slumber Party Massacre, committed suicide in 1996, after a long battle with alcoholism.

Sorry, I don't really know how to put a positive spin on that one.

Availability: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is available on a too-dark DVD and a too-dark VHS. Totally fucks up Michelle Bauer's full-frontal scene. But what are you gonna do?

- Ken McIntyre

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