Tuesday, April 10, 2012

House on Sorority Row (1983)

Directed by Mark Rosman
Starring Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Harley Jane Kozak, Jodie Draigie
Rated R

"I'm a sea pig!" 

The 80's didn't really start until 1984. I think Billy Idol really invented the 80's. Before that, it was still the 70's, as evidenced by the clothes and the woeful Cars rip-off band prominently featured in 1983's (relatively) bloodless slasher, House on Sorority Row. The nonsensical premise is, at least, uncomplicated: sorority girls accidentally kill their wicked house mother, then dump her in the pool so they can throw an end-of-semester blow-out party. Things go awry when her body keeps popping up in different spots around the house, and the girls involved in the accidental murder/purposeful cover-up start showing up dead, slashed, seemingly, by the deceased house mother's own metal-tipped cane.

And that's pretty much all there is to it. Of course, there's no reason to just dump the old bitch. It was an accident, a prank-gone-bad, and a call to the local yokel cops would have cleared it all up in an afternoon. Some folks (like Stacey, my wife) could not get past this leap in logic, but hey, who knows what we'd do in similar circumstances? Pools are very convenient places to dump stuff, after all.

Katie (Kate McNeil, one of the several young actresses here who managed to bridge the gap between b-queen and soap star pretty effortlessly) is the token "Final Girl". She's the only one who thinks they ought to call a cop. Sadly, she caves into peer pressure and goes along with the cover-up instead. That's not very plucky. Also, she doesn't have a gender-neutral name. She's pretty much the worst Final Girl ever. At least she wears unflattering work clothes to a drunken blow-out and spurns the advances of her dorky date.

Vicky (future soap star #2, Eileen Davidson) is the ring leader. She's the one that causes the accident in the first place and spends the rest of the movie barking orders to the rest of the girls. Kind of a one-note performance, but effective enough. Also, excellent eyebrows.

Diane (Harley Jane Kozak, soap star #3, third from the left above) is...well, another one of the girls. There's not a lot of characterization at work here. I thought she looked a lot like Marcia Stassman, AKA Mrs. Kotter on Welcome Back Kotter.

Interestingly, Stacey thought Kate was a deadringer from Mrs. Kotter. We were probably just wishing we were watching Welcome Back Kotter instead. Anyway, Harley-Jane is in it, too.

So is Jodi Draigie, who steals the show as the dim-witted blonde-bombshell Morgan. First of all, she has a tremendous look. Her facial features look like somebody was trying to construct the perfect, Dorothy Stratten-esque 80's platinum-blonde glamour queen, but gave up halfway through. For most of the film, she's wearing a crazy "sexy" dress that Melanie Griffith or somebody would have worn to the Oscars in 1982, but no college girl would ever wear, especially to a beer-bash. At one point, after getting smacked in the noggin by the attic stairs, she decides the best course of action (this is is during a raging house party, mind you) is to slip into some flimsy lingerie and take a nap. As a character, she's a completely blank slate (I think she's supposed to be the stupid one?), which is perfect, because Draigie's clearly a non-actor. She only has about three lines, but every one is spat out with an energetic awkwardness that suggests Draigie knew she was over her head, but what the fuck, she's there already, might as well make the most of it.. Draigie/Morgan is the best part of the movie. Too bad she's only in it for about five minutes total.

Oh, can't forget the band, 4 Out of 5 Doctors. Virginia power-poppers with mullets. If you're young and thinking that maybe this band just seems spectacularly lame because they're from the early 80's, I am here to tell you that, even for the early 80's, 4 out of 5 Doctors are off-the-charts, kill-the-hostages, woefully LAME.

Oh, and the killer? Well, at the beginning of the movie, there's a prologue  that takes place 20 years prior. In it, the house mother is extremely pregnant and being cared for by a kooky, sinister "doctor". Clearly, something terrible and gooey is about to happen and there's some yapping about an experiment gone wrong. Very soon after, Katie ends up in the attic of the sorority house, where the house mother has been keeping some unseen kid all these years. This might seem like a spoiler, but it's not, really, because there aren't any other suspects. Not one. No red herrings in sight. So, you know, who else could it possibly be?

In summation: There's a good head-in-the-toilet gag, a flash or two of nubile 80's nudity, and gratuitous Jodi Draigie. Otherwise, House of Sorority Row is mostly tedious, with no mystery, gore, or surprises to recommend it. I actually liked the 2009 PG-rated remake better. And that had nepotism's number one poster girl/block-o-wood Rumer Willis in it, for crying out loud. When Rumer trumps the 80's, you know things are bad.

- Ken McIntyre 

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