Written and directed by Mark Rosman, who has since gone on to churn out a lot of comedies and TV work in addition to writing the recent remake of this very film entitled simply Sorority Row, this low budget slasher film from 1983 isn't even close to the best of its breed but it has a certain quirky, nostalgic charm that makes it marginally endearing to fans of the genre.
When the film begins, a woman loses her baby during childbirth. After this scene, we meet Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), a cranky old woman who runs a sorority house populated by a group of foxy and nubile young ladies who are planning to use the house for a big party against her will. They try to keep it a secret but when she walks in on them yapping about it while chugging booze in their pajamas, the secret is a secret no more. Unhappy with things going the way they are, she later disrupts one of the girls, Vicki (Eileen Davidson), in the midst of having relations with her boyfriend, at which point the girls decide to teach to old bat a lesson. They borrow a gun and decide to prank her into falling into the pool that is in the backyard and which is full of green algae.
Of course, the prank goes wrong and before the party starts they wind up killing the woman by accident. Katherine (Kate McNeil), the only one of the bunch who seems to have any morals, wants to call the cops but the other talk her out of it. While the band plays in the living room and the party starts to heat up, various party goers start getting knocked off, one by one, and Mrs. Slater's body, which was left at the bottom of the pool, is mysteriously missing.
Despite the fact that much of the violence takes place off screen, that the film is fairly bloodless, and that when there is any gore its handled fairly poorly, it's hard not to like this picture. Yes, it's almost entirely by the numbers but it's such a dopey premise played with such ham-fisted seriousness that you can't help but dig it. No one in the film is particularly good as far as their performances go, but you've got to give Eileen Davidson credit for playing the bitchy bratty type with such stereotypical gusto and to Kate McNeil for looking cute and playing the nice girl as woodenly as she does here. Lois Kelso Hunt's turn as the bitchy matron type resembles sort of a demonic and uber-bitchy Mrs. Garrett from The Facts Of Life, played as if she's got some sort of bizarre fetal complex. On top of that, we get some performance footage from a band called 4 Out Of 5 Doctors during the party scene, a group so horribly dated that they fit right in with the rest of the eighties era clichés that run rampant throughout the film.
A few suspenseful moments remind us that we are watching a horror film and the orchestral score composed by the prolific Charles Band and performed, amazingly enough, by the London Philharmonic Orchestra is definitely a highlight. In the end though, as fun as this movie is, it's hard to take any of it all too seriously. It's plenty nostalgic for those of us who grew up in the era in which it was made and it's a fun film, but you can't really say that it's a good one, not in the traditional sense - it's entertaining enough though and worth seeing.
The House On Sorority Row has been released on DVD in North America twice before - first by Elite Entertainment and then later by Liberation Entertainment and this new transfer from Scorpion, a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen picture remastered in high definition, beats both of those previous efforts. Detail is noticeably stronger and colors look more natural and have more definition to them. There are still some shots that look a little bit soft, as they always have, but overall this is a cleaner and strong picture across the board with better black levels and no issues with edge enhancement or with compression artifacts.
The only audio option for the movie is an English language Dolby Digital Mono mix with no alternate language or subtitle options provided. While this track is understandably limited in range given its older low-fi origins, overall it sounds just fine. Dialogue is never a problem to understand, the score sounds good and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion of note.
The extras on this two disc set, and there are a ridiculous amount of them here, are spread out as follows:
Carried over from the out of print Liberation DVD is the commentary track from writer/director Mark Rosman who is joined by actresses Eileen Davidson and Kathryn McNeil. Rosman does most of the talking here, explaining how when he sold the movie to Film Ventures he had to colorize the opening scene that was originally shot in black and white before moving on and discussing why the opening sequence was designed to look the way that it does. Rosman also talks about how the film was originally called Seven Sisters but that the distributor changed it so that people wouldn't think that it was a movie about nuns. There are a few moments where they clam up a bit but these are few and far between and for the most part this is a relaxed, amiable but fairly interesting talk about their various experiences on the film and about how the project came to be, even if the commentators spend a bit too much time explaining what's on the screen at times. There's also a new, exclusive commentary here with Mark Rosman and moderator/horror hostess Katarina Leigh Waters that lets Rosman focus more on the technical side of the production. It's a bit dry in spots but contains some good information on the locations, script revisions, casting, effects and more. Though the tracks cover a lot of the same ground, hardcore fans will appreciate the inclusion of the new commentary for the few spots it does delve into that the original track omitted.
A brand new Interview With Harley Jane Kozak runs just under forty two minutes. The actress discusses not only her work in this film but also other pictures she made and how she has since gone on to work as a writer. Rounding out the extras on the first disc are an Alternate Ending, a Storyboard To Film Comparison a Still Gallery, the film's original theatrical trailer, four television spots, and a Katarina's Nightmare Theater Promo Reel. Like all of the releases in this line so far, this disc is playable with or without the optional Katarina's Nightmare Theater segments that bookend the film in a humorous and informative manner.
The second disc starts off with a fourteen minute Interview With Kate McNeil conducted by Waters, as are all of the interviews on this disc. McNeil discusses her work on the film and again covers some of the same ground she goes over in the commentary but also discusses her work outside of this picture, sharing some stories from her time on the set of Romero's Monkey Shines among others. The seven minute Interview With Eileen Davidson talks about what it was like to work with a bunch of New Yorkers on the film as well as where he soap opera career has taken her while the twenty-two minute Interview With Mark Rosman lets the director lay into the marketing department who promoted the film (he wasn't happy with it) in addition to discussing his television career, his thoughts on the legacy of this film and more. A forty-five minute Interview With Richard Band lets the film's composer get in front of the camera to talk about his work on this picture and he covers how he was brought on board to work on this picture in the first place as well as how he tried to invest in his work on the film certain tones and themes for dramatic effect. Last but not least, there's a ten minute Interview With Igo Kantor, the film's producer, who talks about the origins of this project and what was happening in his career at the time that it came around.
Closing out the extras on disc two are trailers for other Scorpion releases like Final Exam, Double Exposure, Incubus Terror and the mighty Humongous.
The House On Sorority Row is not the be all, end all of eighties slasher films but it's an entertaining film and Scorpion have really rolled out the red carpet for it with this two disc special edition. The transfer is quite a bit better than the previous versions, but the inclusion of a score of new extra features is probably going to be what sucks most fans in this time around - and rightly so. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.