“Feeeeelings … woh-woh-woh feeeeeelings…”
Fun. Creative. Smart. Clever. Spirited.
While these may not be words that immediately jump to mind to describe your average sorority girl, thank the horror gods that they wholly apply to Sorority Row, an unexpectedly entertaining romp that just might qualify as the best remake of the year.
While this in-vaguest-concept-only remake of the not-terribly-good-to-begin-with 1983 “Mystery Killer” slasher House On Sorority Row isn’t particularly scary and loses its way in its overpadded final act, it offers a healthy bodycount of laughs, jumps and … well, bodies. And despite appearing on the surface to be “just another stupid teen slasher” (a label that it probably wouldn’t be terribly upset to be saddled with anyway), Sorority Row is actually a bit more clever than it might appear.
THETA PI MUST DIE … and so must those shoes!
But first, the basics: A bunch of Theta Pi girls play a prank on a cheating ex-boyfriend, and when that prank goes horribly wrong and leaves one girl dead (Audrina Patridge from The Hills, who is blissfully edited down to a single line of dialogue and some close-ups of her eyes) they hastily cover up the murder and try to go back to living their beer-soaked, Queen of the Campus lives.
Of course, that can’t last – because as anyone who has seen Terror Train, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Prom Night or a dozen other prank-gone-wrong or accidental-death-with-a-group-cover-up-chaser movies can tell you, it’s only a matter of time before someone starts killing-in-the-name-of.
Leah Pipes, aka My New Hero
It’s eight months later, and the girls are graduating. Alpha Bitch Jessica (the amazing Leah Pipes, who delivers one of the most gloriously nasty bad girls in horror history) has gotten the other sisters to essentially frame lone voice of reason Cassidy (Briana Evigan) into keeping her mouth shut, leading her to distance herself from the Theta Pi’s and spend more time with her valedictorian boyfriend, Andy (Julian Morris).
Of course, as soon as a tire-iron wielding killer pops up the big question becomes who is killing these chippies, and why. In the classic Mystery Killer tradition, the script throws about a dozen red herrings at us and actually does a pretty good job of keeping that particular ball in the air. Is it the victim’s sister? The accidental murderer? The mousy sorority chick (Rumer Willis, who gets some of the movie’s best moments) cracking under pressure? Is it Alpha Bitch wiping out anyone who knows the secret to please her potential father-in-law? Or is it the dead chick herself, back from the dead for revenge?
Three-pack-a-day-voiced Briana Evigan as Cassidy
Sure, fans of traditional stalk-and-slash flicks might find all this Agatha Christie shit tiring. But thankfully the movie is loaded with kills, besides – some of which are wonderfully nasty. And being that this is a sorority house on the last day of school, there are also lots of partying kids and flesh of both the male and female varieties on display to keep you occupied.
But despite being a proudly derivative and by-the-numbers slasher, Sorority Row brings a decidedly modern sensibility and a wicked sense of humor to the table. One need only compare this movie to the abysmal Black Christmas remake (which shares the same basic “chicks picked off in a sorority house” setup) to realize what a difference a snappy script and bold character choices can make.
Margo Harshman as Chugs
Take, for example, the “drunk mess” character, represented in Row by Chugs (Margo Harshman). What could have been a yawningly one-note character (like the drunk mess in Black Christmas) is here given a striking amount of dimension thanks to a few scenes (the one where she attempts to seduce a freshman and then calls him “gay” because he won’t screw her because she smells like vomit, for example) that paint her as a seriously effed-up chick, making the group dynamic infinitely more interesting.
First-time feature director Stewart Hendler also lends some cohesion to the admittedly all-over-the-place mystery by cleverly repeating subtle sight gags amidst the chaos. (For example: there’s a moment involving someone falling in the sea of foam in the backyard that has a sick payoff when it happens to another character later.)
These moments aren’t required to tell the story, but for a horror fan that sees dozens of these things that are dumped straight to DVD every year, the clear effort and consideration put into what is, again, “just another slasher movie”, does make a difference. The opening “long shot” alone – which begins with an ominously quiet gaze at the front of the Theta Pi house that is shattered by a cracking window and ends in total party chaos – boasts more creativity than pretty much any other horror movie to come out this year.
The movie also has a very post-Scream sense of humor, which some people might not be into. (I adored Leah Pipes’ Jessica, and even I thought some of her inappropriate one-liners were a bit much.) And while balancing scares and laughs is one of the toughest things to do, in this case I thought it worked. I laughed a lot, I jumped a few times, and aside from a few minutes in the drawn-out finale I was never bored.
And have I not even mentioned Carrie Fisher yet? See – if the stunt-casting doesn’t even come up until the end of the review, they must have been doing something right.
A movie that starts with girls having a pillow-fight on a trampoline and ends with a pile of dead co-eds could have wound up a misogynistic, boring mess. But thanks to some surprisingly fresh characters, a zippy script and some sweet chick-power moves in the last act, Sorority Row is as fun as a kegger and won’t leave you lying in a pool of your own vom.
RATING (OUT OF 5):