Often confused with the low-budget turkey, “Sorority House Massacre”, 1983’s surprisingly smart “The House on Sorority Row” is a favorite amongst slasher aficionados, with its abundance of hot babes, bloody kills, and a mystery chock full of red herrings and surprises. On the surface, 2009’s Sorority Row looks like just another heavily stylized and highly polished attempt to cash-in on the unfortunate remake trend that’s been sweeping through Hollywood since Platinum Dunes caught lightning in a bottle with their admittedly effective Chainsaw Massacre reboot. Expecting Sorority Row to be a piece of dumbed-down, glitzed-up, MTV friendly horror-lite, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a true-to-form 80’s style slasher lurking beneath the gloss; one that unapologetically adheres to all of the slasher rules with nary a hint of self-awareness or parody.
The sisters of Theta Pi decided to play a prank on Garrett (Matt O’Leary) – brother of sister Chugs (Margo Harshman), and all-around unfaithful hound dog. You see, Garrett has cheated on a fellow sister, and the girls of Theta Pi do not take that sort of thing lightly. The girls concoct a scheme in which they convince Garrett they’re trying to prank fellow sister, Megan (Audrina Partridge), and give him some “roofies” to loosen her up so they can film their dalliance for YouTube. Megan pretends to have a bad reaction to the drugs, and a panicked Garrett accompanies the girls to hospital, only to see Megan “die”. The girls ringleader, Jessica (Leah Pipes) suggests they dispose of Megan’s body as her death would ruin all of their lives, and a shattered Garrett reluctantly agrees. They drive to an abandoned quarry, and, just as they’re about to reveal their prank, Garrett plunges a tire iron into Megan’s chest, actually killing her. Cassidy (Briana Evigan) wants to call the police, but Jessica – currently dating a senator’s son, and confident a mess like this would destroy her future - convinces Chugs, Claire (Jamie Chung), and Ellie (Rumer Willis) to help her hide the body. While Cassidy’s off trying to get a signal to call the police on her cellphone the others wrap Megan up in Cassidy’s bloody jacket, and toss the body into a well. When Cassidy returns, Jessica lets her know that that if goes to the police, she will be the one who gets blamed for Megan’s death, and it is then that the girls of Theta Pi make their pact to never tell a soul.
Eight months pass. Cassidy has distanced herself from her Theta Pi sisters, while Ellie and Claire are racked with guilt and paranoia. Chugs has lost herself in sex and drink, while her brother, Garrett, has lost himself completely. Only Jessica seems to be able to put the events of the past behind her, but, on graduation day, when each of the girls gets a photo of a bloody tire iron texted to their phones, even she begins to worry. Soon, the bodies begin to pile up, and the girls scramble to find the killer before he/she finds them! Has Garrett finally gone over the edge? Does someone else know the truth about Megan? Or has Megan, herself, returned for revenge?
While it’s fairly obvious who the killer is early on, the fun in Sorority Row is how they get to that reveal. It’s a goofy blast from start to finish, and, while it doesn’t ever sink to the level of self-parody, the film never takes itself too seriously, punctuating each grisly kill with effective humor, most of it due to Leah Pipes’ absolutely flawless comic timing and droll delivery. Her Jessica seems to exist on an entirely different plane than her fellow sisters, shrugging off the carnage and chaos that surrounds them, and soldiering through it with the grim determination of a shopaholic at a red-tag sale. While Pipes is the “mean-spirited bully” of the group, smokey-voiced Briana Evigan is the 21st century embodiment of the “final girl”. (if you don’t know what I mean, immediately go to Amazon.com and order Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Movie); gorgeous, tough, confident, and, most importantly, has a conscience (it’s the new virginity!). The rest of the girls are typical slasher-fare prey, and, as such, don’t do much more than cry, scream, or, in the case of a shrill Rumer Willis, both at once.
The film isn’t particularly scary, but there are a few effective stings, and the gore is about what you’d expect from a mainstream-ish horror flick aimed at teen audiences. What’s actually quite funny (and talked about in-depth on both the commentary track and supplementary interviews) is how the majority of the kills involve something being stuck in someone’s mouth, whether it be a wine bottle, flare gun, or tire iron. There’s some serious oral fixation going on here, and director, Stewart Hendler, acknowledges this with something of a wink and a nod. It’s obvious that the director’s seen his share of slasher flicks, and he brings a lot of that to the table here, with dynamic camera angles, long, slow tracking shots, and wonderful use of light and shadow. It’s a polished approach to a very nicely crafted film.
Summit Entertainment brings Sorority Row to Blu-ray in a very nice 2.40:1 1080p transfer that sports exceptional fine detail, excellent contrast, and rich, inky blacks. Colors are vibrant and without bleed, and the overall image has a wonderful sense of depth and clarity that really impressed. The DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack is a top-notch affair, as well, with punchy bass, crisp and clear dialogue, and a very immersive and expertly implemented surround mix that works every corner of the room. What’s really impressive is how clear and organic the sound effects are, and, in one shower scene, in particular, I swear I could almost feel the water splashing off of the tiles.
Things get even better with the extras! We get a very entertaining PiP commentary track featuring Hendler and assorted cast members, a pair of beefy behind-the-scenes featurettes (Sorority Secrets: Stories from the Set and Killer 101), a host of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending), a gag reel, and a feature called Kill Switch, which lets you jump to any kill scene in the movie. Oh, and all of the extras are presented in HD!
This is the first Summit title on Blu-ray that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and, I gotta say, Sorority Row’s a doozy. Yes, it’s somewhat predictable and silly, but it’s done in the spirit of a true 1980’s era slasher, and that buys it a whole heap o’ goodwill from me, especially after a decades’ worth of Scream-inspired self-aware “homage” flicks nearly defanged the genre. This is a good looking film with a great looking cast, some fun and imaginative kills, and a lot of really funny bits that had me laughing harder than most comedies. Bottom line: it’s the perfect horror fan’s date movie, and, when coupled with Summit’s absolutely flawless Blu-ray presentation, it’s one that slasher fans should definitely consider adding to their collection.