This 'Sorority' Only Provides Part of What It Pledges

Sorority Row

Director: Stewart Hendler
Cast: Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Audrina Patridge, Carrie Fisher
Rated: R
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-09-11 (General release)
UK date: 2009-09-11 (General release)

A slasher film is only as good as its slice and dice. That's a given. It also needs a compelling killer that instills a sense of monstrous mystery within the narrative and a group of victims that are interchangeable without being totally vacant. Oh, and there must be blood - lots and (c)lots of blood. Find a way to make all these elements work in some sort of plausible proportion and you'll give an already suspicious fright film audience their basic money's worth. Earlier this year, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Friday the 13th 2009 brought the aging horror format back from the commercial dead. Both films found a compelling way to sell their systematic slaughter. Now comes another remake, this time of 1983's House on Sorority Row, and while it remembers to address the basic tenets of terror, the uneven way it gets there eventually undermines its effectiveness.

Senior sisters Cassidy, Chugs, Ellie, Claire, and Jessica are the queen bees of the Theta Pi house. Along with fellow fembot Megan, they reign supreme over their particular plot of the on-campus clique community. One night, during a massive party, the girls decide to pull a prank on Chugs' unstable brother Garrett. Fast forward a few hours and things have gone horribly wrong, requiring the disposal of a body and a strong arm vow of silence. Eight months later and it's time to graduate. Just one more blow out shindig and a year of death, decisions, and deception will be forgotten forever - except, there's a hooded figure roaming sorority row, and it has only one thought on its mind…revenge. That's right, someone is targeting the gals for their part in the awful events of that long ago night, and they won't stop until every last one of them has paid…in blood.

As long as you understand what Sorority Row is, as long as you don't go into it expecting some snarky reimagining or straight forward shocker, you'll survive. You won't always enjoy the experience, but the overall effect remains solidly stuck in the '80s. Director Stewart Hendler, a clear student of the Greed Decades defining genre subcategory, does his best to inject a kind of snide cynicism into the mix, making his uptight college gals as bitchy and belittling as a TMZ byline. When these proper young ladies deliver an insult, it's bound to sting - and badly. But he is also considerate of the cinematic shorthand mandated by this kind of movie. We get the typical cat and mouse moments, the false scares and preplanned shocks - and when necessary - the cruel and heartless hacking that gorehounds have come to love.

But don't get the wrong idea - journeyman efficiency is not the same thing as outright entertainment value. Like a celluloid seesaw, Sorority Row rocks back and forth between fun and forgettable, drawn out moments of catty character interaction dulling the otherwise razor-sharp ripping. In order to maintain the proper victim to red herring ratio, the script by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger keeps introducing new characters, including a bunch of meatheaded frat boyfriends, a politically ambitious Senator, a sexually perverted psychologist, a suspicious collection of ancillary sisters (one who actually pays for her shower stall eavesdropping), and the arrival of a spectral sibling whose only purpose appears to be out witching the already established campus coven (SNAP!). They provide a diversion, but not the kind that keeps you invested in the mystery.

In fact, a lot of Sorority Row feels superficial, fashioned out of pieces that will trigger thoughts of excitement in the viewer's head without actually sparking any real enthusiasm. This is especially true for students of the fear format, those long haul horror mavens who've championed the style ever since Christmas went Black and Halloween turned even more terrifying. Granted, it's easy to appreciate the combination of humor and hacking - it's been a long standing tradition in the slasher film. It's just too bad then that more attention was paid to the jokes and personal put downs than the means of dispensing death. A retrofitted tire iron, complete with a bowie knife, is a rather limited means of dismembering and while our killer uses a couple other devices to get his (or her) murderous point across, this is not an exercise in unique methods of maiming.

As for the acting, no one is earning their scream queen mythos from this group of good looking ciphers. Only Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce and Demi) leaves an impression, and that's mostly because she's a one note blubbering idiot most of the time. Looking for misplaced emotional outbursts? The former power couple's kid is ready to weep like a wounded war widow. Elsewhere, The Hills' Adrina Partridge is typecast - as a personality free corpse - while Margo Harshman turns Chugs into every father's binge drinking, drug taking, boy screwing, future porn starring nightmare. Only Leah Pipes seems locked into her character's ripe royal smarm, delivering her cruel criticism with a wicked wink toward the audience. And Greg Evigan's daughter Briana is deliberately dour as vexed voice of reason Cassidy. For the most part, however, everyone here is interchangeable, the kind of ill-defined mannequins that have you questioning individual and importance time and time again.

Still, for anyone who spent a dateless Saturday night perusing the bevy of b-titles malingering along the bottom shelf of their local Mom and Pop video store (remember those?), Sorority Row will be a pleasant bit of nostalgia. Sure, the girls are far more "fake" in their various forms of undressed physicality and Hendler has a ways to go before he can be called a master of macabre, but for the most part, this film promises little and then delivers. Nothing fancy. Nothing forward thinking. And sadly, nothing very frightening either. Perhaps because of its status as an overused commercial gimmick to get '80s adolescents into movie theaters, the slasher film has lost most of its luster. Sorority Row won't restore it, but it also won't tarnish it further.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.