The House on Sorority Row
That Mark Rosman worked prior to this picture with Brian De Palma should come as no surprise. The House on Sorority Row owes as much to that director’s work as it does to the Gialli that made such an impact on Italian cinema in the 70s and 80s. All the tropes are present: nubile young girls picked off one by one; a mysterious figure watching from a window; a past secret, dragged back into the light; the killer tormenting his victims and knives, lots and lots of knives.
What Rosman has chosen to leave out is the gore associated with both Gialli films and the works of De Palma. The murders all happen more or less off camera and the resulting carnage (a terrific shot of a severed head in a toilet bowl aside) is downplayed. This only strengthens the film with the director managing to craft quite a taut thriller from a premise that is otherwise very silly.
The film begins in the waning days of a college semester with a group of sorority sisters determined to throw an enormous end of term party. The venue chosen is their own sorority house, which scandalises the house mistress. She refuses to countenance any fun so the girls – or rather the alpha female – decide on revenge. They threaten her with a gun and force her to humiliate herself.
As you might imagine the trick goes wrong, as tricks with guns are wont to do and the house mistress ends up dead, much to the fury of a mysterious watcher who has been seen everything from the building’s attic.
Despite its obvious genre limitations this is quite an enjoyable ride. Rosman trancends the formulaic ‘slasher vs innocent teenagers’ plot by setting the girls up as compromised from the beginning. They are fully aware of their guilt in a dastardly act (safe to say there was no ex post facto call to the police) and despite the mystery of the stalking killer he attracts some sympathy since the only chance of justice served will be by his hand.
Don’t expect any mind blowing twists with this picture, nor any great insights into the American soul. Do however watch and appreciate a picture that manages to rise above the constraints of the genre and deliver a fun ninety minutes.
The House on Sorority Row – directed by Mark Rosman (1983)
The sisters of a sorority house insist on an end of term party. Their house mistress demurs. Conflict and a terrifying chain of revenge ensues.