Friday, September 11, 2009

'Sorority Row' Rides the Highs of the Lows

A hooded killer dressed all in black, mean college-aged girls and bloody results. Nothing about Sorority Row is particularly original, but then again it is a slasher film, one of the most copied, repeated and cashed in on genres in the last 30 years.

We wouldn’t be watching slasher films for this long if what we wanted was true originality. Sure, it’s nice, but you aren’t going to get it every time, so in some situations it’s passable. But here’s the kicker – Sorority Row is a remake of Mark Rosman’s 1983 slasher The House on Sorority Row, a film that hovers between good and classic in the overall realm of the genre.

Stewart Hendler’s updated version of Rosman’s original places a group of sorority sisters in harms way of a serial killer haunting them with the tragedy of the accidental death of their house-sister that they were all responsible for, a memory they’re trying to forget.

Nothing about Sorority Row should really make for a good film. Alright, nothing other than the fact that a bunch of dumb college girls and their frat boy toys, all wearing next to nothing at one time or another, are getting plucked off one by one by a vicious serial killer in some of the most amusing ways.

But still, this typical slasher film somehow manages to leave mediocre status and enter a level of enjoyment it probably doesn’t belong in. All that even with unsurprisingly stereotypical characters and a plot that meanders into near stupid by the time the big reveal comes around.

Where Sorority Row really succeeds is with its ability to not take itself too seriously. With a semblance of an identity problem, writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger let the film range comfortably between being a seriously moody horror film and a blood-spurting and genuinely campy film. Hit-or-miss one-liners, especially those out of the mouth of queen bitch Jessica (Leah Pipes), indulge the audience in a bit of comedy amid death. “Oh, she looks terrible!” says Jessica, in regards to the rotted body of one of her dead sisters while panic surrounds the rest.

There really isn’t anything scary, shocking or surprising about Sorority Row and outside of a few of the deaths, nothing overly impressive in the blood, guts and gore department. You see better and more creative work at lower budgeted levels. And yet, something felt absolutely right about watching a group of morally haunted sorority sisters stupidly sneak around their sorority house, hoping they aren’t next on the list of whoever that serial killer might be. Ultimately there’s enough here for the average fan of slice-n-dice slasher films to enjoy, and even a few paid tributes to Rosman’s original film.

If for nothing else, we can at least rejoice that the film is rated R. Summit Entertainment didn’t succumb to the recent pattern of horror films that go for a lower PG-13 rating, exchanging brutality for money. I’m not sure if Hendler really explored the R rating to its full capacity, but it’s certainly more than what you’d bargain for.

The absurdly entertaining Sorority Row truly marks the arrival of another one of those rare but existent mainstream slasher films that truly is a good bad movie. For once we have characters that are able to remark at their own stupidity, some of which are self-conscious of their terrible decisions and shortcomings. When you find out the motive for all these murders, well let me just say it’ll leave you laughing, but in a good way.

And really, this self-aware and intentional nature is the only thing that lets Sorority Row not make you want to close your eyes and cover your ears as you try and hide from the latest stink of mainstream horror.

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