AUGUST 28, 2009
A lot of my fellow journalists (I use the term incredibly loosely on both accounts) were annoyed about having back to back screenings for back to back junkets, but I think it was pretty brilliant on Summit Entertainment’s part. After the crushing bore that was Whiteout, a goddamn documentary about telephone wire would seem fun, let alone something like Sorority Row, which followed the Black Xmas template of hiring 5-6 incredibly cute CW-ready stars, putting them in a house where they act catty with one another, and then having someone kill them in a film that borrows the concept but little else from an old-school slasher film.
But unlike Black Christmas (the original I mean), the original House On Sorority Row isn’t often heralded as one of the all time best entries in the sub-genre, so hopefully people won’t be as harsh toward this one. It’s nothing spectacular, but like Xmas, it offers up traditional slasher fun without any of the Scream-type humor of the late 90s films (which this often feels like) or excessive brutality like a lot of modern ones. The kills are bloody, yes, but not vicious. After seeing H2’s overkill (“Why stab someone once when you can stab them 34 times?” Rob Zombie seems to be thinking), it’s nice to see a simple impaling every now and then.
It’s also refreshingly fast-paced. The prank that sets up the I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque plot occurs in the first 5 minutes, with the slasher claiming his/her first kill a few scenes later. The original took FOREVER to get to this point, and there was a lot of dilly-dally after that (then again, it had a slightly more complicated plot). And at first I was afraid that the compact cast (six girls) would mean a low body count, but it’s actually about double that (and they’re not extraneous kills either, given the killer’s motive).
I do have two issues. This first one isn’t spoiler-y, but the next one is, so a heads up now (I will warn you again later). My biggest problem with the original was that the killer had this really creepy Jester costume that you never saw until the end of the film. I was hoping that the remake would make up for this and put him in a few scenes at least. But no! The costume isn’t used at all, and worse - it’s just a big hooded coat like in Urban Legend. I don’t know why so many modern slashers are so reluctant to even try to make an interesting, costume-worthy killer, but that seems to be the case. Then again, I guess it makes the occasional memorable killer (like Chromeskull from Laid To Rest, or Babyface from The Hills Run Red) look even more badass in comparison.
OK, here’s the sort of spoiler-y part. Without actually saying who it is, I just want to say that the identity of the killer is a bit of a letdown. It’s not a cheat, like Ben Willis from IKWYDLS (a character who was never even mentioned until about two minutes before his reveal), but it’s equally as anticlimactic, because it’s someone we didn’t really give a shit about; a red herring character at best who most slasher fans will probably assume will be found dead as a surprise (like Pacey in Urban Legend). Oddly, I had actually guessed the motive for the killer, but the wrong person. It’s nice to be wrong with these things, but I’d rather have it be someone I canceled out as a suspect for being too obvious (Billy in Scream, for example) than someone I never even considered because I couldn’t even remember the character’s name.
As for the surprising R rating (I thought for sure this would be a PG-13 deal), it’s well-earned, though if you’re hoping for lots of nudity you’re shit out of luck. None of the main girls disrobe (though Jamie Chung offers a brief side boob), instead only a couple of the random house girls are seen topless. Some of the deaths are pretty gory, and follow Happy Birthday To Me’s template of being somewhat goofy (there are at least two deaths via something being forced in someone’s mouth). And (and this is what really won me over), the girls swear like sailors. Hell, even Carrie Fisher has a potty mouth. But unlike Zombie’s Halloween, the girls (particularly Harshman) sound natural when they swear, and don’t get excessive with it. Plus, some of them ARE bitches, so it makes sense to call each other that every now and then.
I know this won’t be a favorite among anyone, because it’s so by the numbers, but dammit, I miss this sort of “nothing special” slasher movie. So many of them nowadays are fixed on gimmicks, or 3D, or trying to outdo one of the other films - it’s nice to see one that’s simply a traditional slasher movie. It even has a nonsensical sequel setup, another tradition that’s been somewhat phased out. Well played.
What say you?