Sorority House Massacre (1986)

JUNE 7, 2010


Tonight I got a rare “do-over” at the New Bev, as Phil showed Slumber Party Massacre again. SPM was one of the first, possibly THE first, of his midnight screenings that I attended back in 2007, and it wasn’t very crowded. I still enjoyed the screening, but there were a lot of moments that deserved a big, raucous crowd providing a big cheer instead of just some scattered laughter. So last night, when he screened it at a far more enticing time (7:30), the house was nearly at capacity, and moments like the one with the banana absolutely killed. It also made a great partner with Sorority House Massacre, which I had never seen.

See, both films are pretty funny, but only Slumber Party seemed to be INTENTIONALLY so. And they’re pretty similar (girls having a party, some of their boyfriends crash it, most of them get killed by an escaped killer who can’t be bothered with any sort of costume), so it was a wonderful example of how to execute similar material in different ways; even the similarities between the two didn’t give enough of that slight boredom that sets in when you watch say, back to back Nightmare on Elm St sequels (ever try watching 4 and 5 back to back? It’s damn near torturous).

One big strike against Sorority was its unabashed recycling of plot points (and even full scenes) from Halloween (1 and 2) and Nightmare on Elm St. Our girl is plagued by nightmares that include similar looking little girls who are playing outside of the house she lives in, and the killer is actually her brother come back to finish the job after escaping from an institution. Christ, they even have a scene where she’s in class and her teacher is speaking in foreshadow. And as I said, there were a few lifts from Slumber Party as well, though they were at least sort of acknowledged, as the girls watch SPM during their own party. Plus, the sorority setup has been done enough - Black Christmas, House On Sorority Row - to give it some feeling of “been there, done that”.

The nightmare stuff is less generic though. Sure, it’s influenced by Nightmare on Elm St (and I swear they are shooting on the same street at some of the later Nightmares), but the dreams aren’t the source of the action. And they seem like real dreams - people changing into others, things moving in slow motion, unexplained location shifts, etc. Granted, its 1985 production meant that only the first Nightmare (which also had realistic dreams instead of set pieces) was around to rip off, but after recently seeing all of the sequels, with their ridiculous, over the top dream sequences, it felt refreshing to me to see it done right again.

And I’m sure this joke has been made before, but the scariest part of the movie has to be the wardrobe. We all know the 1980s had some questionable trends in fashion, but egads this stuff is hideous. The killer is the only person in the movie who is wearing something that doesn’t burn the retinas. Our heroine, for example, wears a checkerboard pair of pants that she has hiked up to just below her breasts. The DVD is out of print - I can’t help but wonder if it’s because the fashions were impossible for a digital codec to process, resulting in unplayable discs.

That said, it’s actually an above average late period slasher. This was about 2-3 years after the slasher heyday, when pretty much all that was left were sequels and the odd April Fool’s Day or something, so it could be forgiven for being a total bore, but I actually had a lot of fun with it. The kills aren’t that memorable (he only uses a knife I think), but there is some nifty execution to some, like when the killer lunges at the girl and she dives out of the way, causing him to stab her boyfriend (who rolls over into her spot in a panic) instead. And while it might be because we had just watched Slumber, which had a record THREE survivors*, it actually felt a bit more suspenseful to me than many, as once again the killer is discovered with quite a few of them still alive, so it wasn’t so obvious which ones would die (the girls are also fairly likable, but I have to remember that this is actually common for the older films - it wasn’t until the 90s or so that having completely hateful slasher victims became the norm).

Hell, even the Final Girl gets pretty banged up, which is almost unheard of for back in the day. They might take a small slice on the arm or something, but never any serious injuries. However, our guy practically leaves her paralyzed, stabbing her legs several times as she struggles to get away. I swear, for a few seconds I thought he’d end up killing her too. And there are a few good set pieces too, like when they inadvertently lock themselves in a room with the guy.

Now, if none of this “actual suspense” and “likable characters” thing is up your alley, then you should enjoy the sillier moments in the film. For example, at one point they are climbing down a fire ladder to safety. The killer gets the guy at the bottom, but neither the girl on the ladder above, or the other two who are watching seem to notice (even though it’s only one story down). And I was consistently tickled with the lack of really giving a shit about the death of their friends - often not even bothering with a “No!” as they are cut down right before their eyes. Even one of the male characters, when his girlfriend gets it, manages to get away and then casually (and still naked) says “Some guy killed her”, sounding more hurt than upset, as if she had dumped him for another guy.

Also, the movie takes a while to find its footing, which is just a nice way of saying that I had no idea what the hell was going on during the first 10 minutes or so. Director Carol Frank's script has a few too many dream sequences in this early part, which means most audiences will figure out the “twist” long before our characters do (which makes the scene where they almost literally spell it out for us all the more goofy). In fact, throughout the film they make it more convoluted than it needs to be, by cutting in flashbacks to the main girl’s (and killer’s) childhood during present day scenes. That said, they did a great job of aging/de-aging the actor playing the killer, and you can really see the effort when they rapid fire cut between the two timeframes.

Some of the actors were there, but they didn’t do a Q&A, which is a bummer (I really wanted to find out if it was indeed at least the same West Hollywood neighborhood where they shot the Nightmare films). It was also a pretty nice print, which was a relief as (the older) Slumber’s print was faded pink and also missing a lot of the gore shots due to some asshole in the Midwest that borrowed it once and helped himself to some footage. And the DVD is technically no longer available (though 3rd party copies are still easy to come by via Amazon and such), so if you’re in LA and skipped it - you made a bad call, Ripley. All hail slashers!

What say you?

*One of whom sadly did not survive in real life - someone asked actor David Millbern (Jeff), who DID do a Q&A, about working with Robin Stille (Val, the Laurie Strode-ish one who sits out the party), who unfortunately killed herself in the mid 90s. I was pretty bummed to hear that - she seemed like the most “Hollywood ready” actress in the film, and I had spent half the movie wondering if she had ever made any other films (unlike at least two other cast members, for whom Slumber is their only credit). She did, though Slumber seems to have been her biggest role. RIP, Ms. Stille. Also, Mr. Millbern was a pretty delightful guest - he told some great stories, and was honest about the film in an “it is what it is” type of way, without glorifying it OR insulting it, which is always the best way to go about it. He also mad fun of Ice Spiders (he was the evil scientist). Bonus points!

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  1. I just watched SPM on Saturday for the first time. Now I'll have to track this one down.

  2. I never saw this one, but part 2 used to play on Cinemax pretty regularly back when I was a teenager in the nineties. I remember thinking that it was better than the average Cinemax late night offering (those awful Shannon Tweed erotic thrillers that were always on were even boring to a 14 year old). Who knows what my adult self would think.


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