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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Remakes: Redux, Or Ridiculous? -- A Row of Sorority Slashers




One of the last truly watchable slashers from the 1980s is Mark Rosman's THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983). Rosman co-wrote the script providing some choice additions that were lacking from any number of similar movies that were still flooding drive in's and video stores at the time. It had both likable and unlikable characters, young and old and had a little more going on as opposed to the typical stalker in the woods motif. The killer is unusually pitiable here reaching an almost FRANKENSTEINian level of tragedy. If there's one element of this well made slasher that barely makes a passing grade, it's the lackluster effects work-- generally considered the bread and butter of this frequently derided, much maligned sub genre. Without plentiful and juicily realistic gore shots, slashers have little else to offer horror sadists. More often than not, the slasher flicks of today have become far worse representations of the older variety only now they're spruced up with uncharacteristically physically fit cast members, shaky cam acrobatics and an overabundance of lifeless CGI gore that has since replaced the artistry of the hand made effects of yesteryear.

SORORITY ROW (2009) is a supremely stupid slasher shit stain that is very much par for the course for horror of this day and age. The characters are yet more conveyor belt roughage of the detestable sort. Virtually all of these vapid vixens are hostile, vile, cruel bitches. And in typical modern horror style, the one (maybe two) characters "designed" for audience sympathy are far less expansive than the cruel company they keep. Incredible. Possibly SOMEONE will figure out one day that by killing off people we feel something for will make for a far more visceral, "rewarding" experience than filling your movie with a bunch of fake, self absorbed individuals whose sole existence is to piss off the viewer and be offed in some kind of elaborate fashion. Some may dig this kind of set up, but I hate it.

This is one of those movies where the scriptwriters (the original films director, Mark Rosman wrote a treatment for the remake) were clueless as to how to make such an enterprise work in a cohesive manner. Both logic and common sense are thrown down into the well where one of the moronic beyond words duplicitous dames has been tossed after she's accidentally snuffed out in one of the most ridiculous story ideas this sub genre has ever embraced. For years the slasher film has been subjected to a hailstorm of unflattering labels, but seldom has one of these movies been this lifeless and unbelievably braindead as SORORITY ROW. In its defense, it does have a few funny lines and a couple of nods to the far superior original movie. As opposed to giving a credit to the new films origins, the credits have this at the beginning--'Based on the screenplay, "Seven Sisters", by Mark Rosman'. Incidentally, the original film had seven conspirators.

The new version features five; odd especially considering movies nowadays are obsessed with overkill--more is better. Not to fear, though, as additional characters not associated with the crime ultimately buy the farm. However, the new movie does pay some homage to the original in a couple of ways such as that films weapon of death putting in a cameo appearance and the Theta Pi house itself is reminiscent of the sorority house in the original.

The plot of both films are vastly different with only minimal similarities. Still, both films do share some minor affiliation with William Castle's I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) in some tweaks of plot details. It's curious as to why the makers of the new version even bothered making any connection at all. Outside of the 'sorority prank gone wrong' plot device, there's little else the two pictures share with one another. I assume with the society we live in today where everyone is conditioned to look a certain way, this sort of emotional detachment naturally spills over into the movies. In the world of SORORITY ROW, everyone "looks the same"; like they've just stepped off a modeling gig. Again, par for the horror course these days. I wonder if Rod Serling and his crew realized just how prophetic the old TWILIGHT ZONE episode, 'Number 12 Looks Just Like You' was really going to be?

The makers of the original movie were at least cognizant in their ability to weave a plot that was within the realm of possibility. They also were aware enough to at least make their characters do things and react in a believably logical manner, something that's totally and irrefutably lost on the makers of the newer picture. Slasher films have regularly been cited for major lapses in logic and SORORITY ROW (2009) reinforces this popular notion to the point that it would be a parody if the whole enterprise wasn't taken so seriously. It's one thing to go in the basement alone--something many would never do, but it's an action that's not too difficult to imagine a person doing it. Illogical actions and responses are right at home in cinema, especially the horror genre; it's expected. But SORORITY ROW (2009) and its cast of callous characters bathes in it on several occasions.

The sheer level of irrationality in the 2009 remake wastes no time in smacking the audience square in the face with a big stick of dumbass. The cruel prank that is played out during the opening ten minutes goes so far beyond the realm of common sense, it becomes caricature. These are purportedly civil minded, reasonably intelligent, if undeniably cold-hearted young people. One character, professing to love his supposedly dead girlfriend unequivocally, wastes no time in gruesomely maiming the body. Not only that, but by the end when the killer is finally revealed, this, too, makes absolutely no sense, yet falls neatly in place with all the rampant stupidity that preceded it. If you recall the big reveal in SCREAM (1996), you will have some idea of what happens here.

The single best shot in the entirety of SORORITY ROW (2009)

While Rosman's original is a bit different from the typical slashers of the time period, it still follows the narrative structure indigenous to the sub genre. The beginning of the movie takes place in 1961 before flashing forward some twenty years later. The difference here is that this opening sequence isn't a setup of retribution for a past wrong, at least not in the classical slasher sense. The plot device of a vendetta doesn't come until halfway into the movie. The remake forgoes this altogether and immediately thrusts the audience right into the action, ever how vacuous it may be. We follow the steadicam in and around the Theta Pi house observing the ripped and toned cast and extras mere moments before the vicious prank takes center stage.

The Force wasn't strong with Mrs. Crenshaw. She's felled by a Sith Lord with a modified tire iron.

The house mother, the major driving force in the original movie, takes a backseat in the remake as well as a name change. Carrie (THE BLUES BROTHERS, STAR WARS series) Fisher's Mrs. Crenshaw is mainly there as filler, or as a possible red herring. When she suddenly crops up at the end, she completes this unintentionally comedic wardrobe with unkempt tresses by showcasing this character as either inebriated, or coked out of her mind going through the house blasting away with a shotgun during the conclusion. This was one of relatively few genuinely laugh inducing moments seeing the former Princess Leia either missing her intended target, or simply wasting ammunition by firing at walls, pots and pans while spouting one liners and expletives.

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983) has some noticeable homages to the classic Bob Clark movie BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and elements of vintage suspense thrillers in its air of mystery regarding the true identity of the killer. SORORITY ROW (2009) obviously takes its biggest cue from the tiresome SCREAM (1996) movies, but comes off sporting a level of intelligence that's more in line with I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997). Modern audiences will no doubt have more appreciation for the recent abomination likely because its cast is "hot stuff" and the look and editing of the film has that shaky cam, fast cut, fat stripped away, "cut to the chase" air about it. The photography is good, but has that typical monochrome look of movies these days. The original has better acting, a better, more believable story rife with characters the audience will care about and some fine photographic touches. It might be older, more slowly paced, but I'll take the far classier original over this lifeless, creatively handicapped cacophony any day of the week.

HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW images from the Elite DVD

SORORITY ROW images from the Summit DVD


Maynard Morrissey said...

2 terrifically entertaining slashers. Surprisingly, I loved the remake even more, mainly because of a higher amount of tension and action

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I just want to say, first off, that this was an excellently written review for both films. I really enjoyed reading your take on both. That being said, I actually like the remake. Sure, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is way better - no doubt about it. But I really wasn't expecting much out of the remake and had a bit of fun with it. You're right - a lot of it was implausible. But I didn't hate it. I just took it for what it was - a silly popcorn flick you'd watch on cable if nothing's on. I've seen a lot worse than this one. Still, you backed up your feelings really well.

venoms5 said...

@ Maynard: I just couldn't get into the new one. I liked certain parts of it, but overall, it irritated the hell out of me. Even my then gf, who loves just about any new horror flick, got as far as the first ten minutes or so and wanted to watch something else. The high level of stupidity and callous characters in this new one killed any tension for me, I'm afraid.

@ Fred: Thanks a lot, Fred and I'm touched you liked it! I think I'm just tired of seeing so many new horror movies putting so much emphasis on creating the most cold hearted characters and neglecting to build on ones that would actually create an emotional response in the viewer should something happen to them. I've seen worse, too, and I did like parts of the film. I guess I am simply too attached to the older films considering they often had so little to work with to create their art. Nowadays, filmmakers have everything at their disposal.

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