Sorority Row (2009)
By: Julian on September 16, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Stewart Hendler
Starring: Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Jamie Chung, Rumer Willis, Carrie Fisher
Writer: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Country: USA
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As far as derivative, uninspired American horror goes, you're likely to locate two distinct branches: the PG-13 supernatural remakes of or riffs on late-nineties, early-noughties Japanese and Korean horror films, or US R-rated slasher reduxes with blood and gore aplenty. I prefer the latter category by a long shot and it's that category that Sorority Row, Stewart Hendler's second feature and a remake of 1983's House on Sorority Row, falls into. And despite its recent poor box office reception and critical panning, Sorority Row is a pretty good movie – silly, sure, but with enough inventive and delightfully novel sequences to keep the discerning horror fan pretty engrossed throughout.

The house on Sorority Row that we're focussed on in this film is Theta-Pi, run by the austere but well-meaning Mrs Crenshaw (Carrie Fisher, who puts in a great performance) and populated by a collection of typical teenage girls whose "Queen Bee" (to use the Mean Girls vernacular, somewhat embarrassing for a horror reviewer) is Jessica (Leah Pipes). One of the sorority sisters, Megan, discovers that her boyfriend Garrett is cheating on her at one of the many wild Theta-Pi parties, so the girls decide to exact their revenge. Jessica devises a prank, convincing Garrett that one of the pills he has slipped Megan at a party has killed her. Garrett is hysterical as Megan plays dead, and they drive to a quiet lake to dump the body with four of the other girls, Cassidy, Ellie, Claire and Chugs. When they get to the lake, Jessica and the other girls milk the prank out as long as possible and Jessica suggests they all look for sharp rocks to deflate Megan's lungs so she'll sink faster. Garrett reacts immediately, taking a lug wrench from the 4WD and impaling Jessica with it, actually killing her. The girls decide to run with the plan they had outlined for Garrett (!), dumping Megan in the lake despite some of the girls' protests, and returning to the party (!!!; and be warned, suspension of belief is a firm requirement).

Fast-forward eight months – a sisterhood pact has been made and the girls haven't spoken of the incident since, instead living the Theta-Pi high-life as much as possible. The façade is shattered when, at a graduation party, the girls each get sent an image of the lug wrench used to kill Megan – sent from Megan's phone. After letting the girls stew over that for a requisite amount of time, a hooded figure with a bladed lug wrench (without a doubt one of the coolest weapons in any slasher film) begins killing them off and the sorority sisters, under the tutelage of Jessica, race to discover the identity of the murderer.

This remake of House of Sorority Row endured a number of significant studio back-flips in its conceptual stages. It was originally devised as an R-rated picture then, after the success of Prom Night (for mine, the worst remake in the cycle that I've seen), a tame PG-13 slasher, before Summit Entertainment confirmed their financing for an all-out, R-rated horror flick. It seemed like a wise decision in light of films like My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th, both 2009-released R-rated remakes that recouped their budgets quite quickly. Sorority Row really struggled at the box office, falling short of making one-third of its $16 million budget in its opening weekend. It's a shame, because The House on Sorority Row isn't one of the immortals that should be immune to the remake treatment – on the contrary, it could have benefited from it. And it did – while there's the typical MTV-style aesthetic ever-prevalent here with flashy camerawork and rapid-fire editing to avoid anything too nasty, it can be a lot of fun when it doesn't try too hard to be a serious horror movie.

With that said, there are flashes in Sorority Row that are pretty brutal as far as this sort of thing goes. And the core market – teenage girls who can relate to the leads – was without a doubt Summit's fatal mistake. Generally speaking, teenage girls just aren't going to dig this – to have a movie aimed at that demographic graphically depict a sorority sister being impaled by a lug wrench, or another have a bottle of booze jammed and shattered down her throat, is probably to misjudge your market. And like all teen-aimed slasher remakes, Sorority Row can be pretty stupid. A relatively intriguing screenplay is mired by some absolutely moronic lines delivered by the sorority sisters ("friend me on Facebook, I'll totally accept" would be my pick as the most groan-inducing doozey, with "I'm gonna deal with you later/You might want to deal with that hair first" snapping at the former's heels), but Carrie Fisher provides further redemption via her last stand as the shotgun-wielding über-bitch Crenshaw.

If you've seen Nipsel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, then you know what you're getting into here. Sorority Row provides nothing new or terribly stimulating, but the grating dialogue and moments of utter disbelief are outweighed by the fun of it all.
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