Sorority member, Megan, enlists the help of five of her sorority sisters to help her play a very mean spirited prank on her ex boyfriend by faking her death in front of him and making him think he’s the cause. Her sisters take her ex and her “body” to an abandoned well, with the intention of freaking her ex out even more by making him participate by covering up the “crime”. Unfortunately for everyone, things don’t go according to plan and Megan, perhaps predictably, actually ends up dead via a shiney tire iron to the chest. Despite adamant protests from Cassidy, the only one of them who seems to have a conscience, everyone ends up agreeing to cover up the (now) actual crime and to never speak of the incident again, hoping to put it behind them.
Eight months later and the girls have grown apart due to guilt and anger. Then things come to a head right before the girls graduation party when they all receive text messages of the murder weapon. Their ‘leader’, Jessica, initially tries to blow it off as an inappropriate prank from Megan’s bitter, and troubled ex. But as the night goes on and the texts continue and people in their inner circle start to inexplicably disappear, it doesn’t take too long for them to realize that someone knows their secret and they’ve made it their mission to punish everyone involved.
Hell, even people who weren’t involved get punished. That’s dedication right there.
Sorority Row is a 2009 American slasher, and is a remake (or a “re-imagining”. Whatever. Same thing) of The House on Sorority Row from 1982. I was actually surprised when I came upon this film, as I have zero memory of its release, despite it coming out during a time when I was pretty heavy into slashers. At first I thought it might have gone straight to video, but a little research showed that, no, it did indeed get a theatrical release. So for some reason this one flew under my radar. Perhaps it just got lost among all the other slasher/horror reboots that seemed to come out around the same time. Then I saw some of the ratings. “Ah,” I thought. “Perhaps that’s why I’ve never heard of it…cause it sucks.” But after watching it, I must conclude that that is, in fact, not the case. Oh, it has plenty of things to complain about all right (all slashers suffer from that curse), but all-in-all I was surprised to find out that it’s actually a pretty solid production.
All things considered, the basic plot of both the original and the remake are largely identical. Both involve a very mean-spirited and poorly conceived ‘prank’ that gets wildly out of hand, both involve an attempted cover-up of the crime with (at least) one vocal detractor, and both have an unknown killer going on a murder spree during the sorority’s end of graduation party. The biggest difference between the two boils down to Sorority Row’s lack of “20-some-odd-years-ago-this-happened” backstory, the 8 month gap between the prank-gone-bad and the inevitable slaughter (as opposed to House on Sorority Row where everything happened in the same night) and the fact that the majority of the remake’s cast of characters are little more than a bunch of vapent assholes.
But they do perform the ‘bad-ass strut while the building burns behind you’ walk pretty well.
For those who need a refresher, the beginning of The House on Sorority Row started off with a flashback of the sorority house mother, Mrs Slater, having some sort of medical crisis involving the birth of her child. This type of backstory is completely nixed in the remake, so right off the bat you know the killer is either one of the girls or someone they know, and there isn’t some unknown outside quantity responsible for the bloody goings-on. This makes the film feel more like a mystery, and like any ‘who done it’ worth it’s grain of salt the film does it’s best to make you suspicious of damn near everyone at one point or another, and then slowly peppers you with enough information for you to change your suspect list. It does a fairly good job of diverting your attention, too. The movie basically throws suspects at you right up until the end, and the filmmakers were familiar enough with slashers to make most of them just cliche enough to be possibilities. So even if you guess the killer right the first time, you’ll probably end up second guessing yourself somewhere along the way.
Whelp, guess it wasn’t her…
Then there’s the time gap between events and the fact that the killer starts sending everyone involved with the wayward ‘prank’ text messages and pictures before the killings start, proving that they know about the crime that transpired 8 months earlier. In the original, there was none of this. Everything that happened in the 82’ version happened in the span of just a few hours and the killer didn’t really tease any of the victims like they do in the remake. Sure, the killer in the original left some ‘clues’ around the house, but there was really no guarantee that any of the girls were going to find them, and most of the clues weren’t meant to scare them. I mean, a Jack-In-The-Box is a bit creepy and all, but most people wouldn’t consider it a threat. Here, the killer blantantly sends all the girls messages, starting with a picture of the bloody murder weapon. Which tells me that the filmmakers not only got most of the story from House on Sorority Row, but that they also peppered in a few ideas from other films, most notably I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Then there’s the characters, and this….this is really going to be the aspect of the movie that’s going to make or break the film for most people. Because, with the exception of the main character and maybe one other girl, just about everyone here is downright awful. And I don’t mean to say that the acting is awful. The acting is fine. Hell, it’s actually pretty exceptional as far as slashers go. No, I mean that the characters themselves just come across as garbage human beings. Not that the girls in the original film were all that much better, but at least in the original you got the sense that everyone involved was downright horrified with what they’d done, even after they agreed with Vicki to cover it up. Which is impressive, considering they shot an old woman in her bathrobe and dumped her in the moldy pool. At least in that version most of the girls weren’t complicit when Vicki changed the rules of the ‘prank’ without telling them.
In the newer version, the entire prank situation is, impressively, even more messed up than threatening to shoot an old woman. Seriously, they cranked that shit up to 11. Here, the ex is the brother of one of the sorority girls, and she gives him ‘roofies’ so that he can drug Megan and ‘have sex’ (it’s called rape, you morons) with her while she’s unconcious. Then they make him think she overdosed and is on the verge of death. Then they pretend to get lost on the way to the hospital and make him freak out even further when she ‘dies’ en route. Then Jessica, their oh-so-brilliant leader, says they should cover it up and that they have to find rocks to help cut up the body so that they can release the air in her body so it doesn’t float to the top of the (clearly empty) well. And THAT’S when the ex, who has bought this whole story hook, line and sinker, officially snaps, and plunges the tire iron into Megan while the other girls are off giggling about how freaked out he is.
Great plan, ya’ll. You really thought this out.
I mean… there is just so much wrong with that whole situation that it’s not even funny. And everyone goes along with it the full way through. At no point does anyone say, uh, maybe we should stop now. And to make matters worse, remember in the original how Vicki, the selfish little murdering bitch, convinced everyone to cover up her crime? Well, Jessica is Vicki’s counterpart in this film, and let me tell you, Vicki has nothing on Jessica. Jessica is prime time, grade A asshole, and at no point does she try to prove otherwise. She is not just a bitch, she is the Queen of Bitches. She has transcended to a level of evil bitch-atude that other, lesser bitches can only aspire to achieve. Jessica doesn’t just convince the others to go along with her plan. Oh, no. Not only does she use the sheer power of her assholish personality to make them do what she wants, but she outright blackmails the only one who doesn’t fall in line, by throwing Cassidy’s jacket down with Megan’s body and using that, as well as everyone else’s professions of false “CASSIDY DID IT!” stories, as leverage to keep everyone quiet. And with the exception of Cassidy and Elle, who’s just too mousie for her own good, nobody else really fares much better in the asshole department. Seriously, most of them are just selfish jerks or misogynist pigs. You just end up wanting to slug the whole cast. The only exception may be housemother, Mrs. Crenshaw, played by the eternally entertaining Carrie Fisher. Fisher doesn’t have a large role in the film, she’s probably only there for somewhere between 5-10 minutes. But she still manages to make a hell of an impression just by being herself…..
….of course, the big-ass shotgun did help.
God I miss this woman.
The last major difference is the film’s humour, which is also likely going to be hit or miss with a lot of people. The movie was co-written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger and is filled with a bunch of snarky and dark humour. Personally, I found most of it entertaining, as it managed to make even the most assholish characters amusing. Some of it can also be a bit cheesy and low-brow, so I can tell it’s not going to be for everyone. But for the people for whom it works, it does help with one’s enjoyment of the film.
Yeah yeah…it’s all fun and games until Mr. Tire Iron is introduced to your sternum.
So is Sorority Row the bee’s knees of slasher movies? Of course not. But I also see little reason for it to have such low critical ratings. The film looks and sounds lovely, has excellent acting, contains some impressive looking cinematography and direction, and has some decent kills. Is it particularly scary? No, but I think most slasher fans would agree that most slashers stopped focusing on the scares long ago in favor of the gruesome kills, of which this film is not lacking. The most common complaint I’ve read since watching it is that it’s not particularly unique. Well…true. But again, that’s not a dealbreaker if you just want an entertaining slasher to watch. Plus, it’s super stylish and has a decent sense of humour. So, I dig it. Though I realize it’s not going to be for everyone. But if you’re looking for a slasher that’s easy and gruesome and has a sense of humour about itself, then this might be a good option.
Sorority Row (2009) and The House on Sorority Row (1982) are available on a variety of streaming services.
They are also available on DVD and Bluray.