After going to her aunt’s funeral, sorority pledge Beth arrives at her sorority house just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Not particularly in the mood to celebrate, Beth decides to spend her weekend at the house with a couple of her future sorority mates. But ever since Beth’s arrival, she’s been plagued with a series of strange and violent dreams and visions, all of which involve her new home. To make matters even worse, a psychopathic killer has just escaped the nearby mental institution and has made a beeline to sorority row. And to complicate Beth’s plight further, he seems to have a mysterious psychic connection to Beth and that house.
Nice place to do some murderin’.
Sorority House Massacre is an American slasher from 1986. The film was produced by Roger Corman (oh goodie!), but was written by Carol Frank, who served as an assistant director on a very similar film, The Slumber Party Massacre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both films share quite a few similarities. Both involve a small group of women being stalked by an unknown male killer while having a party, and at one point they barricade a door with a dresser, only for the killer to break in through a (second story) window (Damn, these guys can jump….). But while it may have some similarities, it also lacks some of the nuanced humor that makes the earlier film more enjoyable. Instead, Sorority House Massacre sticks more to the expected slasher plot and dialogue tropes, and sorta ends up resembling more of a Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street mish-mash, then it does anything else. But while it may have some interesting ideas and its fair share of clunky oddities, there’s really nothing here that makes it stand out in an already crowded genre.
Excellent security there, fellas…
That isn’t to say that this is necessarily a bad slasher, per say. On the contrary. Unlike a lot of really cheap slasher cash-grabs, you can actually tell quite a bit of effort went into making this. There’s a lot of time spent setting up the story and characters, and even a ton of foreshadowing regarding future plot points. There are also no contrived coincidences or twist endings. Everything is laid out for the viewer pretty solidly. And really, that’s the real issue. They end up doing too good of a job of laying everything out, and the movie ends up being just a bit too derivative and predictable. I mean, I suppose later events could end up being a surprise, but unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere and don’t read or watch movies in general, then I guarantee you’ll be able to figure out what’s going on long before the characters even start talking about ghosts or theories of psychic connection. You’ll know who Beth is, you’ll know who the killer is, you’ll know their relationship to one another, and you’ll be able to figure out how all the scenes are going to end. The only thing they don’t bother to explain is the psycho killer’s motivation, but if they did that, then the psycho killer wouldn’t be much of a psycho killer, so I’ll give them a pass.
I shall not give them a pass on the outfits, however.
Of course, just because a movie is predictable, that doesn’t mean that nothing interesting happens. It’s just that many of those interesting moments that help make the film enjoyable happen to involve all the aforementioned oddities and weirdness that the movie contains. This film is chock-full of some very bizarre inclusions, ranging from everything from continuity issues to just downright puzzling character motivations. The killer is in, what we are led to believe, a secure institution, sealed away behind a firmly locked door, yet he manages to escape by simply knocking out the guy who brings him his food and running outside. Because apparently this ‘secure’ location doesn’t bother to lock any of their doors. All the gates and doors located inside, which are explicitly designed to keep people in, are left wide open. So the dude just runs out, jumps a fence (with mysterious disappearing barbed wire) and leaves. Something tells me a security guard is going to have some explaining to do. And that’s just ONE SCENE in the movie. In another, one of the guys whose girlfriend has just been killed, runs into the house, butt-naked, to tell the other’s what’s happened and…manages to find a random pair of pants on the floor that fit him just fine, first try? Yeah, I guarantee that ain’t happening in real life. And don’t even get me started on all the gloriously cheesy 1980’s California fashion on display. And by display, I mean, yes, there is a whole scene dedicated to the girls trying on their friend’s tacky 80s clothing, some sans underwear (ew), all while giggling like they’re a bunch of pre-teens. Yeah, I know the whole point of the scene is “Look! Boobs!”, but I can’t help but feel there must have been plenty of easier and less goofy ways to write nudity into your sleazy slasher flick.
Ugh! I never would have survived in a sorority. All I could think about in this scene is how pissed I’d be, having to re-wash all those clothes.
Numerous quirky oddities aside, the film is actually surprisingly well made for a budget title. The visuals are fairly pleasant. I wouldn’t point to anything as being spectacular, but scenes are framed well, even when it’s dark you won’t have any trouble figuring out what’s going on, and there are even a few attempts at ‘artsy’ shots, especially when you’re watching the dream sequences. The practical effects are few and far between, and in fact, the film is fairly light in the gore department, but what is here is effective and suitable. Hell, even the acting and characters are pretty decent. I mean, none of their performances rise much above mediocre, but it was still a lot better than I was expecting, and most of the characters themselves are actually fairly likable. Like the rest of the film, no one really stands out, but for a low-budget, 80s slasher, they were a lot better than I’d hoped for.
Sorority House Massacre ends up being a lot better than one would expect it to be. Yes, some of the scenes are silly, some of the character’s actions are bizarre, the wardrobe is atrocious, and there are several (humorous) continuity errors, but you can also tell that there was also some genuine thought and competence put into the project. It looks good, it sounds good, the pacing is decent, the slasher parts are actually pretty fun, and the acting is better than a film like this really deserves. Sure, the plot is familiar, but on the whole, it’s a fairly well put together film, so for most slasher fans who may have seen this same film 100 times before, that won’t necessarily be a deal-breaker. If you can look past the abundance of 80s cheesiness and stereotypes, there’s some fun slashing goodness and a few interesting ideas to be found here. It may not have much that you’ll end up remembering, but it’s a fun enough ride while it lasts. Slasher fans will likely be content and amused with one viewing. But if you’re the type who’s looking for more blood and horror, then you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. This right here is nothing more than slasher comfort food.
Sorority House Massacre is available for streaming on a variety of services, including free on Tubi TV.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray, but sadly both releases seem long out of print.