BY ROCCO THOMPSON
As a die-hard fan of THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1982), its lasting reputation as a second-tier slasher has always been a sore spot. Though its frequently compared to SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) and countless other co-ed killer pictures, Mark Rosman’s flick is a different beast altogether: taking the uber-popular 1980s stalk and slash template and marrying it to the styles of Frankhenheimer and Hitchcock for a singularly classy—yes I said classy—serial killer thriller. Scorpion Releasing offered up a new transfer and special features-laden disc in 2014, but the company saw fit to go at it again, this time teaming with Ronin Flix to give fans an even more pristine edition of this odd-duck masterpiece.
After a monochromatic opening, heavy with Twilight-Zone style, we’re introduced to the seven graduating sisters of Theta Pi sorority, lead by serious-minded Katie (Kathryn McNeil) and bitch supreme Vicki (Eileen Davidson). After a not-so-clever clever prank on the girls’ wicked house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) ends in her death, the seven hide her body in an attempt to get on with their lives and celebrate at their end of the year party. As night falls and the bash begins, members of the confederacy start to meet their grisly ends courtesy of a sharp cane that the once-living Mrs. Slater always wielded. Is Mrs. Slater still kicking, or is some unknown fiend punishing the girls for their callous and stupid crime?
As a young director fresh out of film school, Mark Rosman began toying with an idea for an independent feature to put his name on the map. In those days, slashers were a hot, though rapidly waning commodity (he freely admits to fearing that he might have missed the boat) and Rosman thought he could give the genre a fresh spin. An avowed lover of suspense movies, he used the “cool 1960s black and white thrillers” he loved (most obviously Clouzot’s LES DIABOLIQUES) as inspiration for THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. The film is absolutely indebted to its cinematic influences, but it also taps deeply from the well of female-centric gothic drama as well. From its fluttery fairytale woodwinds to its attic-bound secret and preoccupation with creepy children’s toys, its easy to see in SORORITY ROW’s DNA traces of Charlotte Brontë and VC Andrews.
Having spent time on HOME MOVIES (1979) as Brian De Palma’s assistant director, Rosman’s hand behind the camera bears many similarities to the master. His skillful use of gliding, long takes gives the film a unique and purposeful vibe, while the photography is immense for such a cheaply-made feature. Rosman’s distaste for slasher movies stemmed from the fact that most of the young people killed were relative innocents, a problem he rectified with the film’s central prank. By making the seven sorority sisters culpable for the death of their house mother, he gives the story a little more depth and drama than your typical slasher offering. Even better, the group of feels notably realistic, owing to a long first act and Rosman’s desire to explore the group dynamic through the ensemble. These women feel like real people with real relationships, and the ways in which they cope with the self-made crisis give the story real gravitas. Because of this, the film feels like one of the only slasher flicks with a true feminine perspective. This is especially irksome as the film has gained a reputation as a titillating, hot-dumb-girls-get-stabbed picture, which it absolutely isn’t. Despite what the porn-y original poster art seems to promise, there’s only one scene of nudity, and it occurs within the context of a (safe) sex scene. The lack of eye-candy paired with a slow–ie measured–pace means that THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is frequently misunderstood by those seeking the lizard-brain tingling thrills afforded by Freddy and Jason.
Special features here are nothing surprising, collecting all the bits worth collecting from previous releases (reaching all the way back to Scorpion’s very first edition of the film in 2012) on this disc. The main attraction here is Scorpion’s brand new 2K scan from the film’s original internegative with forty-five hours of color-correction and new 5.1 surround sound. This new scan is a real winner, fixing the blown-out whites of the previous release’s day sequences and using a cooler tone to add a noticeable richness to the film’s myriad night scenes. The film’s color-drunk final fifteen minutes have never looked so great! It all comes housed in an individually numbered slipcover with new artwork courtesy of The Glitchway that much better captures the spirit of the flick than the original poster art.
THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW has gained a cult following over the years for its strange and skillfully artistic treatment of the slasher film. After Scorpion Releasing’s 2014 scan of the film left fans wanting, the company has returned with a new, cosmetically enhanced edition complete with a drool-worthy slipcover. The slipcover edition is limited to 1500 units, so get to partying with the girls of Theta Pi before it’s too late!
THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is available at roninflix.com