(NOTE: The DVD for SORORITY ROW came out recently (on February 23rd) and it is also currently available on OnDemand on cable television)
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SORORITY ROW (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a wild party on graduation day on campus. As we can tell from the symbols outside the big, old house, it’s the Theta Pi Sorority House. College girls gyrate to the music, covered in soap bubbles – someone put bubble bath in the Jacuzzi again – while frat boys chug beer that’s poured down big rubber funnels into their mouths. Loud dance music permeates everything. L.L. SOARES puts the funnel in his mouth and kids pour beer into it.)
COLLEGE KIDS: Chug! Chug! Chug!
(MICHAEL ARRUDA pushes through the crowd and makes it to them. He taps LS on the shoulder)
LS (Stops chugging): What is it?
MA (Shouts): I don’t know what you’re doing, but we’ve got a movie to review.
LS: I was enjoying myself. This is a party, isn’t it?
MA: C’mon, you’re not a kid anymore!
LS: Damn (to kids) Sorry, but I’ve got to go.
(COLLEGE KIDS hiss and boo.)
(MA and LS go down the hall to the big, stainless steel kitchen area. They are alone, and it’s fairly quiet here. You can just faintly hear the percussion of the party music.)
LS: Gee, thanks a lot for making me look like a wimp back there. I could have out-chugged all of them.
MA: Yeah, yeah. You can drink beer anytime. How about our review of SORORITY ROW?
LS: Okay, okay, keep your shirt on.
The 2009 movie SORORITY ROW is yet another slasher movie remake. This time, it’s a do-over of the 1983 movie HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, written and directed by Mark Rosman. I hadn’t seen the original film before, so I checked it out the night before I watched the new movie.
For those who never saw it, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is the story of a group of seniors, sorority girls, who are having one last big house party after graduation. The night before, they decide to play a prank on their domineering house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), involving a gun. When the prank turns deadly, the girls have to get rid of Mrs. Slater’s body, stashing it in a filthy pool no one uses. The following night, when they have their big party at the house, a mysterious killer begins knocking the girls off, one by one. Is it Mrs. Slater, come back from the dead for revenge, or is it something even stranger?
I have to admit, I found this movie to be a little dopey. The gun prank was a very extreme and unfunny joke to begin with, and seemed guaranteed to end badly. Then, when the girls realize they are being stalked, they handle it in such a stupid fashion, they’re practically begging to be killed. However, the strange ending was a little creepy (if cliché, after movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)) and almost redeemed it in a way. All in all, a minor league addition to the 80s slasher craze, but not without a few good moments.
MA: We’re reviewing the new movie.
LS: I know, but I’m comparing the two of them. So we’re giving the people two reviews for the price of one. What was I saying? Oh, in comparison, the remake, now just called SORORITY ROW, makes the original look downright terrific.
This time we’re treated to a totally different, but equally stupid prank. When one of the sorority girls’ boyfriends cheats on her, the girl, Megan (Audrina Partridge) plans a prank with her sorority sisters to get revenge, by making her boyfriend think he accidentally killed her. While trying to find a way to get rid of the body (the sorority girls pretend to try to help the guy out), things get ugly and Megan is murdered for real. Terrified that this will ruin their future lives (I mean, they just graduated after all!), the girls hide the body in a mine shaft and swear each other to secrecy.
MA: I’m glad you used the word stupid here to describe the prank. The word was practically flashing in big red bold letters on my television screen! I had less of an issue with the actual prank than with the events which follow as soon as the prank goes awry.
Still, the prank itself was none too smart. You could see what was going to go wrong from a mile away. Talk about not thinking things through, to allow what happened to happen. Let’s leave our friend who’s pretending to be dead alone and helpless. You’d think someone would have stayed by her side.
LS: But then, there wouldn’t be a movie.
The problem is, they stretch the prank out way too long. They should have said “gotcha!” way before they do.
MA: Then, afterwards, I don’t believe that not one of these people calls the police. I didn’t buy the whole “sworn to secrecy” bit of the sorority sisters. For such a scene to work, for people to decide to just toss the body into a mine shaft, you have to have more realistic characters, and not the cliché ones we have here.
LS: And how weird was it that the guy they were playing the prank on was one of the other sorority girl’s brother?! And still she goes along with “teaching him a lesson.”
MA: Nice sister! Jeesh! I can believe that people make stupid moves. We’ve all done it. But this is not a Coen brothers movie like BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), where realistic characters make realistic bone- headed moves, and you feel their pain as they get sucked along down the inevitable road to doom. Here, things are cliché and just plain stupid.
LS: I love BLOOD SIMPLE, but it’s way too good to be mentioned in this review.
MA: The girls talk about not ruining their future, and sure, if you’re convicted of murder, your future’s not too promising! But isn’t it just as risky to try to make someone disappear? To just hide a body and hope no one finds it? Granted, they could come to the conclusion that hiding the body is the way to go, but the scene as performed and as written doesn’t satisfy.
LS: Hiding the body is an immediate, short-term solution to the problem. Nobody thinks things through here. But the real problem with this whole scene – that sets the entire tone for the rest of the movie – is that no one seems all that upset that they just were involved in the murder of one of their best friends. All they care about is how it affects them. That’s why this scene stinks. Didn’t anyone genuinely care about Megan at all? The girls are as superficial as this entire movie is.
MA: And had they been realistic characters, I wouldn’t have minded as much. I would have said, this is a story about selfishness, about characters who only care for themselves, and what happens to these characters later. Unfortunately, what happens to them later makes no sense.
LS: I’m getting to that part. The movie then skips to eight months later. It’s Graduation Day and they have a big final party at their sorority house to host. Then, someone starts killing them.
You know the drill.
The killer uses a kind of modified tire iron with blades, which is fitting because Megan was originally killed with a tire iron. So we’re kept guessing. Is it Megan back from the dead? Or is it someone else with an axe to grind.
MA: Bad pun. (College coeds jump up and down in background with their thumbs pointing down.)
MA: We’re actually getting booed.
LS: They’re just sore because I can drink them under the table.
The sad thing is, there’s a lot that’s bad with SORORITY ROW. Starting off with that elaborate prank which goes on for too long and seems incredibly dumb. As they whip the boyfriend into a panic over what’s happened, they’re just asking for trouble, and they get it. Strangely, it seemed even stupider than the dumb prank the girls played on Mrs. Slater in the original movie.
Overall, the acting wasn’t that bad.
MA: But it wasn’t that good either.
LS: You’ve got all the archetypes, though, from the bitchy sorority president , Jessica (Leah Pipes), who is planning to marry the son of a senator, to the wimpy one, Ellie (Rumer Willis – the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore), who just whines all the time, to the slutty one, Chugs (Margo Harshman) who seems to have sex with anything that moves, to the tough, heroic one, Cassidy (Briana Evigan), who leaves the sorority right after the Megan incident, and who has come back for the final party, more out of obligation than anything else. The rest of their group is rather forgettable.
While the acting wasn’t horrible, for the most part, the script was pretty lame, and when these characters have decisions to make, you can bet they almost always make the stupidest choice.
I actually had a big problem with the fact that Chugs was the first of the girls to die, mainly because I thought she was the most interesting character.
MA: I would agree with you there.
LS: There’s also a house mother in this one as well. This time it’s Carrie Fisher as Mrs. Krenshaw, who turns out to be tough as nails and wielding a shotgun when she needs to be. This is a sad, sad point in the career of the woman who used to be Princess Leia, though.
MA: Very sad.
LS: I never thought she was much of an actress to begin with. She actually belongs in a movie like this.
MA: Still, I have to admit, if there was one scene at all that I actually enjoyed in this movie, it was the sequence when Fisher goes around with the shot gun in search of the killer. It was the one sequence that actually had an edge to it. Though truth be told, it didn’t blow me away.
(Door opens and CARRIE FISHER enters the room, dressed as Princess Leia and wielding a shotgun)
FISHER: Who said I wasn’t much of an actress?
(LS and MA point to each other)
FISHER: Damn you! You don’t want to mess with me!
(She fires and shatters the chandelier above their heads. Two men dressed as Storm troopers rush in and take her away)
MA: That was interesting.
LS: The absolute worst part of the movie, however, is its long, drawn-out ending.
MA: I thought the worst part was the lame idiotic Friday-the-13th style murders. Ho-hum.
LS: Not only are there red herrings galore, but the real killer’s identity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is a complete letdown. As the end credits rolled, I just found myself thinking that I just sat through 90 minutes of worthless celluloid.
MA: That is true. The identity of the killer makes no sense at all. It was as if screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger—.
(The lights dim, a wall moves aside, and suddenly a night club band with a sexy lady in a tight dress appear on a revolving stage, the woman singing, “Goldfinger! He’s the man, the man with the golden touch.” LS and MA applaud. The stage rotates, the woman and band move on, and the wall closes again.)
LS: That explains a lot! Of course this movie would be torture to sit through – it was written by a Bond villain!
MA: I wonder what it’s like to go through life with the name Goldfinger?
LS: Well, it’s better than Goldmember.
MA: True. Anyway, back to the identity of the killer, it’s as if the writers just decided to pick the least suspicious character to make as the killer, without thinking it through.
LS: Without thinking at all!
MA: Yeah, the choice makes no sense at all.
LS: Michael and I missed this one when it was originally in theaters. At the time, I was glad, because the trailer pretty much gives the entire plot away, and left me really not wanting to see the actual movie. But things have a way of circling back on us here at Cinema Knife Fight, and of course we’ve ended up reviewing it after all.
I’m sorry we couldn’t have missed this one completely. It’s not even worth watching on cable, or as a rental. Avoid this one. You’d be better off renting the 1983 original, which is still pretty bad, but head and shoulders above the remake.
Another thing that surprised me – and this might just be the old school horror movie fan inside me talking – was that neither version had much in the way of nudity in it. I mean, you hear a title like SORORITY ROW and you expect to see some skin in between the gore scenes. And it is in very short supply. Even the original was very skimpy on the skin.
MA: I thought there was sufficient nudity in this one, even though, unlike you, the fact that a movie has nudity in it doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me, in terms of how much I like the movie. We could have seen naked sorority girls running around for ten minutes straight in this one, and I don’t think it would have saved the movie for me.
LS: Maybe not, but it would have at least kept my attention. Gore and nudity go together like peanut butter and jelly.
MA: But I completely agree with you about SORORITY ROW being awful and not even worth watching as a rental or on cable. This movie is horrible! The worst film I’ve seen in some time.
To me, the biggest problem with this flick is with how unrealistic it is. Let’s start with the opening shots of the sorority party, with college girls covered in soap bubbles and college males looking like they walked off the set of the NEW MOON werewolf club. What college is this? Playboy University?
Yes, college parties can be wild, but this didn’t look like a college party. It looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie pretending to be a college party.
Like you, I thought the acting was OK, but it could have been better. I mean, other than Carrie Fisher in her one shot gun scene, nobody else really made an impression on me. I thought Justine Wachsberger as Katie, the sister of the murdered girl, had an interesting look, and her character had the potential to be more compelling than the other girls, but things don’t really pan out that way.
LS: I agree, Katie could have been a much better character, and I liked Wachsberger’s scenes, because she constantly pisses the prissy Jessica off!
MA; I thought the murders were all cliché and over the top, gore for gore’s sake, and oh so boring. There’s even a shower scene! Talk about overused murder locations!
LS: There’s almost no nudity in the shower scene, too. Just some “blink-and-you’ll -miss-them” flashes. Now that’s just wrong.
MA: True, but it’s not like there wasn’t any nudity at all. There was some. I mean, if there was none at all in an R rated shower scene, then I’d find that strange.
LS: As for the gore being over the top, did we see the same movie? I didn’t think this movie was all that gory. It was actually pretty wimpy in that respect too, except for a couple of scenes. But nothing I’d call “over the top.” This isn’t Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (1992)!
MA: I meant “over the top” in the sense that the gore was phony, like shoving large objects down people’s throats, for example. Compare a silly scene like that to the meaningful “knife in the hand” scene we saw last week in the superior THE CRAZIES. But no, it wasn’t too gory.
The killer is about as interesting as a college chemistry textbook. His look, with a hooded graduation gown, is dull and uninspiring. And what college uses graduation robes that look like they belong to Anakin Skywalker? I kept expecting to see the Emperor from the STAR WARS movies show up and beg everyone to join the dark side!
(A kitchen cabinet pops open and YODA peeks out )
YODA: Awful, this movie is. My money back, I would like, or angry, I will be.
LS: Shut up, you stupid muppet!
YODA: Mouth you watch, or ass I will kick.
MA: The bottom line is I didn’t like any of these characters, and when you don’t like the characters, you’re not going to like the story. I thought these characters were rather despicable, and certainly not the kind of people I’d want to spend 90 minutes with.
LS: I’ve said this before, but I have no problem with characters being unlikable. There are a lot of unlikable people in the real world.
MA: Yeah, but if you’re going to give us unlikable characters, at least make them convincing. Don’t give us both unlikable and superficial.
LS: What bothers me is when characters are just plain boring. And for the most part, the characters here aren’t very interesting. Even if some of the actresses do give it the old college try!
That said, I didn’t find every character boring. I still think Margo Harshman as the nymphomaniac Chugs had potential. And she had a real warped sense of humor. This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I have a problem with the “slutty” one always being killed off first. The first to be punished. Why is sex always viewed as so evil in these films? And it’s always the virginal one who finds reserves of strength she didn’t know she had. This is a tired old formula that needs to be retired.
MA: The heroine in this one wasn’t so virginal, but that’s neither here nor there.
LS: I didn’t say the heroine. However, the wimpy one who can’t get boys (the funny thing is, she’s pretty attractive when she’s not wearing her glasses), does have a defining moment near the end. Poor Chugs didn’t have the chance to prove herself.
MA: Director Stewart Hendler does little with this mediocre material. There’s nothing visually striking about this movie, the pacing is off as the ending drags, and the murders are flat and uninventive.
LS: Even the tire iron with blades isn’t used interesting enough to make it that memorable. Another lost opportunity to take a mediocre original film and make a superior remake. Hendler completely drops the ball on this one. So why even bother making it?
MA: SORORITY ROW is horror movie making at its worst. Read a good book instead.
YODA: Agree, I do (he goes back inside cabinet and closes the door).
LS: You go read a good book, I’ve got a beer contest to win.
MA: See you next week everyone!
FADE TO BLACK
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares