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1983 - 91m.

When I first watched Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row back in my youth during the phase I watched every, and any, 80's slasher flick it struck me as a pretty dull time that didn't deliver enough of the skin and bloodshed I desired. Well, I'm much older now, have seen tons more of the stalk 'n' slash flicks that glutted the market in the early part of that decade, and have now come to realize that this debut effort from Rosman, while flawed, is probably one of the more interesting films to come out of the sub-genre. There's a lot more going on with the script than you'd expect and, unlike most of its brethren, this actually tries for some plot before the kill scenes start in earnest.

Things kick off with an oddly blue tinted flashback to 1961, which serves as an introduction to Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) who is going through a particularly difficult pregnancy and ends up losing her unborn baby. We flash forward to twenty years later and she has converted her house into the dwelling for the Pi Theta sorority with her serving as the housemother. And what a housemother she is, making her way around with her hook-ended cane and getting after the girls when they behave in improper ways.

It seems that every year on the Anniversary of her miscarriage, which she has never gotten over all this time later as she was never able to conceive afterwards, Mrs. Slater shuts down the house so she can mourn in silence. However, some of the girls have decided to stay for the weekend in order to celebrate their graduation with spoiled rich girl Vicki (Eileen Davidson) as their ringleader.

Things get out of control when, after being humiliated while making out with her boyfriend by Mrs. Slater popping her waterbed with her cane, Vicki convinces the girls to prank their housemother by stealing her cane, placing it in the middle of the grungy un-used pool in the backyard, and forcing her to go get it while at gunpoint. Things, of course, backfire and they end up accidentally killing Mrs. Slater which leads to them getting knocked-off one-by-one in kill scenes that are pretty well-staged by Rosman even though a few of them looked a tiny bit cut-down due to some quick editing.

The House on Sorority Row is certainly a curiosity for slasher movie aficionados due to the fact it works on establishing characters (and red herrings - including much foreshadowing involving Mrs. Slater's ominous cane) a lot more than a good majority of the films coming out at the same time did. Sure, the victims here might skirt on being clichés but you can't deny the fact that Davidson gives a pleasingly bitchy performance, Hunt shows some staunch authority, and Kathryn McNeil gives a solid turn as our moralistic heroine, Katie. This is balanced quite nicely by a few decent moments of bloodshed including multiple stabbings and a pretty kick-ass scene involving a toilet.

However, as I mentioned above, there are a few flaws on hand that brought down my enjoyment of the film. There's a lot of potential involving scenes where Katie finds a secret room filled with toys, and the marionette costume that goes with it, but there's not quite enough done with it and Rosman stumbles bringing things to a satisfying finish with a so-so finale that consists of some pretty "out there" (and generally out-of-place) hallucination scenes after Katie ends up drugged and a twist attempt at the end I didn't particularly care for that felt vague at best.

Rosman would return to the genre with 1996's Evolver but has since gone on to a career directing (mostly) Hilary Duff vehicles. McNeil has enjoyed a steady career making television appearances and co-star Davidson is now a veteran of soap operas appearing in over eight-hundred (!) episodes of "The Young and the Restless" as well as many of the other popular soaps. Also keep an eye open for Harley Jane Kozak ("Santa Barbara", Arachnophobia) making her film debut as rebellious sorority sister Diane. Unfortunately, this is one of Hunt's rare acting gigs.

If you're a slasher movie completionist, you certainly could do worse than The House on Sorority Row. It's an alright timewaster, has a befitting musical score by Richard Band, and delivers enough kills while trying to stand out from the crowd plot-wise. It was also loosely remade in 2009 as Sorority Row. (Chris Hartley, 1/14/10)

Directed By: Mark Rosman.
Written By: Mark Rosman.

Starring: Kathryn McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Lois Kelso Hunt, Christopher Lawrence.

Liberation - January 12, 2010

Picture Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen.

Picture Quality: The DVD box proclaims this transfer is from a 'recently discovered pristine 35mm print' and while it does suffer from some specking and is a tad grainy (especially in early scenes), what's on display here looks pretty good for the film's age/budget and the picture quality does get better as it goes along.

Extras: Touted on the box as the "25th Anniversary Edition", Liberation is a couple of years too late for that claim but at least the features here make for an acceptable batch as we get a trailer, a photo gallery that includes some behind-the-scenes pictures, a few storyboard-to-film comparisions, an "alternate ending" which is really just Rosman explaining (over a still image) what he intended to be the original finale to the film to be, and a commentary track by Rosman and co-stars McNeil and Davidson that makes for an okay listen even if I felt like I wasn't getting quite enough insight to keep me interested for the entire length of it.

Visit Liberation Entertainment for more info.