A couple weeks ago when I reviewed Legion, some were concerned I was putting my mortal soul in peril by mocking the horror film’s Biblical ideas (about angels with big guns and washboard abs). So this weekend I’m again risking life, limb, and soul by taking on another powerful, sacred institution: the sorority system.
Sorority Row opens with a slo-mo pillow fight at a sorority party, followed by some impressively synchronized group dancing. So right there, rental dollar well spent! But sadly, the movie is not just about hot girls jumping up and down in their underwear. In the first few minutes we also see two terrifying sights reminding us this is a horror film: Carrie Fisher as the drunken, shotgun-wielding house mom and Rumer Willis’ giant chin.
Oh, and then a wacky house prank goes horribly wrong and one of the sisters gets stabbed to death with a tire iron. More specifically, a guy who thinks she’s already dead impales her with the tool. (She was just faking it the first time; the second time not so much.) This makes sense because if you were hooking up with a hot sorority girl and thought she had a seizure and died, you’d stick a tire iron in her just to be sure, right? That’s the first thing they teach in paramedic school: When you arrive at the scene of an accident, immediately poke a tire iron into any victims to make sure they’re dead.
Turns out that in addition to practicing the high art of super-bitchiness, the sorority sisters are devious and self-serving, so they cover up the hoax fail by throwing the dead girl’s body down a mine shaft. Now before you get all self-righteous and judgmental, let he or she who has not chucked a college pal’s corpse down a mine shaft throw the first stone. Still, Karma frowns on literally tossing your friends aside, and so a few months later a mystery killer begins brutally eliminating everyone involved in the crime.
Since all the sisters look pretty much the same in that perfect, polished, bland Hollywood way (with the exception of the token Hot Asian and Lantern-Jaw Willis) you can’t tell who’s getting impaled from scene to scene. (Warning! Sincerity Alert: I take a lot of cheap shots at young Willis’ expense, but honestly I like her well enough in the few films she’s appeared in, and it’s nice to see young actresses who don’t look like they rolled off an NBA dance-team assembly line.)
It does help keep everyone straight if you remember that the heroine of the flick is played by the daughter of Greg “B.J. and the Bear” Evigan. (Appearing now in 6 Guns, available for rental in the redboxes!) Disappointingly, Briana Evigan doesn’t seem to have inherited her father’s tendency to co-star with chimpanzees, but she does share the screen with Audrina Patridge from The Hills. (Okay, that was another cheap shot. The Bear was a much better actor than Patridge.)
And if you think Sorority Row is just about bitchy bimbos in their underwear, let me assure you there are plenty of himbos walking around shirtless as well. And the boys are just as moronic, self-absorbed, and asinine as the gals. Which presents a problem in a horror film: What happens when you cannot wait for the unlikable characters to meet their gory demise? It’s like watching a NASCAR race where all the drivers are baby seal clubbers. (Note: No baby seals are clubbed in Sorority Row. They had to save something for the sequel.)
And gory demises are indeed met. But here’s the best part—the mysterious hooded killer is dispatching his/her victims using a modified tire iron (irony kills!) with a knife and spear attached to it instead of lug wrenches. Actually this would come in pretty handy if you often find yourself having to change tires while harpooning whales or skinning muskrats.
(Longtime Drive-In readers might recall that last year I discussed our impending slasher-film crisis, namely the dwindling supply of unique murder weapons. Axes, machetes, finger-knives… all been done. Last year there was even a slasher film where the killer used sharp railroad spikes. He was of course called The Spiker. I’m waiting for the next generation of innovative slashers: The Juicer, The Bottle Opener, The Knitter, The Manicurist…)
From here on, I think you can figure it out. With more than a nod to the dark-humor tone of the Scream flicks, one by one the sorority sisters are picked off in their natural habitats: beds, showers, and hot tubs. (Have sex in the Jacuzzi, die in the Jacuzzi.) If this sounds like exploitative trash, you should know that between getting poked with the knife-y tire iron, the characters also spend a lot of time talking about the deep bond of sorority sisterhood and trust, respect, honor, secrecy and solidarity. And it turns out the killer is really just trying to make a point about the shallowness of the Greek System, so yay for message movies!
The survivors even get to do one of those heroic slo-mo walks at the end. And just because one of them is in her underwear during it doesn’t make it any less empowering. After all, today’s young sorority woman must not only deal with the pressures of bikini waxes, body shots, tire-iron wielding maniacs, and the horrific return of the male popped collar, but she must also be ready for a pillow fight at any time.