Sorority House Massacre (1986) **1/2
D: Carol Frank
C: Angela O'Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio, John C. Russell, Joe Nassi, Gillian Frank, Marcus Vaughter, Vinnie Bilancio, Mary Anne
Plot Synopsis: A little girl's brother kills the whole family, but she escapes by hiding in the basement. Her brother is committed and she grows up with a new family, eventually going to college, where she joins a sorority. Due to a memory block, she doesn't remember that the sorority house was her childhood home. However, her brother senses her presence in the house and escapes so he can finish the job that he was unable to complete.
Review: It's funny how Sorority House Massacre tries to break the mold, yet (at the same time) it sticks to the same old formulas while even ripping off other slashers in the process. I can't delve into all of this without talking about the plot first, so let's go.
In the introductory segments, we meet Beth. Beth is the latest pledge at a sorority. However, for poor Beth, she's unaware that the house is the site of a grisly killing spree. Furthermore, Beth is unaware that she was the sole survivor of that killing spree and that the killer happened to be her brother. The brother shares some kind of psychic bond to the house and with Beth, so once Beth sets foot into the house, it instantly drives him crazy to the point that he has to escape and resume his killing spree.
What I appreciated about Sorority House Massacre and its attempts to break the mold was its psychological angle, how the film takes on dreams, amnesia and what drives a person to kill. One of the film's more intriguing aspects, in regards to this psychological angle, is the brother character. Why exactly did he go crazy and start killing people? This is a character who killed his family and then pretty much remained comatose until his sister returned to the house. Did he kill, because something within the house forced him to? This brother character has virtually no personality and is unrelenting in his attempts to kill his sister while killing anyone else that gets in the way. Why has the brother lost any semblance of humanity? Why exactly is the brother, Beth and this house so interconnected with one another? It's an interesting story element that gives the film a bit more depth and is something most other films of this kind would have avoided.
Also, in regards to the psychological angle, there happens to be one particularly effective scene, probably the most effective scene in the film in fact. In this scene, the character of Beth is placed under hypnosis. While under hypnosis, Beth is forced to re-live what happened to her without actually being aware that the events she's describing are things that happened to her. It's a compelling moment that has an eerie quality to it.
On the non-psychological front, another element that I liked was the casting. The actors and actresses, cast in these parts, look like real people that you might know in real life. Credit also goes to the cast for making these characters credible and authentic. Furthermore, writer / director Carol Frank deserves credit as well, because these characters (even though they are there to get attacked and / or killed) act, look and behave like real people, not just like caricatures that should be in a slasher film.
Despite the positives that Sorority House Massacre has going for it, the film does stumble in other areas. In regards to the slasher story, this part of the film feels like more of an after thought. The film doesn't take enough time to craft suspenseful scenarios involving the killer and the victims to be. When a death sequence does occur, on screen, they're often rushed and quite repetitive of one another. The film could have easily ran another ten minutes, at least, so that these parts of the film were more carefully developed & handled. As is, the staging and the execution is slasher 101, but in the most rudimentary way possible.
On top of that, look a little closer at the plot synopsis. A young man kills his family and is committed to an asylum. After several years have passed, that person re-awakens (so to speak) and escapes to finish what they started. The primary target, dear old sis. If you know anything about slashers, this is pretty much the entire premise behind Halloween I & II.
What writer / director Carol Frank has done, is re-interrupt Halloween (1978), but in her own way. Some of it works. Some of it doesn't. What I liked about Sorority House Massacre is enough to recommend it. With that said, however, the film is far more pre-occupied by the psychological aspect, that they forgot to fully flesh out the material at hand. When making a movie, you have have to bring equal consideration to every aspect of the story, not just what you pick and choose. [R] 74 minutes.
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