Friday, August 29, 2014

Census Bloodbath: Back To Skull - Day 5

Year: 1986
Director: Carol Frank
Cast: Angela O'Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross
Run Time: 1 hour 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

And here we are at the final day of our university slasher marathon. I hope that everybody who started school this week has had a chance to settle in and figure out which classes they can skip and still get good grades. We welcome this new sense of jadedness with Sorority House Massacre, an overwhelmingly lazy and tawdry slasher from 1986.

Although it is one of only three (so far) slashers in Census Bloodbath that were directed by women, Sorority House Massacre holds in common with its predecessor and loosely-franchised namesake The Slumber Party Massacre (Carol Frank cut her teeth as the director's assistant on this feature) the fact that it is perhaps even more chintzy and exploitative than its male-directed peers.

Sorority House Massacre is by far the worse of the two, not only for appearing so late in the game, but also by losing the thin veneer of quasi-feminist quasi-parody that Slumber Party Massacre boasted, causing it to be a worthy entry in the subgenre. No, this film is a routine slice and dice picture, the female director adding about as much to the slasher formula as a nice face adds to an Abercrombie bag. It's great that you have it, but it ain't gonna be showing up in the frame.

Not when there's some good, clean massacring to be done.

This film also shares with Slumber Party Massacre the guiding light of an uncredited Roger Corman, who undoubtedly lent to the production its ineffably cheap "shot in three days" atmosphere. But hey, there's more than enough time to complain after the plot is laid out. And what a simple post-Nightmare plot it is.

Beth (Angela O'Neill) is a young woman with a butch haircut who makes the inarguably terrible decision to stay with the Theta Omega Theta sorority over the course of an unspecific school break. Being in the house triggers strange dreams within her, dreams of the same house in a different time and a mysterious killer chasing after her.

Her supportive Flesh friends include Tracy (Nicole Rio), a boy crazy, slightly insensitive girl who is dating the horny jock Craig (Joe Nassi), whose motto seems to be cojones ergo sum, for the entirety of his existence is predicated on the existence of his penis; Sara (Pamela Ross, also of 1989's Moonstalker), a fashion-backward pop psychology enthusiast who is dating Steve (Thomas R. Mustin), whose only scene in the film involves him ditching her to go rafting; and Linda (Wendy Martel), a down-to-earth girl who's friendly if a little ditsy and who is dating Andy (Marcus Vaughter), the nerdiest nerd to ever nerd the nerd and the second by that name this week.

Also there's John (Vinnie Bilancio), the requisite blind date character who exists solely to get in Beth's way while she hallucinates about bleeding picture frames and dripping knives and whatnot. These dreams eat up an alarming amount of the run time, padding a film that - even in its finished state - is only 74 minutes long.

There's more fruit on Sarah's outfit than there are minutes in this movie.

I'm going to go ahead and SPOIL this movie because the plot is dismayingly obvious (a dramatic twist near the end reveals... Beth's middle name). An escaped mental patient and our villain for the evening, Bobby (John C. Russell), is Beth's brother, who killed her entire family in this very house when she was a child and is returning to finish the job. I'd like to move on because this killer just isn't very interesting.

He kills in uninteresting ways (many of his victims are stabbed in the back with a minimum of blood - my guess is that they only had one good prosthetic and were determined to utilize it as many times as possible) and he stalks Beth in uninteresting, plodding, repetitive beats, both in dreams and in reality. The climactic chase sequence plays like a glitch in the matrix, with the girls repeatedly running upstairs and blocking the door with a bookshelf, discovering the killer, running downstairs to try to unlock the door, discovering the killer, and so on and so forth ad nauseum.

Although Bobby does manage to leap through a second story window at one point, so he's not all bad. 

Just the parts that aren't his calf muscles.

So, back to the cheapness, like I promised. Thanks to its presumably rushed production schedule, Sorority House Massacre falls into an unofficial franchise I like to call the Boom Mike Apocalypse series. There is so much exposed equipment on the edges of the frame, it honestly feels like the set is getting smaller and smaller, threatening to crush the actors if they don't finish the movie in time.

Perhaps that's the reason why the sets are so barren. What's the point of putting more than one piece of furniture or decoration in a room if it'll all be smashed to smithereens by dawn anyway? You'd think that the money they saved by not putting any decorations on the stark white walls (except for in one room, which is the absolute opposite - an ocular explosion of hair metal posters and hot pink) would allow them to afford to buy their prop knife somewhere other than Party City, but you would be wrong.

I mean come on! There's just no room in the budget. Look how many salaries they have to try to get out of paying!

Obviously Sorority House Massacre isn't a good movie. That's immediately evident from the title (and from the preceding paragraphs, but who reads anymore, amirite?). There's quite a few fun elements available for bad movie enthusiasts, though not nearly enough to recommend the film to anyone other than the most masochistic horror movie viewers.

But if you're up for it, Sorority House Massacre delivers a sexy saxophone dress-up scene that plays like a montage from an after school special except with 800% more naked breasts, some pretty cool creepy dream imagery, a sex scene in a teepee, an boy who seems more irritable than scared when his girlfriend is murdered, as if he were more concerned about bloodstains on his clothes, and a girl who announces she's going to venture out alone to fix the electricity and then turns on a lamp so she can grab her coat and head outside.

It's just fun enough to not feel like a waste of time, but it's too dumb, cheap, and inconsequential to rise above even the lesser Back to School fare like The Dorm That Dripped Blood.

Killer: Bobby (John C. Russell)
Final Girl: Beth (Angela O'Neill)
Best Kill: Tracy's death - being stabbed in the chest - is exactly choreographed to best display her ample bosoms. You gotta love that kind of shameless energy.
Sign of the Times: Although there is a dress-up scene that is shot like the background of a Cyndi Lauper music video, I'm gonna have to give the final prize to this screenshot I grabbed. It's got everything - the inexplicable "middle-aged businesswoman" ensemble, the fruit-patterned crop top. The Billy Ray Cyrus hair. It's like the entire decade distilled into one vile, poisonous, colorful liquor.

Scariest Moment: After stealing a car, the killer gets on the 5 freeway, heading South. The traffic occurs offscreen.
Weirdest Moment: I am pretty in love with the teepee sex scene.
Champion Dialogue: "I remember lime Jello."
Body Count: 9; not including the family that dies repeatedly in flashback/dream sequences.
  1. Walkman Orderly has his head smashed against the wall.
  2. Store Clerk is stabbed in the gut.
  3. Andy is stabbed in the gut.
  4. Tracy is stabbed in the boobs.
  5. John is stabbed in the back.
  6. Craig is stabbed in the back.
  7. Sarah is stabbed in the chest.
  8. Linda is stabbed in the back.
  9. Bobby is stabbed through the throat.  
TL;DR: Sorority House Massacre is shoddy and cheap, but on occasion enjoyably dumb.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1335
Reviews In This Series
Sorority House Massacre (Frank, 1986)
Sorority House Massacre II (Wynorski, 1992)

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