Sunday, October 26, 2014

Delta Theta Die

Year: 1992
Director: Jim Wynorski
Cast: Robyn Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago
Run Time: 1 hour 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

90's horror often gets a bad rap, despite enduring successes like Scream, The Blair Witch Project, Silence of the Lambs, and The Sixth Sense. But if there's any year that most fully exemplifies the post-apocalyptic bleakness that many associate with that period, it's 1990 (the year this film was produced, though it wouldn't receive its ignominious direct-to-video release until two years later). '89 was the year that the subgenre died its most unambiguous death (like supernatural killers and comic book characters alike, slashers would soon return from the grave afresh, but at the time it seemed like an outright impossibility), but slashers kept plugging along, unaware, dying off one by one in the following years much like their typical slate of victims. Even the strongest franchise icons petered out well before Scream's 1996 debut.

But where there's a will there's a way. And where there's a hormonal teenage audience there's Jim Wynorski. Perhaps best known for his terrifically campy Chopping Mall in 1986, Wynorski quickly found refuge in exploitation cinema in the waning light of the 80's. The discovery that altered his career rivals even Einstein's in cultural significance: Teenage boys will pay money to see boobs no matter how crappy your movie is.

So this is where we find him at the turn of the decade. At the helm of a sequel to a film that had no earthly reason to be revived, 1986's Sorority House Massacre, which, if you remember, was already an alarmingly shoddy piece of work buoyed only on the strength of one gut-splittingly hilarious dress-up montage.

The 80's are very important to me.

Sorority House Massacre II is a cash-in plain and simple, such a desperate little dirt grub that it was willing to rake in even the infinitesimal amount that could be garnered from following a film that was hardly a smash at the box office. Written in a week and filmed in probably less, SHM II is a triumph of slasher depravity. With a bucket of karo syrup, enough softcore actresses to fill out five lace nighties, and an empty house ready to go, Wynorski set out to make hisself a movie.

The plot goes like this. Five members of an unnamed sorority set out to spruce up a house in which a man murdered his family several years ago. These nubile young ladies are Jessica (Melissa Moore), a leggy blonde who is dating a guy named Eddie (Mike Elliott), who only appears in one scene when he drives the girls up to the house and yet receives an inordinate amount of fanfare in the credits; Janey (Dana Bentley), a mischievous type with a bob so large and thick it could only have been harvested from the Sheddings Bin at a Cher concert; Linda (Robyn Harris), an Australian girl who is marginally smarter than the rest; and Suzanne (Barbii) and Kimberly (Stacia Zhivago), two sets of breasts with women reluctantly attached.

After attempting to contact the man's spirit with a Ouija board (they do exactly zero work on the house during the course of the film - but with so many showers to take, tequila shots to drink, and shoulders to massage lovingly, can you blame them?), they begin to die one by one. Is it the ghost of Old Man Hockstedter? Or is it the creepy neighbor Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos), who eats raw meat out of a bucket and likes to breathe loudly onto things?

Alright, I'm warning you now. I ask you humbly to please not take out your rage and anger on my blog or upon my person, but... I am going to spoil Sorority House Massacre II. The ghost did it.

Parker Bros. strikes again.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sorority House Massacre II is that there is a distinct lack of sex. I know that's not usually a concern during in-depth analysis of cinema, but here it is certainly a curiosity. This is a film that performs the dazzling feat of displaying all five main characters' breasts in a span of less than three minutes, yet doesn't include a single male character that sticks around long enough for them to bang. In fact, it's almost distinctly asexual, its preferred mode of exploitation being watching a group of "pretty" girls going through the motions of a routine horror picture, but without the added protection of clothes.

For the entire second half of the film, the entire cast prances around the house in bras and underwear - or, in Janey's case, a gossamer jumpsuit so tight you can see her endocrine system.

Her body is so constricted, all the extra mass had to go to her hair.

In this regard, if you can overlook the sleaziness of objectification, the film is actually quite charming in its sheer desperation to titillate. The only survivor of the previous massacre is now a stripper and we are forced to sit through her entire dance before she gets a chance to speak. Girls flash one another as punchlines to jokes. A staircase is placed exactly right so we can see each girl's butt as she flounces into the attic. And - my personal favorite - when the girls realize they're in danger, dialogue along these lines occurs.
Vixen #1: "Oh no! We left our clothes upstairs!"
Vixen #2: "There's no time! We'll have to go without them!" 
They then proceed to do absolutely no escaping because it's raining outside and Wynorski certainly isn't paying them enough for that.

An actual photo of the SHM II casting call.

Overwhelming tawdriness aside, the film has absolutely nothing else to recommend it, at least from a technical standpoint. From a good-bad movie standpoint, however, it's almost inimitable. Each element of the film's mise-en-scène is crappy to a hilarious degree, though perhaps not an eminently watchable one. Let me explain the full spectrum of crapiness that penetrates Sorority House Massacre II to its very core with a quick breakdown.
  • Sound Design: Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the dialogue track for the film was recorded over the phone on a stormy night. Every character sounds tinny and about a mile away from the screen. And the foley work ranges from eminently unimpressive to cartoonishly absurd. My favorite moments are when the rambunctious sound effects collide with the gaudy exploitation to create such sterling moments as a girl soaping up her butt in the shower with the sound of someone wiping a squeaky window with a rag, or a stripper (yes, there are two distinct striptease moments that take place away from the main action) rubbing her breasts on a pole with the sound of two balloons squeaking together.
  • Gore: I think it's perhaps too much to ask of the film that it have its gore game together, but typically a slasher film is a showcase for the best FX artists and breasts in the business. The breasts here are so rampant that they form a massive conglomerate that dominates the film, eliminating the need for great gore to tantalize the already sated ideal audience. So what we're stuck with is an endless series of girls getting stabbed with a hook in silhouette. At least there's enough ineptitude to keep the less boob-concerned audience members going - notably the obvious shadow of a ketchup bottle squirting the blood onto the wall.
  • Acting: I won't spend too much time taking potshots. It's not like the performers were hired for their talent or asked to perform at any level beyond arching their backs and saying the words on the page. But as Robyn Harris gets going, she illuminates the screen like a firework with a spastic, volcanic display of over-the-top camp. She's like a marionette of Eva Longoria with the strings cut, flopping wildly around the screen with manic intensity and perfect hair.

Pictured here, left, in a more sedate moment.

At least Sorority House Massacre II makes spasmodic attempts at humor, like in the house's address (6934 Langdon) or a series of funny newspaper headlines. It tries just hard enough to be funny that the more embarrassing elements (Orville uses a cop's gun to shoot a villain while he's still holding it; a fight scene plays more like an improv troupe pretending to sword fight) could conceivably be explained away by "oh, it's a parody." I don't buy this for one Karo syrup-soaked second, but it's a genius insurance policy.

Because the movie is far too cheap to even attempt to reach an average level of cinematic quality. This fact is belied both by the run time (of the 77 advertised minutes, 6 of them are credits) and, well, the rest of the film. A flashback of Old Man Hockstedter killing his family is just recycled footage from The Slumber Party Massacre with the names and situations changed. The facts that it's not even the same house, any person with enough love for slashers to watch this piece of crap has already seen SPM, and that they pretend two clearly different actresses are one girl are brutally ignored in favor of getting in more kills as swiftly and cheaply as possible. Nevermind that there's already a Sorority House Massacre to pull footage from. No, that's just what they'd be expecting us to do.

I haven't even mentioned the nonsensical cop subplot, which brings us to the aforementioned strip club in search of answers about the potential killer. What tipped these cops off about the new danger five years later and why they aren't actually going to the house to help the girls remains a mystery. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to preserve ambiguity and ignite the imaginations of young home audiences, preparing them for the unknowns they will soon face in their own post-high school careers. 

Or perhaps the movie is just a piece of crap.

Sorority House Massacre II is a piece of crap.

Seacrest out.

Killer: Hokstedter's Ghost in Jessica's (Melissa Moore) body
Final Girl: Linda (Robyn Harris)
Best Kill: Jessica's death - getting stabbed in the neck - is the best both because it is an actual gore sequence and the fact that she sprays enough blood to fill a tub.
Scariest Moment: There are actresses for whom this film was their only option to have a career.
Weirdest Moment: Orville pulls the key to the basement out of his underwear.
Champion Dialogue: "No one puts a finger on my diviner."
Body Count: 8; including three kills repurposed from Slumber Party Massacre and not including Orville Ketchum, who is stabbed repeatedly, strangled with a chain, has his neck snapped, is shoved into a toilet, and shot multiple times before being possessed by a ghost.
  1. Coach Jana is gutted with a drill (SPM).
  2. Kim AKA "Cecily" is stabbed in the gut with a drill (SPM).
  3. Diane is impaled with a drill (SPM).
  4. Janey is hooked in silhouette.
  5. Suzanne is hooked in silhouette.
  6. Kimberly is killed offscreen.
  7. Jessica is knifed in the neck.
  8. Linda is shot to death. 
TL;DR: Sorority House Massacre II is not good at all, but genuinely hilarious in its straightforward chintzy depravity.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1867
Reviews In This Series
Sorority House Massacre (Frank, 1986)
Sorority House Massacre II (Wynorski, 1992)

1 comment:

  1. Oh no, that we left our clothes line is so bad. I don't know how you handle all of these horror films sometimes but I commend you for it Brennan.