Color, 1986, 74m.
Directed by Carol Frank
Starring Angela O'Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio, John C. Russell, Vinnie Bilancio
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), New Concorde (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Color, 1986, 74m.
After striking paydirt in 1982 with the female-created The Slumber Party Massacre, it was only natural for producer Roger Corman to try to capture that franchise lightning in a bottle twice. Before either of the sequels to that hit were shot, he enlisted its director assistant, Carol Frank, to pen and direct another slasher film about a bunch of nubile women being stalked by a killer in a confined setting. The end result, of course, was Sorority House Massacre, which shifts the location to college and gleefully pilfers highlights from other slasher hits of the day by the bucketload. Not surprisingly, the end result is an absolutely ridiculous amount of culturally worthless fun.
New sorority pledge Beth (O'Neill) seems to be having a hard time adjusting to life in her new sorority house, which seems to be linked to some horrible nightmares triggered by the move. Her three sorority friends and fellow new arrivals Linda (Martel), Sara (Ross), and Tracy (Rio) are taking everything far more in stride with a focus on making out, partying, and modeling the most audacious fashions around, but Beth is distracted even more when she starts uncovering repressed memories involving the slaughter of her entire family -- in a house that looks a lot like the current one. Before you know it, a psycho's escaped from the nearby insane asylum (perhaps due to the psychic link he shares with our heroine) and set his sights on finishing the job, with Beth's pals and their beaus set up on the chopping list before the big final girl finale.
You don't have to be much of a horror expert to notice the similarities to the first two Halloween films, not to mention other titles like Black Christmas, Nightmare, The Initiation, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and so on. Fortunately there's plenty of entertainment value seeing all of these titles tossed into a blender and turned into a ridiculous campy mess, with a now-legendary roster of '80s hairdos and outfits on display as well as some of the dumbest potential victims in the subgenre's history. The structure is almost a textbook example of how these things operated by this point, with the opening hour basically setting up all the dominos as the characters are shuffled into the main setting with secondary characters (read: fresh meat) introduced by the end of the second act. Then when night falls, it's time to pull out all the stops for a final hour hour of slashing and screaming. And don't forget the obligatory shock tag at the end either.
Sorority House Massacre played in far more theaters than usual for a Concorde release back in '86, faring well enough to spawn one official sequel directed by Jim Wynorski and a truly lunatic unofficial third one he also helmed, Hard to Die. Like all Corman productions around that time, it was composed for 1.85:1 projection in theaters but shot full frame to adapt smoothly to the VHS market. That 1.33:1 master has been standard for decades now including a handful of DVD releases, usually paired up with its sequel as part of New Concorde's "Massacre Collection." Strangely, a longer alternate cut of the film turned up in 1987 on British VHS with ten extra minutes including some particularly ludicrous banter between the female leads and a lot more prowling camera padding in the dark. Exactly where that footage came from appears to be a mystery now as it doesn't exist in the original negative or on the circulating theatrical prints, but die-hard completists might be motivated to hunt a copy down just for the sake of completeness.
In 2014, Scorpion Releasing gave the film a much-needed bump to Blu-ray with a fresh HD transfer from the original negative that easily outpaces the older master we've all gotten used to. The widescreen framing looks more aesthetically pleasing, the gaudy '80s colors really pop, and the climax plays better now with its original inky blacks restored. (The previous version had to pump up the brightness considerably so you could follow what was happening.) The packaging retains the effective original advertising art, which flagrantly apes Body Double of all things. In addition to the familiar theatrical trailer you get three new video extras here, starting off with a 21-minute interview with Rio covering how she auditioned and found her female director empowering. She also mentions her onscreen attacker was very sweet and offered to grab her coffee between takes, which is quite a visual, and how a key role was rewritten into a food binger. She also shares an amusing tale about working with Niko Mastorakis and Kelly Maroney, too. Then actor Vinnie Bilancio appears in a movie theater for 17 minutes to recall playing the nice guy and crack jokes, with topics including getting $75 a day to shoot the non-union movie. Finally you get another cheerful Roger Corman interview (a quick two and a half minutes) discussing the film's origins as a follow-up to to Slumber Party and the recruiting of UCLA grad Frank to direct. Needless to say, slasher fans should eat this one right up.