Review: Sorority House Massacre (1986)

Sorority House Massacre

Directed by Carol Frank
Starring Angela O’Neill, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio

Help me understand your thesis, Carol.

In Sorority House Massacre, you argue that masculinity is the ultimate destructive force. Men are violence personified. Your killer stabs his way through a group of sorority girls with as much enthusiasm as an adolescent operating a drive-thru window. He is blandly masculine – his forehead slopes over his eyes and his wardrobe consists of a plain t-shirt, shapeless pants and white tennis shoes. By far his strongest personality trait is his knife – a phallic object. The knife spends much of the running time hidden inside a fireplace. This represents latent masculinity – your killer is only truly male when he uncovers his knife (read: penis) and goes on a rampage.

But here’s where I get lost.

Your protagonist, Beth, is a somewhat boyish young woman. She sports short hair and appears to be entirely disinterested in wearing dresses or participating in female bonding rituals. She wears tennis shoes. She is an “other,” just like your murderer. When she picks up a knife in the final act, she is completing the task of masculinizing herself. She was a boy all along. Right?

Sorority House Massacre goes to great lengths to be a feminist slasher film, following in the footsteps of Slumber Party Massacre, a movie which Carol Frank worked on as an assistant to the director. Sorority House Massacre was made four years later, and is Frank’s only directorial effort to date. There is so little to find out about Frank that his or her own sex is a mystery, although I’m assuming she’s a she, judging by the fact that Slumber Party Massacre was a famously female-driven exploit into the slasher canon. Both movies, the former and the latter, fail to display any recognizable feminism beyond making explicit reference to male murderers consistently using phallic objects to slay their victims. But while Slumber Party‘s protagonists displayed a little resourcefulness in their dispatching of the killer, Sorority House paints its victims as helpless idiots, constantly making bad choices and failing to put up any kind of fight at all.

This isn’t to say the film doesn’t try to pander to a female audience. Sorority members fuss about clothing for approximately half of the movie’s entire running time, borrowing and modeling different hideous sweater-dress combos. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” exclaims one of the indistinguishable characters. “Try on Cindy’s clothes!” The film appears to be set in some ’80s hairspray nightmare where clothing is used to ward off evil spirits using mismatched floral patterns. At one point, the four main characters descend a staircase looking like runway models who were left to rummage through a dumpster behind a thrift shop. “How can she afford these clothes?” the same character asks, astonished. I assume Cindy had to sacrifice a goat in a graveyard or something.

When the girls aren’t getting goggle-eyed about dresses and boots, they’re practicing amateur psychology on Beth, even going as far as hypnotizing her in the sorority house living room. Beth suffers at least four nightmares throughout the movie in which she is chased by our nerdy-looking killer through the halls of the sorority house. Unlike the rest of the film, Beth’s dream sequences are vivid and memorable, featuring bleeding candles and life-size featureless dolls sitting at dining room tables. Of course, it all looks a little uninspired compared to Nancy Thompson’s dreams in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but at least there are little to no shoulder pads to be found in Beth’s subconscious.

There is little to be said about any other aspect of Sorority House Massacre. The acting is sub-Wiseau and the actors themselves look like they were plucked from the street at random – a few of the girls are photogenic, but the guys all look like they were interrupted during an intense game of Dungeons and Dragons and pulled onto set without a wardrobe change. The locations used are often shockingly unfurnished or downright ugly. Walls and floors alike are stained. The girls drink gin out of ceramic mugs because the set dresser was too lazy to find glasses.

On top of all this, the plot is excruciatingly by-the-numbers. A couple has sex and is then murdered. Characters exit rooms and are momentarily dispatched. The lights go out and the phone line is cut. Watch Halloween and Black Christmas and you’ll have already witnessed every twist Sorority House Massacre has to offer. It’s a lifeless corpse of a movie. Carol Frank exerts as much directorial presence as a broken Speak-N-Spell. The characterization is as nuanced as a kindergarten textbook with bare breasts drawn in the margins.

In short: Sorority House Massacre would be a waste of space in a landfill.

Back to you, Carol. I have a few more questions.

Is Beth’s eventual masculinization your way of saying that one must become masculine to survive in a masculine world? And what does that say about the female presence? Must women simply become men to survive?

I don’t think you have any answers for us. And even if you did, they’re not to be found here. You’ve failed to defend your thesis.

Worse than that: Your movie sucks, too.


Amazon – Sorority House Massacre DVD
Amazon – Sorority House Massacre VHS
Netflix – Sorority House Massacre
YouTube – Theatrical Trailer

One Response to “Review: Sorority House Massacre (1986)”
  1. The house is the primary setting for The Immortalizer (1989). The movie also utilized the neighboring homes, as seen in the previous two blog entries.

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