Day 3: Female-Helmed Horror Movies for October

Sorority House Massacre
Written and Directed by Carol Frank
1 hour, 16 minutes
I watched it on Amazon Prime with my husband.

Oh man, I was bored. It’s good to point out that just like men, women can make middling time wasters, too. All right, so in Carol Frank’s “Sorority House Massacre,” Beth (Angela O’Neill) spends a weekend at a sorority house to decide if she wants to join. It’s an odd choice of weekends, though, as most of the girls and their house mother are going out of town. But Beth still gets to hang out with the handful of girls that are sticking around. Before and after the rest of the sorority clears out, they keep borrowing each other’s clothes, something most college girls I knew were constantly doing. So while that’s kind of a sexist idea (girls love clothes!), it does seem to be accurate for that age. And then they use that established clothing obsession to awkwardly prompt the remaining girls to raid the richest girl’s closet while she’s gone. That’s Frank’s excuse to get the girls to get naked for a painfully prolonged, so very ‘80s montage. The clothes alone were hard to watch, not to mention the editing. But at least they aren’t being leered at through a window by their supposed boyfriends. Is it any better in the “Slumber Party Massacre” movies that they’re being leered at by their boyfriends, instead of another random stranger violating them before they get killed? I’d say only slightly since the leering is obviously for the audience’s benefit.

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The mid-‘80s horror scene appears to have been riddled with “Nightmare on Elm Street” rip-offs. This one tries to take the nightmares-that-could-be-real idea but keeps it too serious and straightforward. I just didn’t care as Beth struggled with her nightmares that may or may not be repressed memories of her family being slaughtered by her brother, who we see has just broken out of a mental institution with a clearly limited security budget. Her brother comes to the sorority house, which turns out to have been their old house. I loved that idea but man, it just doesn’t play.

Random fun details: “Slumber Party Massacre” plays briefly on the TV, which is a cute nod to her previous collaborator, as Frank worked on that movie as the Assistant to the Director. Angela O’Neill, who plays Beth, went on to work with props and has had a long career working in movies and TV as a Property Master. I love when former scream queens find a whole new path in movies to conquer. (Heather Langenkamp of “Nightmare on Elm Street” runs a movie make-up effects company with her husband.)

While I wasn’t on board for most of it, I did find “Sorority House Massacre” had a few good points. The last kill had real sadness and disbelief to it and the big fight at the very end was nice and scrappy and refreshingly quick. I was grateful it wasn’t some big run all through the house and the neighborhood until they finally have an awkward showdown. Also, one of the couples had actual chemistry in their sex scene. I guess I had never noticed how rare that is in a slasher flick. The directors typically don’t seem to care if their on-screen couples have any heat between them, since they’re just there to show some nudity and then get slaughtered. But to Frank’s credit, no one feels dispatched in that gross, enjoying their pain too much kind of way. When the girl in the couple is murdered, her boyfriend sees she’s dead and gets away. He comes running into the house, fully naked and desperate and goes right for the phone, explaining to the others what’s happened. There was something stunningly urgent about that move. The common frustration with slashers is that people don’t act quickly enough or don’t do the smart things, but that guy was on a mission. But other than that, the rest of the characters don’t even necessarily make decisions, let alone bad ones. They are so ineffectual that I didn’t care what happened to them. Sadly, “Sorority House Massacre” wasn’t fun enough by half but it’s still interesting to see those slight improvements in the overall sensitivity of a slasher when directed by a woman. But I think I’ll move on from ‘80s slashers for tomorrow.

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