Of the spate of horror remakes released over the last decade, only three have managed to come close to bettering their source material. Alexandre Aja’s version of The Hills Have Eyes was a rare instance of torture porn enhancing the intensity rather than distracting from it, while the Dawn Of The Dead remake benefited from being more action movie than fright-filled horror. More recently Rob Zombie made an all-too familiar psychopath even more deranged and terrifying by adding an especially demented back-story in his retelling of the iconic Halloween.
The gap between the few decent re-imaginings and the increasingly large pile of woefully mis-interpreted embarrassments continues to grow though. 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doubled the gore and bloodshed of the original, yet still somehow missed the brutality and disturbing intensity of Tobe Hooper’s 30 year old classic. The 2009 edition of The Last House On The Left tried hard, but failed spectacularly with an ending that was as bloodied as it was ridiculous. Worst of all was the gore-less, fright-free, family friendly remake of campy cult favourite Prom Night, an update that not only fell remarkably short of the original but became arguably the worst movie of the past decade.
Digging even deeper into the vault is Sorority Row, based on the little known 1983 slasher film The House On Sorority Row. Simplifying the original’s barebones plot as much as humanly possible, this remake tells the story of five sorority girls at the mercy of a tyre iron wielding killer after a prank gone horribly wrong. Hunted down one by one on graduation night, the bitchy sisters of Theta Pi meet their demise in a series of typically gruesome deaths. Beautiful young women in various states of undress are murdered in graphic fashion, from having champagne bottles rammed down their throats to being shot in the face by flare guns.
With its laughably gratuitous premise, nameless cast and unproven director, the film faces an uphill battle from the outset. Opening with a pan through a drunken pyjama party at the sorority house and continuing on past a cluster of inevitably bad decision making by the main characters, the first act is thankfully dispensed with quickly. Director Stewart Hendler’s music video background ensures a more frenetic approach with the camera, but the film’s predictable setups and formulaic plot prevent any genuine thrills or scares from developing. As grotesquely inventive as they are, the death scenes are still disappointingly ineffective.
As the body count rises though, so do the sharp one-liners. The film revels in the bitchy banter between the five sorority girls, a rash of brutal insults and hilariously inappropriate put-downs that somehow turn a trashy, by-numbers remake into one of the guilty pleasures of the year. With the carnage increasing by the minute the change in tone arrives in the form of an emoticon-laced text message from the killer, the first proper indication that the filmmakers aren’t taking themselves too seriously. It’s followed by a series of brilliantly ridiculous scenes, culminating in Carrie Fisher’s dorm mother blasting through the house with a shotgun.
The cast are surprisingly adequate too. Margo Harshman is suitably apathetic as the slutty Chugs, while Briana Evigan does her best to give life to the least exciting character in the movie, the ever responsible Cassidy. Even seemingly throwaway characters in Clare and Ellie played by Jamie Chung and Rumer Willis are used to perfection as the punch line to many setups. The daughter of John Maclane and G.I. Jane in particular is required to do little more than scream, but somehow earns some of the biggest laughs of the film.
It’s Leah Pipes as queen bitch Jessica who steals the show though, delivering every line with a pitch perfect blend of venom and vulnerability. Her complete lack of sentiment is a refreshing change from the usual panicked emotional grandstanding shown by the standard female protagonist of recent horror movie trends, a trap the other characters all seem to fall into at various stages. Pipes carries the movie, dominating every scene she’s in and antagonistically moving each character through every absurd scenario they encounter. The screenplay plays more and more to her strengths the longer the film goes on, her performance becoming so entertaining that the movie begins to suffer every time she’s off screen.
The final reveal is disappointing, but by that stage who the killer is has become irrelevant. Amidst a backdrop of bloodied walls and raging fire the film comes to a stuttering conclusion. The soundtrack is woeful throughout, and Hendler generally overplays the debaucherous teen party aspect of it all. Its flaws are almost unashamedly obvious though, and nicely balanced out by a tongue in cheek sensibility that makes the movie hard not to enjoy. Watched under no expectations it is an undeniably entertaining film, funny, ridiculous, and strangely addictive.
Sorority Row clearly won’t impress everyone, but sharp dialogue and a standout turn from Pipes lift it comfortably above the wave of awful Platinum Dune remakes of recent years, a movie studio seemingly operating under the same creative instincts as the moronic makers of the insipid Date/Epic/Disaster Movies. The likes of Friday The 13th, The Hitcher and last year’s A Nightmare On Elm Street opted to blandly retread the iconic original films in the hope that familiarity with the source material would be enough to deem them worthy horror movies in their own right. The lackluster scares and barely noticeable plot are common links with the rest of the pack, but a willingness to embrace its own stupidity makes Sorority Row a stand out for pure dumb fun.
In an era where the retelling of the Jason Voorhees story amounts to little more than a series of rehashed set pieces crudely strung together to capitalize on Hollywood’s latest money-making trend, the guilty fun of Sorority Row somehow turns an obvious candidate for barrel scraping idiocy into one of the more enjoyable movies of its kind. It’s stupid, mindless trash – in the best possible way.