‘The House on Sorority Row’ Has Just the Right Amount of Camp

The House on Sorority Row

The House on Sorority Row is a pivotal film for me. This flick made me fall even deeper in love with the horror genre when I happened upon it some years ago. The impressive cast, the overzealous dialogue, and the somewhat unexpected twist all add to my appreciation of Mark Rosman’s 1982 slasher picture. Seeing as the flick observes a release date anniversary on January 21st, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sing the praises of The House on Sorority Row. So, tease your hair, put on a pair of shoulder pads, and gear up for a celebratory look back on a chilling tale of nubile college coeds in peril! 

The film follows a group of sorority sisters gearing up to throw a rager of a graduation party. The only thing standing between them and their good time is their militant house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt). When Mrs. Slater tries to put the kibosh on the bitchin’ party and proceeds to humiliate one of the ladies, the sisters plan an epic prank that gets a little out of hand. Namely, the revenge scheme winds up killing their house mother.

Not willing to let a little thing like manslaughter ruin their fun, the ladies hide the body in the pool and put their dancing shoes on. But something is amiss. Someone is stalking the party and killing the coeds one by one. Either Mrs. Slater isn’t as dead as the young women thought or someone else with an axe to grind is on the loose. Either way, the sisters must keep their wits about them if they hope to survive the night.  

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I certainly have a soft spot for this film. But my appreciation for The House on Sorority Row isn’t merely a product of nostalgic comfort obscuring good taste. The film is actually pretty decent. A strong script and a clever twist elevate this stalk-and-slash picture above some of its less effective contemporaries. 

A big piece of what makes the film work so well is Lois Kelso Hunt as the uncompromising Mrs. Slater. Hunt isn’t onscreen for all that long but she makes the most of it. The late actress brings a solemn and serious quality to the role. She plays Mrs. Slater as a woman convinced that life is a painful journey meant to be lived without even the most minor indulgences. Her militant attitude and pious ideals make it impossible not to dislike her. And that’s a smart strategic move by screenwriters Mark Rosman and Bobby Fine.

If Mrs. Slater were sympathetic in the slightest, the audience would never be able to forgive the core cast for accidentally killing her and stowing her corpse in the pool to avoid putting a damper on their cool graduation party. That’s a terrible thing to do to anyone. But it’s hard to judge these young women too harshly when considering what Mrs. Slater has put them through over the years. 

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Hunt’s icy portrayal of Mrs. Slater is made all the more enjoyable by future Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Eileen Davidson as Vicki. Davidson succeeds in making Vicki more than a one-note bad girl. She chews up the scenery and makes being bad look good. I tend to be a rule follower. But Vicki makes me want to misbehave. She seems to derive such pleasure from challenging authority and that makes me want to follow suit. Or at the very least, to live vicariously through her delightful misdeeds. Perhaps her most accessible quality is that she is willing to say what the rest of the sisters are thinking. And I, for one, admire that kind of candor. 

Vicki is certainly the most memorable of the sorority sisters. But she isn’t the only standout amongst her peers. Though each cast member fulfills an archetype, each of the key players is far more relatable than one might expect from a slasher picture circa the early ‘80s. Kate McNeil is great as the level-headed Katherine. She provides balance to Vicki’s more unhinged approach and serves as a relatable final femme that the audience can get behind. Ellen Dorsher imbues Stevie with a quirky, loud-mouthed charm during her brief time onscreen. And Robin Meloy makes Jeanie almost impossible not to like, playing the character with an endearing, doe-eyed innocence.   

With such memorable characters, it’s not surprising that the core cast has a believable onscreen dynamic. Their camaraderie reads as authentic, making the ladies feel like members of a real friend group. And that gives us reason to invest in their plight, rather than cheering for their imminent demise. 

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The cast of characters aside, I also appreciate the film as a product of its time. As a child of the ‘80s, I dig the way The House on Sorority Row captures the essence of the time. The music, hairstyles, and wardrobe all evoke a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era. Speaking of the music, I really vibe with the power pop stylings of 4 Out of 5 Doctors. The D.C.-based group appears as the band playing the graduation party. They come on the scene with catchy hooks that liven up the proceedings and their music serves to make the party feel lively. 

All things considered, I think The House on Sorority Row is a surprisingly effective campus slasher. The likable cast of colorful characters, a strong script, a cool appearance by a power pop quartet, and a hefty helping of ‘80s nostalgia make this a familiar favorite that I revisit often. If you’re keen to rewatch the film in observance of its anniversary, you can find it streaming on Tubi and several other ad-supported VOD platforms as of the publication of this post. 



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