'Sorority Row' pledges to uphold the familiar slasher film tradition
September 11, 2009 8:00 AM
Margo Harshman plays party girl Chugs.
Lining up in "Sorority Row" are, from left, Jamie Chung, Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes (front center) and Rumer Willis (in striped dress).
By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's no question that "Sorority Row," which was filmed in Pittsburgh last fall, is a predictable, formulaic slasher flick. But it's also one with a fair amount of humor -- eventually.
In the early going, the 98-minute movie offers little to laugh at as it introduces the sisters of Theta Pi. These young women conform to the assorted types required by horror film conventions, and they meet the fates you expect as dictated by the laws of karma and horror film morality.
There's mean girl leader Jessica (Leah Pipes, "Life Is Wild"), nerdy Ellie (Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who's set to guest on "90210"), party girl Chugs (Margo Harshman, "Even Stevens"), token minority Claire (Jamie Chung, "Samurai Girl"), prankster Megan (Audrina Patridge, "The Hills") and strong-willed Cassidy (Briana Evigan, daughter of actor Greg Evigan). Actress Carrie Fisher ("Star Wars") has a cameo as the sorority house mother.
The story kicks off as the sisters play a prank that turns deadly (think: tire iron as murder weapon), which leads to a coverup. Eight months later it's graduation weekend, and a killer in a hooded graduation gown begins murdering these sorority sisters one by one, usually using a pimped-out tire iron.
The movie is set at fictional Rosman University, whose location is never mentioned. But in the end credits producers thank area locations used in the production, including Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, the Carnegie Library of Homestead, Collier Township and the Concordia Club in Oakland.
Directed by relative newcomer Stewart Hendler, "Sorority Row" is a remake of 1983's "The House on Sorority Row." Hendler employs all the usual tricks to build suspense -- sound effects; slow, stalking camera movements -- and his murder scenes, while bloody, tend not to be too gory and generally avoid the torture-porn aesthetic. But the film's tone lurches about before settling into a more comic rhythm in its second half.
It's difficult to laugh at "Sorority Row" early on as the characters put their least likable traits forward. Jessica enjoys having Claire as a friend because, she says, "It makes me multi-cultural without having to do anything." Chugs defends "roofie sex," saying, "You get laid and you get a good night's sleep."
Later in the film, humor comes out more regularly, mostly thanks to rhymes-with-witch Jessica, who gets the best toss-away lines of dialogue and even takes a break from avoiding slaughter to get into a cat fight with a rival for her boyfriend's affections. As Jessica, Pipes seems to be having the most fun, but it's telling that there are few differences in the cast members' performances between early scenes when they pretend to act upset and later in the film when they're supposed to actually be terrified.
Of course, "Sorority Row" would not be a self-respecting horror flick if its ending didn't suggest a dead character was alive and set the stage for a sequel.