Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-10-14 14:28

Written by: Sergei Hasenecz
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“What is this, Midnight Wimp Bowling League?"

If future anthropologists are ever tasked with determining the most late-80s (and we must make this distinction, since this era is a distinct, neon-slathered, big-haired beast compared to the rest of the decade) horror movie ever made, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama will certainly enter the conversation. If nothing else, it captures the sheer lunacy of an era that quickly discovered the ability to shoot movies over the course of a couple weeks and send them straight to video stores—even movies titled Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Okay—especially movies titled Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Like many other movies from this milieu, it featured the twin titans of VHS-era splatter in Charles Band and David DeCoteau, who admittedly weren’t at the height of their powers here, it’s arguably the best representative of the duo’s output. Where their finest hour would come with DeCoteau manning the director’s chair for Puppet Master III, that production feels like a downright refined outlier compared to the rest of their collaborations. And if there’s one word that definitely doesn’t even approach the zip code of a movie like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, it’s “refined.”

Truly, just about everything you need to know rests in the title, but there are some scant details in what passes as the movie’s script. The sorority babes in question are Babs (Robin Rochelle), Rhonda (Kathi O’Brecht), and Frankie (Carla Baron), here in charge of presiding over the initiation of a couple of pledges, Taffy (Brinke Stephens) and Lisa (Michelle Bauer). One of their fathers owns the building housing the titular bowl-a-rama, where the pledges are eventually sent to steal a trophy as part of their initiation. Identifying the slimeball element proves to be a bit trickier: does it refer to the trio of horny guys spying on the sorority house or is it the imp that emerges from the stolen trophy and raises literal hell in the bowling alley? Either way, grasping the gist of the plot is not that difficult: this is yet another riff on the “dumb kids unwittingly unleash a fuckin’ demon” routine, only it’s even more threadbare and braindead than usual.

Not that we really have any sort of problem with that around these parts. Indeed, a movie that has the gall to boast this title practically has a license to engage in shenanigans; in fact, it’d be disappointing if it weren’t somehow among the stupidest things you’ll ever lay eyes on. No need to worry about that, though: DeCoteau and company know exactly what they’re up to here and practically flash that license like an eager kid buying alcohol on their 21st birthday. Accusing a movie titled Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama of being dumb is like pumping bullets into a Terminator: it’s just gonna bounce right off, and rightfully so. There are critic-proof movies and then there’s this, an 80-minute long display of pure chicanery that cannot be criticized on the same grounds as many movies. You enter it with the tacit understanding that its priorities are spelled out in a title promising scantily-clad girls, splatter, and bowling—in that order.

There can be little doubt that it delivers on just about all fronts, but especially with the babes. It most notably features three of the era’s more prominent horror actresses in Stephens, Bauer, and Linnea Quigley (appearing as Spider, a crook looking to rob the bowling alley because this movie obviously needs more nonsense), all of whom are utterly delightful here, even before the imp is unleashed and turns most of them into undead demons. Quigley proves to be the most indelible in a role that allows us to imagine what her role in Return of the Living Dead might have been like had she been tasked to do more than just writhe in the nude in a graveyard: she’s a punk with a bad attitude and a smartass mouth who seems to be perpetually in disbelief that she has to hook up with a bunch of nerds to fend off this demon infestation.

Speaking of which, Andras Jones leads the charge for the horny guys with a fun, affable turn, and the rapport he develops with Quigley anchors the film just enough to keep it from slipping into complete and utter nonsense. Amazingly enough, you find yourself hoping this sweet, charming, and totally unlikely duo survives the night. You don’t expect to be that invested in a film with this title, but it’s a reminder that this sort of thing really works when they have a genuine sense of heart and charm guiding them—and this one has tons in addition to the gratuitous ass-paddling, naked sorority chicks, and Buck Flower’s ridiculous exposition to explain why there’s a goddamn imp haunting the bowling alley in the first place. In many ways, the imp—who is a jive-talking motherfucker straight out of a Blaxploitation parody for whatever reason—upstages just about everyone anyway by essentially twisting this entire premise into a deranged stand-up routine. In the tradition of this genre, he grants wishes that he swiftly warps into something sinister, though I have to admit he’s no Wishmaster when it comes to this; for example, one girl wishes to be prom queen after she was snubbed of the honor in high school, only to see the imp reduce her outfit to tatters moments after he grants the wish. Another doofus wishes for gold, then watches on helplessly as the imp produces useless rocks—you get the picture.

It’s hardly clever stuff; in fact, you could easily argue that Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama fumbles its fundamental premise: instead of functioning as a half-assed, braindead "Monkey’s Paw" riff, it’s actually a half-assed, braindead riff on Demons, which sounds…well, actually, you know what? I’ll allow that. No matter how nonsensical it may be, the imp actually induces carnage by randomly transforming some of the sorority babes into his demonic minions, prompting you to wonder if DeCoteau and company were just making this up as they went along (they were, I’m sure). I do wish the payoff to it were a little more spectacularly gory: it offers up the obligatory severed head rolling down a bowling lane, but the rest isn’t nearly as memorable. This perhaps the only grounds upon which this movie can be reasonably criticized: it doesn’t quite go far enough with the gross-out gore effects. Graciously, however, it does compensate with outrageous fire and car stunts, effectively splitting the difference.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is scrappy in its ability to thrill you in surprising ways that don’t always involve naked and/or bisected women. While that’s certainly its raison d'être, it also reflects this particular scene’s insistence on entertaining by any means necessary (and within a meager budget that forced its filmmakers to only use its titular location during closing hours). There’s real charm here, most of it springing from the indelible personalities, whether it be the familiar genre starlets or the shit-talking puppet that grows weirdly—if not stupidly—hilarious as the movie unfolds. Many films before and after (but mostly after, once more cynical exploitation heirs discovered they could turn “bad movies” into a cottage industry) have aspired to such rarefied air as this, but Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is lightning in a bottle filmmaking. It could have only spawned from this brief, glorious period when this kind of nonsense still felt somewhat pure. I shudder to think what this sort of thing would look like now, even hailing from DeCouteau and Brand, both of whom have unwittingly become victims of their own monstrous, Z-movie impulses for the past two decades.

Much like the ill-fated characters here, this duo unlocked something unholy with Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, one of the (admittedly) many templates for wry, hyperaware goofs. While the intervening years have seen those good, pure intentions become twisted into cynically perverse junk, it’s easy to see why this threadbare formula is so appealing: DeCoteau and company make this look effortlessly fun, too many mistook that for not putting forth any effort at all. If nothing else, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is a reminder that ridiculous premise and title aren’t enough—you’d best bring some charm along, too. Linnea Quigley doing battle with a pack of scantily-clad she-demons doesn’t hurt, either, of course.

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