Written by: Chris W. Freeman
Directed by: Chris W. Freeman & Justin Jones
Starring: Thomas Downey, Ed O'Ross, and Eve Mauro
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
It's not a competition--it's a bloodbath.
The prologue for Sorority Party Massacre takes an obvious cue from Scream, but that’s where any comparison to Wes Craven’s masterstroke ends. At first, I thought this might be a clever bit of misdirection—why not offer up the golden goose of post-modern slashers as a sacrifice before returning to the unencumbered cheap thrills of the genre’s golden age? After all, a title like that must be a deliberate echo of that era, right?
Well, that was a bad assumption. Instead, Sorority Party Massacre cuts right to the post-ironic malaise we’re still mired in after Grindhouse. Like so many imitators, the film’s co-directors take Rodriguez and Tarantino’s good intentions and twist them into an excuse to make a bad movie simply because it’s a hyperaware goof. The result is neither spoof nor satire but rather a brain-dead exercise in hyper-irreverent filmmaking—it’s a film that couldn’t give less of a damn about the genre it thinks it’s sending up or about the audience upon which it inflicts its horrors.
The opener is admittedly quite decent: a sorority girl is headed towards an annual summit of likeminded college girls (I imagine it’s like the Gathering of the Juggalos with slightly more dignity), but she’s lost. Upon stopping at a rural hole-in-the-wall to get directions, she receives a threatening phone call from a psycho that ends up boiling her alive after playing a few mind games over the phone. Unfortunately for this masked killer (who even vaguely resembles Harry Warden!), her dad’s a hard-ass Los Angeles police chief played by Kevin Sorbo. Unfortunately for viewers, Sorbo’s only around long enough to dispatch Watts (Thomas Downey), a loose cannon detective with a penchant for punching perps right in the balls, to track down his presumably-missing-but-actually- very-dead daughter.
When he arrives at quaint Grizzly Cove, Watts discovers that a bunch of sorority girls are actually convening for some bullshit competition where the winner receives a grant, so there’s actually not even a party to be found in Sorority Party Massacre. So rest assured: its title is basically a bunch of sweet nothings whispered into your ear in an effort to get into your pants. Do not let Sorority Party Massacre into your pants, your DVD player, your home, or even your county, for it is a ruse meant to dupe people into thinking it’s a homage to cheesy 80s slashers. In reality, it feels like it’s being put on by folks who have only heard of those movies and decided to crystalize its affectations and general “badness” into a messy heap without capturing anything that made those films so watchable.
That it fails to live up to whatever promises its title might entail would be forgivable if that were the least of the film’s problems. Its most egregious failing is in its utter lack of slashing. Nearly 45 minutes roll by before another corpse turns up with some lame bee-sting makeup, at which point the film still doesn’t come to life very much. In the interim, Sorority Party Massacre presents a tableau of characters that manages to insult various corners of humanity but mostly hones in on women, the mentally handicapped, and country bumpkins. A montage introduces the parade of sorority girls, each of whom apparently have some sort of special interest or ability (for example, the brainy one—aka the one with glasses because duh—likes to play chess and can get tough in illicit underground gambling circles) that would ideally allow them to band together and form some kind of team (like the Sorority Planeteers or some shit). But whatever individuality they seem to have is subverted when the film reduces all of them to glorified strippers and fashion models who are only there to bounce around and eventually die horribly.
The surrounding characters don’t fare much better: Detective Watts seems to be perpetually irked just to be involved with this (and Downey has no problem emoting that since it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch), and the filmmakers rely on the post-Grindhouse tradition of providing oddball cameos and familiar faces. In addition to the aforementioned Sorbo, its victims include Leslie Easterbrook as an unexpectedly refined and haughty den mother, Richard Moll, and Ron Jeremy (who appears just long enough to shit and have his face plunged into said shit). Ed O’Ross appears as the oblivious hayseed sheriff who farts around when he’s not literally farting and worrying about running up his department’s long-distance bill (a recurring bit that reveals just how unfunny this film is).
Again, none of this would be a problem if these people died often and died well; plenty of slashers are lined with obnoxious fodder whose eventual deaths should be more gratifying. Nearly nothing about Sorority Party Massacre’s draggy 103 minute runtime (ironically produced by a studio called Long Story Short) is very gratifying, including a chaotic ending that desperately attempts to remain unpredictable by introducing sheer, random chaos in a vain attempt to recall Bay of Blood, only without Bava’s sharp, black-hearted glee and commitment to Grand Guignol. What’s left is a poorly lit mess that sprinkles in the occasional gore effect when its cast isn’t running about in a tizzy. Even the film’s jarring jump cuts produce more annoyance than they do actual energy.
Indeed, this is another one of those inexplicable slogs that remains sluggish even as it’s flinging everything plus the kitchen sink against the wall. Then it crashes the kitchen sink over your head and laughs about it for good measure. But none of it really works—like so many films of this ilk, it assumes that wedging its tongue into its cheek grants it a license to make a bad movie that deserves instant cult canonization and believes that every flat joke and celebrity cameo will act as a diversion from its myriad deficiencies. Chief among them is its unwillingness to nail down the basics of the formula it’s aping—what good is an intentionally cheesy slasher if it’s terrible at slashing or unwilling to at least engage in genre subversion? It's about as expendable as most sorority girls in splatter films.
At any rate, Sorority Party Massacre is due to hit shelves courtesy of Anchor Bay films, who have at least outfitted the DVD with a solid presentation and a handful of supplements. Co-directors Freeman and Jones provide a commentary, while the rest of the disc features some deleted scenes, outtakes, and a fake campaign ad for the film’s sheriff. Since the film was announced, I assumed it’d be another bloody walk down sorority row; instead, it’s the latest in a line of films that can’t settle for just being a well-done retread and add a layer of glib irony to their proceedings, as if to absolve themselves of any responsibility for sucking out loud. Trash it!
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