The Macabre Brothers share an affinity for bargain-bin horror films. It’s actually more like an addiction – hardly a month goes by without one of us wasting $5 on some dubious DVD title. Such impulse buys may not deserve a full review, but like porn, they’re worth a quick and shameful glance. In Basement Ramblings, we answer your most meaningful question: Is this month’s piece of crap worth the price of a Big Mac?
The premise: Five rambunctious co-eds! One flannel-clad neighbor! A dark and stormy night! Numerous sharp things!
Imbued with the sublime creativity often missing from a slasher sequel, Sorority House Massacre II is nothing short of a blood-splattered house mom, deftly commanding the loom it inherited from its 1986 predecessor to weave a mosaic of possession, femininity and Ouija boards. And meat cleavers!
Such classic horror themes and symbols pair impeccably with a sparse, almost tragic plot. Within hours of moving into a mysterious house near campus, our five heroines uncover a sordid legend: Their new home was the site of a killing spree! After reliving the tale via money shots from the ‘86 original, these stalwart scream queens consult the board to prepare for destiny and, with a touch of Grecian can-do, confront the killer!
Soon enough, the sisters are tragically, sensuously hunted and slaughtered by a murderous spirit — who may have entered one of their own! Let’s get Sigma Sigma stab happy!!!
— (End pitch for 25th anniversary DVD)
Where I found it: Huddled in the grungy back alley of my Netflix horror queue, which, oddly enough, is one of the more tantalizing hangouts on a slow Wednesday night. Since it was crammed between equally classy flicks like 1972’s Virgin Witch and 2009’s Cheerleader Massacre 2, chances are I’ll return soon. With a switchblade.
Why it caught my eye: Sorority girls and brainless massacre, plus cover art with gratuitous ‘90s midriff. What’s not to love?
What works: At a lean, mean hour and 17 minutes, this film is graciously short and surprisingly entertaining. Sure, longtime B-movie director Jim Wynorski pads the runtime with a recap of the original and a painful subplot following two police detectives, but those are small quibbles. When the film finally ignores ‘90s storytelling and hones in on the titular sorority sisters, it hardly disappoints, at least in terms of boobs and bizarreness.
Take the long, drawn-out scene before the seance: As the ladies strip down to change into pajamas (because that’s the attire anyone would choose before tempting a Ouija board), the camera deliberately pauses in each bedroom, like the opening of some soft-core porn. I mean, everything was in those glorious exploitation shots, from fake boobs to high-waisted thongs to a lesbian massage session, so I starting thinking, “Are these ladies just porn stars spreading their thespian wings?” After a bit of Googling I found that, no, most of them were just eye candy in a rash of B-grade horror flicks from the late ‘80s, although Michelle Verran (the Ms. Frizzle lookalike) is now known as Barbii, and Gail Harris (the tall, easily possessed blonde) was a centerfold in British skin rags. They may be one step below Jenna Jameson, but these actresses have way more off-screen promise than most slasher bait, Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th excepted.
What sucks: Even cinematic triumphs have flaws, no matter how miniscule, and Sorority House Massacre II is no exception. Hard to believe, I know, but there are oodles of fuck-ups on the technical side alone: inexplicable shadows (aka poorly placed lights), laughable stock shots of lightning (used three times!), a boom mic wobbling through the edge of a frame (father of another miscast shadow). I didn’t expect a tour de force of filmmaking — after all, it’s the no-budget sequel to an already schlocky B-movie — but noticeable technical mistakes are just plain trashy, especially for a film that doesn’t want to boast about its campiness.
And there’s the rub. For a horror fanatic weaned on Scream and Child’s Play, this flick plays things a bit too straight. The cookie-cutter plotting is predictable, the acting is painful at best and the kills are very, very underwhelming. Now, the final five minutes are the best brand of batshit insanity — not only is the killer revealed, the final heroine battles her/him with a fire poker — but until then, just about every death ends with a depressingly simple blood splatter. No gore, no hacked-off limbs, no knives sticking out at odd angles — just fake blood sprayed through a nozzle. Sigh.
Verdict: Make no mistake: Sorority House Massacre II is hardly an Oscar hopeful — it’s not even a self-aware romp in the vein of Thankskilling. This film wears it’s awful/laughable/enjoyable heart on its sleeve, and that’s all I expect from a low-level slasher, even if the soon-to-be-splattered co-eds rarely have sleeves. If tits and cleavers don’t make you nostalgic for a middle school sleepover — those are both staples of a ‘90s sleepover, right? — then opt for something else. An actual porno, maybe?
I didn’t bother taking notes, but damn did the sorority slaughter go down smooth with PBR.