My love of early 80s slasher movies is no secret. It’s hard to discern if I love them in spite of their flaws or because of them. While I do get a good laugh out of some scenes and scenarios, I never approach any movie with the intention of making monkey shines out of it Mystery Science Theater style. I really just enjoy the tropes, the atmosphere, and even the slight variations on the formula. I realize that I have such an affinity for this era and style of film that my tolerance for low quality is pretty high.
I’m not willing to dismiss all these films as garbage but some of them can be flat out hilarious in their ineptitude. Such is the case in this entry. House on Sorority Row is a by-the-numbers slasher that most non-horror fans would be hard pressed to find positives with. There are some cool moments, but one of the sillier moments is what has stuck with me most over the years.
Here’s how it happened: A crotchety old house mother forbids a bunch sorority sisters from throwing an end of the semester party. This prompts the expected course of action: a viscous prank. Not even a goofy prank, more of an, “oh shit, why would you ever think this is a good idea?” kind of prank.
Of course, events quickly spiral out of control and the mean old woman is dead. Or is she? Well, when they thought she was dead, they dumped her in a pool and pulled the cover over her so they could have the party as originally intended.
When several people end up missing/dead and a fat guy goes swimming in the corpse pool, a few of the survivors look for the body but find nothing. Some of the survivors remove themselves party to discuss this problematic turn of events. The most sympathetic of the girls theorizes that they must have thrown her into the pool while she was still alive. This prompts Morgan, the lady of the hour, to ask, “How do we know she is alive?” and to blink a lot.
It’s not really what she says that is so memorable. After all, it’s a reasonable enough question given the scenario and the genre. What makes this moment completely unforgettable is the way she that delivers this line. Take a look for yourself:
After Kate McNeil delivers what looks like an Oscar worthy performance in comparison, we cut over to this orgy of bad acting. After Morgan’s line, we rack focus to the girl behind her ranting about the absurdity of Morgan’s question. In other circumstances, this line might warrant a little heckling in its own right, but here it hardly even registers. All I can do after watching this is rewind and confirm what I’ve just seen.
Was the rack focus so tricky that director Mark Rossman couldn’t call for take 2? Or is it possible that they did several takes and that this was the best they got? If so, what does actress Jodi Draigie sound like on a bad take?
In another movie, something like this might detract from my enjoyment, but here it only adds to the charm. There’s enough elsewhere in the movie to bring a smile to any slasher fan’s face, but this line is enough to make anyone do a double take. This makes it a perfect VHS horror movie. I would bet that this scene gets rewound with nearly the same frequency as one with copious nudity. Well, maybe not that much, but you get what I mean.