The Killer Comes for You

Sorority House Massacre

It’s been a while since we visited the world of the Massacre SeriesA loosely connected series of movies, the Massacre Series is the creation of Roger Corman's production team. Each film is largely independent, but all feature young co-eds meeting a gruesome fate at the hands of various killers. They're dumb and stupid Slasher fare, which is a fairly accurate assessment of most films in the genre.. This loosely-related series of films were started by the New Concorde group, a Roger Corman development and distribution hub that created cheap, quick films for hungry audiences. Corman, of course, was a master of seeing what was popular in theaters and then developing quick-to-video cheapies in the same genre. When Conan was popular in theaters, Corman put into production a whole suite of barbarian films (like Barbarian Queen). When Jaws was the summer hotness, Corman’s team was there (with Piranha). You can find any number of examples of Corman chasing the trends set by other people, and that includes the slasher genre.

Massacre was Corman’s New Concorde series, and it had the standard hallmarks of that production group. Cheaply made movies that provided the barest minimum required to count as a film – characters, some kind of story, kills, nudity – without putting in anything more than necessary. The films sold themselves on splashy covers and splashier names, like Slumber Party Massacre and Sorority House Massacre, and that led to decent (for New Concorde) sales in limited theatrical releases and home video, enough for more films in the franchise to come along (seven in total released by New Concorde, with an eighth coming after that company shut down, and a lost ninth film that may never get a release). It’s one of the longer running franchises in the slasher genre, impressive when so few have heard of it.

This film technically is the second movie in the series (following 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre and coming one year before 1987’s Slumber Party Massacre II). It takes place, of course, at a sorority house (thus its name), following one new pledge, Beth Henkel (Angela O'Neill), who comes to the house after the death of her aunt a couple of months earlier. Her aunt practically raised her after the deaths of all her family, an event Beth doesn’t even remember. But bad dreams, and premonitions, indicate that those events from her past still trouble her today.

Also, there’s a killer specifically targeting the girls of the sorority house. The house, as we soon learn, was the sight of a set of traumatic murders. The killer, Bobby (John C. Russell), killed his whole family in the same building, and now he’s back to try and finish the job. Beth, meanwhile, has dreams that someone is coming for her, and she can’t help but think maybe there really is someone out there and it’s not all a dream. Naturally (and spoilers for a nearly forty year old movie) we learn that Beth is Bobby’s sister, the only one he didn’t kill, and now he wants to make sure his whole family is dead, once and for all. And if he kills a few other people along the way, all the better.

Sorority House Massacre isn’t good by the standards of, say, real cinema. We aren’t talking about real cinema, though. We’re talking low-budget horror, like all the other slasher films made during the era, and if there’s anything Corman was good at, it was squeezing out a film on a low budget. Slashers don’t need a big budget, or famous people, or anything like a real movie. They just have to get scares on screen and let the audience enjoy the cheap thrills. Corman could do cheap thrills so, by the rules of the genre, this was actually a pretty easy mark for the director.

That’s not to say this film is good by the standards of modern slashers. It’s really pretty bad if you compare it to Scream or even Totally Killer. It doesn’t even really hold a candle to the best of what slashers could produce during the heyday of the 1980s. Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street are so far ahead of Sorority House Massacre that they practically feel like different genres. But really, you have to compare this film to what was commonly coming out in the early and mid-1980s. The spam of the genre. The flotsam of horror. A Sweet Sixteen or a Graduation Day. As I’ve been watching a lot of slasher films lately I’ve seen a lot of this dreck, and Sorority House Massacre aligns pretty well with those films. By that low bar, this movie hits the mark.

Its setup is pretty silly. The heroine, Beth, is the lost sister of a killer, and has a psychic connection to him. Reviewers at the time compared it unfavorably to Halloween, citing the brother-sister connection, but that’s not really what it’s copying. Halloween II, sure, as that film made the sibling connection. But that psychic bond was different. It added something else, and in fact predated the HalloweenThe franchise that both set the standard for Slasher horror and, at the same time, defied every convention it created, Halloween has seen multiple time lines and reboots in its history, but one thing has remained: Michael Myers, the Shape that stalks Haddonfield. franchise pulling the same trick in Halloween 5. If anything, that franchise was stealing ideas back from Sorority House Massacre.

But I will admit it’s not really a good story idea. It’s silly. The same franchise that has a random guy going around killing girls with a drill (in The Slumber Party Massacre) also has psychic dreams and visions of the future? Seems a bit far fetched. The film basically just uses the psychic connection to get the killer to the house which, considering they’re at his house because it’s the sorority house, he would have gone there anyway. It also uses the dreams as a way to exposition dump, when in reality they could have just made it repressed memories and then Beth would figure it all out without the needless, and weird, magic mind meld.

If they were going to give the character a psychic connection, they needed to do more with it. This film also predated Friday the 13th Part VII, where Jason fought a telekinetic girl. They could have had Beth have powers beyond pointless dreams. There was the potential for her to use it as a boon, and not just a plot device. But she doesn’t, and the film never really does anything more with her power, or her connection, than turn her into a useless Scream queen so she can be chased around the house by her killer brother. It’s a waste of potential ideas, and bad character development too.

Admittedly, characterization is also not the strong suit of this film. Beth is meek, and reserved, and doesn’t show much drive or personality at all. Her friends are somewhat better, in that they’re all at least bubbly and energetic… but they’re all also interchangeable and pretty much the same. They’re template sorority sisters, to the point where I realized I had no clue what any of their names were, and I didn’t need to bother figuring it out. They, and the boyfriends that show up to hang out with them halfway into the movie, are just fodder for the killer to drive up the body count. They don’t serve any other meaningful purpose at all. They are blanks in the script with names attached.

Hell, the killer is nearly the same. He’s a stock, shadowy figure without any characterization of his own. Michael Myers may not have had much personality, per se, but he was the Shape that hung around and was foreshadowed. Bobby doesn’t get that kind of build up. He’s over-explained and underutilized and then, when he finally gets to the house to kill his sister, he burns through much of his time, and the cast, far too quickly. He’s there because this is a slasher and the film needs a killer. But that doesn’t make him good, or interesting, or a real necessity to the story.

What would have been interesting? If Bobby died during the original murders and it was Beth doing the killing. Her dreams were repressed memories and when she was asleep she took on the guise of Bobby and went around killing her sorority sisters. Then, at least, the dreams serve a purpose and keeping the killer in the shadows makes sense. Then the one character that is singled out to be different from the rest actually had a reason to be different, and we don’t have to have everything overexplained. That’s a twist that actually works in the context and makes for a tighter, more viable story and cast.

But we’re judging this film on a level it was never going to achieve. This is a horror cheapy made by a company that cranked these films out. The goal was to get eyes on the video because of the cool name, and then provide the bare minimum entertainment to qualify as “a movie”. Sorority House Massacre does that, without much flair but with just enough killing that probably some were interested. This is standard slasher fodder released to the masses when slashers were the dominant form of horror. It’s not good, but it is passable, and it just barely gets the job done. On the Corman level, that makes it an absolute winner… but that probably won’t suit everyone’s needs. It certainly didn’t suit my own.

Articles about the Massacre Series

Slumber Party Films: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), Slumber Party Massacre II, Slumber Party Massacre III, Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

Sorority House Films: Sorority House Massacre, Sorority House Massacre II: Nighty Nightmare, >Sorority House Massacre III: Hard to Die

Cheerleader Films: Cheerleader Massacre, Cheerleader Massacre 2