Friday, June 3, 2016

Sorority Row (USA, 2009)

If you want to get straight to the review, jump down to the next section, which begins more or less with a red-colored sentence, just above the trailer found further below to the original version, The House on Sorority Row (1983). 
But now, to meander...
In all truth, we have nothing against remakes or "re-envisionings". To use a musical example, take Peggy Lee's definitive version of Fever (song). You know what? A remake: the original version was sung two years earlier in 1956 by the relatively forgotten Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Inductee William Edward John (15 Nov 1937 — 26 May 1968), otherwise known as Little Willie John.
The Original —
Fever by Little Willie John:

His version may have peaked at 24 on the charts and is good in its own way, but it's nevertheless not quite as memorable as Lee's version or, for that matter, the insane Boogaloo version by La Lupe (song), or the unjustly forgotten 1961 exercise in stereophonic sound by The Three Suns (song). One might argue that some songs — like Fever — can't be made badly, but this is not true, as is proven by the sterile, lifeless version Madonna made, which is the prime example of an unneeded — and worthless — remake (and we say that as former Madonna fans).
Madonna (circa 1993)
she may still look human,
but she kills the Fever anyways:
Other songs where the remake is good on its own or better than the original? Dunno, how about: Cake's version of I Will Survive (song) to Gloria Gaynor's (song)? The King's version of Come As You Are (song) to Nirvana's (song)? Urge Overkill's Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon (song) to Neil Diamond's (song)? Amii Stewart's Light My Fire (song) to The Doors' (song)? Texas Lightning's Like a Virgin to Madonna's (song)? The Boss Hoss's Hey Ya! (song) to Outkast's (song)?
Texas Lightning's
Like a Virgin:
OK, you might argue that remaking music is not the same as remaking a movie. But, hell, let's not forget that John Houston's The Maltese Falcon (trailer) was actually a masterful remake of 1936's Satan Met A Lady (trailer), which in turn was an abysmal remake of Roy del Ruth's acceptable The Maltese Falcon (1931 / first 2 minutes). And then there's the "classic" and creaky Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931 / trailer), which, while not necessarily a remake of the unauthorized silent version of Bram Stoker's novel from 1922, Nosferatu (full movie), is nevertheless substandard to both the Spanish version made at the same time starring Carlos Villarias and the Hammer version from 1958 (trailer). James Whale's Frankenstein (1931 / trailer) is likewise way better than the first version from 1910 (full film), while the Hammer's version, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 / trailer), is a good film in its own right (but let us pretend Kenneth Brangan's operatic version from 1994 [trailer] was never made). Likewise, virtually any given Rialto Edgar Wallace film is superior to virtually any given earlier English-language version, and even the fluffy Ocean's Eleven (2001 / trailer) is definitely an improvement to the original, fluffy Ocean's Eleven (1960 / trailer). We could go on forever... 
Another forgotten great cover version —
Season of the Witch
by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, & Steve Stills:
Of course, in all honesty there are dozens of remakes that or definitely not better or even suck in comparison to the original versions — The Mummy (1999 / trailer) and The Mummy (1959) to The Mummy (1932), Vanilla Sky (2001 / trailer) to Abre los ojos (1997 / trailer), The Time Machine (2002 / trailer) to The Time Machine (1960 / trailer), Shutter (2004) to Shutter (2008 / trailer), Detour (1992) to the masterpiece Detour (1945 / full movie) — but be what it may, nothing is sacred, and as far as we're concerned remakes are OK, though we could get ourselves excited about the pointlessness of Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho (1998 / trailer), but then, being pointless was the whole point of the project in the first place. In the end, however, when it comes to movies, we ourselves actually prefer re-envisionings.
Which brings to the point when we stop meandering — which we actually only did anyway as an excuse to present a couple of songs we like and a few we hate — and get to the actual topic at hand, the movie Sorority Row, a "re-envisioning" of the low-budget slasher from 1983, The House on Sorority Row.
Trailer to the original
The House on Sorority Row (1983):
The original might be a sacred cow, but in all honesty, we never liked it all that much in the first place, so we figured a remake couldn't be any worse. But, in truth, we can't help but wonder when is a remake a remake or a re-envisioning, and when is it simply a movie set in the same milieu or about the same topic? Are all modern college-set comedies Animal House (1978 / trailer) remakes/re-envisionings? Are all end-of-the world movies a remake/re-envisioning of the now-quaint and first disaster movie, Deluge (1933 / scene)? Are all love stories in which one side dies in the end and leaves the other one alone broken-hearted remakes/re-envisionings of Love Story (1970 / trailer)? (Which, we are sure, is not the first film to use its plot.) Are all body-count films actually a re-envisioning of And Then There Were None (1945 / trailer)? (Which, actually, is not even the first body-count movie — the earliest we can think of off the bat is Terror Aboard [1933], but since one knows from the beginning which human is doing the killing, perhaps it doesn't count as a real body-counter in the modern sense of creative kills by an unknown or unnaturally superhuman killer.)
Sorority Row, noticeably, neither shares the title of 1983's The House on Sorority Row nor, if you get down to it, does it share that movie's plot, motivation, or twist. (Yes, both movies are based around a prank gone wrong, but even the victim of the prank isn't the same.) All the two films really have in common are sorority girls and dead bodies, something both films also share with a lot of other films out there. Sure, one or two characters share a name and there's an occasional visual or verbal reference in Sorority Row to The House on Sorority Row, and yes the original scriptwriter/director Mark Rosman does get a credit, but we're still talking about two completely different films here. And you know what? When it comes to dead-sorority-sister films, were it not for the tacky 80s appeal and blood, Sorority Row would qualify as better-made than The House on Sorority Row.The girls are sexier, in any event.
Directed by Stewart Hendler, who brought us Whisper (trailer) in 2007, and written by Piranha 3D (2010) scribes Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg, Sorority Row is an entertaining and liberal piece of propaganda — we need more of that stuff — that is no more believable than the average slasher but way better made than most. And we give it plus points for having the gonads to show young, well-heeled future Republicans for what they are: self-centered egoists that are so concerned with looking out for number one that they'll go over bodies.
Indeed, have no doubts here: the girls of this sorority — and their douche-bag boyfriends — are indeed the upper crust, the future leaders that will one day lead the country, a point made home at the latest when bitchy Jessica Pierson (Leah Pipes of Fingerprints [2006 / trailer]) has her eye-to-eye conversation with the senator father of her equally egotistical boyfriend Kyle Tyson (Matt Lanter). These are America's finest, and they are all morally and judgmentally corrupt and look out only for number one... followed by number two, the significant other, only in as far as No. 2 remains an acquiescing brownnoser or doesn't get in the way.
In any event, we went into the film truly expecting to hate it simply because we hate the kind of people we thought it to be about — sorority sisters and frat boys — but Stewart Hendler managed to hook us in the first scene if only because he presented what we hate (young, brainless well-to-do and future conservatives) with something we love: a single, minutes-long tracking shot through a extremely loud and active sorority house party full of frat assholes and sorority bitches. Visually, we were so thrilled by the directorial touch — a touch too complicated for a normal, brainless teen horror film — that we not only kept watching, but decided to forgive the typically stupid set-up leading to the disaster that in turn leads to the later bodycount and true focus of the movie.
Here, a bunch of pretty but mostly vacuous sorority girls decide to prank a boyfriend of one of them, Garret Bradley (Matt O'Leary of Brick [2005 / trailer]), because he's a pussy chaser — like, totally overlooking the fact that every guy in the movie except one is a fuck-around. In any event, things go terribly wrong and Megan Blaire (Audrina Patridge) ends up dead at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft and all the sisters voluntarily or involuntarily swear to secrecy so that their futures don't get ruined by one stupid mistake. And then, as it works in most slashers, a few months later rolls around... and the bodies begin to pile up while you, the viewer, try to figure out who goes next and who's the killer. Neither is all that hard to do. The body count is nine, which is OK but we found a bit low if only 'cause we tend to hate the people in the social stratosphere presented in the movie and thus would have loved to see more of them meet their maker.
OK, we have to admit that another, almost embarrassing reason we like Sorority Row: it has Carrie Fisher (of The 'Burbs [1989 / trailer], Scream 3 [2000 / trailer] and Wonderland [2003 / trailer]) as the housemother Mrs. Crenshaw. We can't explain why — perhaps we simply have a soft spot for survivors with honest mouths — but we always like her in any movie, and only wish she would start making more trash like this and become the female version of Brad Dourif. Here, she wields a wicked shotgun that never runs out of ammunition — until, as to be expected, she's finally in a position from which she can no longer miss the killer.
But to get back to the film. The girls are hot enough, the bitch is a super-bitch, the final girls are mostly the ones that should survive, the slow-motion girl power walk at the end is good for a major laugh, the direction (as indicated by the opening scene) is better than usual, the tension is occasionally rather high, there is some nudity but way not enough, and there are really hundreds of way-worse slasher films out there. We don't really understand why the killer, considering the motivation behind the killings, would bring Megan's body back and hide it in the sorority house, where it logically would be way easier to find than at the bottom of the mineshaft, but then we also find a pimped-out tire iron to be a pretty stupid murder weapon as well.
The deaths of Charlene "Chugs" Bradley (Margo Harshman of Simon Says [2006 / trailer], Rise [2007 / trailer], and From Within [2008 / trailer]), sexy Claire Wen (Jamie Chung of Sucker Punch [2011 / trailer] and Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For [2014 / trailer]), and asshole Kyle Tyson are way more to our liking.
In the end, in short: Sorority Row is less a remake or re-envisioning than simply a relatively well-made if not occasionally not fully thought-out slasher set in a sorority setting. And as a slasher, it delivers nothing new but does everything well enough to be entertaining — and also functions well as a subversively unobtrusive tract showing the masses just how evil and heartless and deserving of death the well-to-do, future conservatives of the USA are.
(We really can't remember, but was there a single African American anywhere in the movie? Probably not, as since the white mainstream tend to think Black Lives Don't Matter, a bodycounter populated with Black folks being killed just ain't as interested as one populated with white folks being killed — cause, like, White Lives Matter. Guess the filmmakers figured that one Asian American is enough minority for one movie.)

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