Categories
Horror Movies Reviews

The House on Sorority Row (1982) and Sorority Row (2009) Reviews

This is an iconic poster. It is lurid, but it also shows off the gothic atmosphere that is created in the film.

I don’t have much to say about this poster. It is honestly kind of awkward.

The Summer of Spook

It has been a while since I last reviewed something. I had many more reviews planned for The Summer of Spook, but alas, life gets in the way sometimes. Hopefully, I can now begin reviewing some more films for The Summer of Spook. Today we look at 1982s The House on Sorority Row and the 2009 remake Sorority Row. Both movies have plenty of positives and negatives—the 2009 version has a bit more problems but is still fun. The House on Sorority Row is a classic and seminal slasher from the early 1980s. J.A. Kerswell has a very positive outlook on the original The House on Sorority Row and refers to it in his book The Slasher Movie Book as “one of the best slasher movies of the period,” and refers to it as, “exciting, suspenseful, and stylish” (Kerswell, 2012, #132). I can see where he is coming from in his assessment, particularly with the film’s ending, which is highlighted by a surrealist atmosphere that elevates the film’s climax.

Both films tell the story of girls in a sorority who commit a prank that ends in death and murder. In The House on Sorority Row, the prank is committed on the house mother, played by Lois Kelso Hunt. In the remake Sorority Row, the prank is committed on their friend Megan’s boyfriend, but the prank goes horribly wrong, and Megan ends up dead by being impaled through the chest with a tire iron. The remake has the character wielding a signature bladed tire iron that, to me, is a pretty unique slasher weapon, but the original has a much better pace and atmosphere. In The House on Sorority Row, the killings begin the same day that the house mother is accidentally murdered, while in the remake, the killings start a year later as the characters try and keep the secret of Megan’s death from getting out. Having the characters have to deal with the accidental death at the very moment creates a much more tense and thrilling atmosphere. The characters in both movies act incredibly selfish, except for the Final Girls from each movie wanting to call for help from the police or an ambulance. No one other than the Final Girls want to get help, afraid of the negative repercussions that their misguided prank and unintentional murders will lead to.

While I don’t have as much positive to say about the characters in these movies I do enjoy the performances from the lead character, Katherine (played by Kate McNeil), in the original and the performance by Leah Pipes in the remake, she plays the bitchy character, Jessica. I enjoy these performances for entirely different purposes. Kate McNeil does an excellent job—particularly in the final act—of relating the terror of the situation to the audience. One of the best scenes in the movie features a character hiding in a jester outfit in the attic where she is hiding. Kate McNeil does an excellent job expressing terror as she realizes that the costume is occupied. It is an effectively creepy and terrifying scene that increased my enjoyment of an already entertaining slasher movie. Leah Pipes does not get praised for the same thing; instead, her performance as Jessica is memorable because of how bitchy and selfish she plays the role. She ranks up there with Melissa from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood as one of the best bitchy characters in a slasher movie. No matter how selfish or vile she may come across she is always a joy to watch on screen and Leah Pipes steals the movie. We get a brief appearance from Carrie Fisher in the remake as the house mother but unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do; however, she does get a pretty decent scene where she fights the killer—I feel it’s important to note whenever the great Carrie Fisher was on screen.

Both movies feature boring twists but for different reasons. I’m not sure if the original is supposed to be a twist since it is telegraphed from the beginning, but the movie frames it in a way that is supposed to be shocking. The killer’s reveal in the remake is boring, and the motive behind the kills is rather lame and uninspired. Both films are entertaining but I think I give the edge to the original The House on Sorority Row even though the remake features the amazing bitchy Jessica. The remake has much gorier kills, most of which are well done, but the original has a unique atmosphere and remarkably uses colors and lighting to enhance the horrific atmosphere. Also, the original has a legitimately terrifying scene with the killer hiding in a jester costume. All in all, I think both are enjoyable flicks to watch on a hot summer night inside the AC.

The House on Sorority Row Rating 3.5/5

Sorority Row Rating 2/5

References

Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The Slasher Movie. Chicago Review Press.

Categories
Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter. Released in 1955. Directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, and Sally Jane Bruce

The Night of the Hunter is a dark, southern gothic, noirish biblical fable; like a fairy tale, it explores the nature of good and evil. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is at the center of this tale; he is a dark and ominous man. He is a Revered and uses his religion to control, manipulate, and ultimately destroy lives. Christianity plays a unique role in the film; it shows how it is used not only for redemption but for destruction and death. Harry Powell uses his dark and alluring charm to draw people in so he can exploit and eventually betray and murder them. In the beginning, Harry talks to God, revealing he has killed anywhere from 6 to 12 people. Harry brings the wrath of God with him everywhere he goes. Harry acts as an Old Testament God, full of malice and destruction, and also assumes the role of an Anti-Christ figure, using religion to manipulate. He is a false prophet, using malevolence that is present in the Old Testament rather than the benevolence present in the New Testament. He has love and hate tattooed across both of his hands and tells people the story of good and evil by gripping his hands together and showing the battle between good and evil.

Harry eventually makes his way to the home of Willa Harper (Shelly Winters), whose husband has recently been hung for the murder of two people after he killed them during a robbery. Harry was an inmate alongside Willa’s husband Ben (Peter Graves), and he wants to get his hands on the $10,000 that Ben stole. Ben hid the money by giving it to his children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), and they swore never to reveal where it is hidden. He manipulates the town folk, including Willa’s boss Mrs. Spoon (Evelyn Varden), who is immediately swayed by Harry because of his connection to God. Mrs. Spoon convinces Willa to take Harry on as a husband, and she does. Harry terrorizes both Willa and the children using his religion to guilt them and betray them.

After Harry and Willa get married, Harry condemns Willa for her sexual desires. He links a woman’s sex to birth, denying that she needs it for pleasure. Sexual females are usually at the heart of film noirs, acting as Femme Fatales; their sexuality is linked to darkness, manipulation, and evil. Harry connects Willa’s lustful desire to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Femme Fatales often fill this role as the temptatious one who brings about destruction and sin but The Night of the Hunter subverts this by having Harry’s condemnation being manipulative and his control of her sexuality as his way of gaining power. Harry eventually murders Willa after she overhears him manipulating and abusing her children so he can locate the missing money. The shot of her floating in the water is horrific, nightmarish, and also beautiful because of the wonderfully shot composition and cinematography.

Charles Laughton and his cinematographer Stanley Cortez evoke old German Expressionist films. Their use of light and shadows create a gothic atmosphere; we also see this in the production design of the film. There are sharp angles that make the world, the houses, and the landscape seem dangerous and haunted by evil. The movie classifies as a film noir, but it also is reminiscent of horror movies, specifically Universal Monster movies. There is a shot of Harry chasing the children up the basement stairs, his arms reaching out for them. He looks like a monster, hunting his prey. The scene gives off a vampiric vibe, much like the famous shot of Nosferatu’s shadow as he ascends the stairs.

Also, I must mention Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish); like Harry Powell, is a religious person; however, unlike him, she uses her knowledge for love and kindness rather than death and destruction. Harry seeks to destroy the children for lying to him, while Rachel protects them with affection and gentleness. There is a paradox in Christianity between God’s wrath and Christ’s kindness. Harry and Rachel replicate this paradox. Religion, specifically Christianity, is not all good or bad. People can use it to exploit, gain power, manipulate, and harm; or, they can use it to display kindness, love, and affection. We see the dangers of the former in characters such as Mrs. Spoon, who falls for everything that Harry lies about hook, line, and sinker. But, we also see in Rachel Cooper how she lets religion guide her to be a kind and moral person, not seeking to turn away people for their vices, but instead help them understand their place in the world. 

The Night of the Hunter was the only feature film that Charles Laughton made. It is a shame that he didn’t make more because this is one of the greatest movies of the 1950’s inspiring everyone from Martin Scorsese to Guillermo Del Toro. Shockingly it was also not well received on initial release but is now regarded as a masterpiece. It is a dark tale but one filled with hope. Everyone should watch this movie; it is an excellent and well-crafted masterpiece that shows the power of cinema.

Rating 5/5

Categories
Movies Spooktober

Crimson Peak Review

Cover of the Arrow Blu-Ray Release

Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo del Toro and released in 2015, is a gothic horror tale about a girl falling in love with a boy and moving into his castle with him. Now, while that may sound like a fairy tale, the events leading up to her moving and the events preceding are quite horrific. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, the girl mentioned above, an aspiring author who falls for the dashing baronet Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston. After the death of her father Edith agrees to move to Allerdale Hall, the mansion that Thomas Sharpe lives in with his sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain. Lucille is a gloomy and despondent woman who seems to be hiding something, along with her brother.

The performances from Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are excellent, with Jessica Chastain being an absolute standout. Mia Wasikowska is good in her role, but unfortunately, her character spends the majority of the movie in a passive role with decisions being made for her rather than making decisions for herself. While this may seem like a criticism, and to be fair it is a little bit, I think it is interesting what Del Toro does with her character in the latter part of the film. While she is passive for the majority of the first half she begins becoming more active, making things happen for herself, in the second half of the movie. I find this interesting that this change comes in her character not long after she says, “Characters talk to you and transform; they make choices,” whether this was intentional on Del Toro’s part I’m not sure, but never the less it is interesting and I believe of note.

The real star of this movie is the house, Allerdale Hall, also known as Crimson Peak. The house is an entity; a dead and rotting corpse with bleeding walls. The production design done by Tom Sanders is absolutely breathtaking; I don’t think I have ever wanted to live in a broken-down house more in my life. The ghosts that inhabit the movie are also quite extraordinary. Created with a mixture of practical effects and CGI the ghosts have an eerie atmosphere about them and it is hard for the audience to fully understand their purpose and motive until the end of the film.

Crimson Peak is an excellent gothic horror that features elements of mystery, romance, and fairy tales. Guillermo Del Toro’s movie are hard to place in a box even though on the surface they appear to be simple genre films. This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you are a fan of romantic gothic horror.

Rating 4.5/5