'Sorority Row'

An average slasher pic that meanders indecisively between gore and gags.

Pretty maids are assembled and bled in “Sorority Row,” an average slasher pic that meanders indecisively between gore and gags. The producers have tried to cover their remake tracks with a credit announcing the pic was based on Mark Rosman’s screenplay “Seven Sisters,” with no mention of its real inspiration, the 1983 horror hit “The House on Sorority Row.” Updates include cell phones as integral plot elements, natch, and the reincarnation of the first victim in “Sisters” as a potential suspect. Like fellow genre retread “Prom Night,” the pic should carve a substantial audience from thrill-seeking twentysomethings and teens.

A practical joke gone wrong kicks off a need for secrecy among five coeds (two less than in the original.) During a bacchanalian celebration, cheating ex-boyfriend Garrett (Matt O’Leary) is set up to believe his one-time squeeze, Megan (Audrina Patridge), has overdosed on date-rape drugs he gave her. With manipulative queen bee Jessica (Leah Pipes) giving the orders, the sexy quintet take hysterical Garrett and faking Megan to a desolate location. To dispose of “the body,” Garrett impales Megan with a tire iron, killing her for real. Oops. Debate ensues over confession vs. Theta Pi’s sorority motto (“Trust, respect, honor, solidarity and secrecy”), and they hide Megan’s corpse.

An inconvenient police investigation is skipped over. Eight months later, the girls graduate and celebrate with another party. This time, a cowled guest moves among the festivities wielding a modified tire iron that sports deadly multiple blades. Coeds are picked off one by one as convention dictates.

Like the recent “Drag Me to Hell,” “Sorority Row” is fixated on oral punishment (bottles, flares). But unlike Sam Raimi’s roller coaster, the script never successfully balances horror with comedy: The first half goes for the straight slice-and-dice approach, but around the halfway point, ham-fisted gallows humor suddenly — and by now inappropriately — begins to flow freely. Even Carrie Fisher’s scenes as the stern, gun-totin’ sorority mother (echoing her cameo in “The Blues Brothers”) can’t choose between laughs or action.

With the best one-liners, Pipes stands out in the distaff ensemble. Other thesps hit their marks, but the yarn would be more effective if the group’s conscience, Cassidy (Briana Evigan), were more clearly conflicted about the hiding of Megan’s body.

Stewart Hendler’s direction favors wobblecam but effectively builds tension. Lensing has a deliberately grainy feel, evoking nostalgia for older slasher thrillers where the rough look was not a stylistic choice.

Sorority Row

Production

A Summit Entertainment (in U.S.)/Hoyts (in Australia) release of a Summit Entertainment presentation of a Karz Entertainment production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Mark Karz, Darrin Holdender. Executive producer, Mark Rosman, Josie Rosen. Co-producer, Bill Bannerman. Directed by Stewart Hendler. Screenplay, Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger, based on the original screenplay "Seven Sisters" by Mark Rosman.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ken Seng; editor, Elliot Greenberg; music, Lucian Piane; production designer, Phil Toolin; art director, Elise G. Viola; costume designer, Katie Riley; sound (Dolby Digital, DTS), Greg Hayes; assistant director, Hal Olofsson. Reviewed at the Reel Room, Sydney, Sept. 4, 2009. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Audrina Patridge, Julian Morris, Margo Harshmann, Matt Lanter, Carrie Fisher, Matt O'Leary.

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