Thursday, June 21, 2012
Mortuary/Humongous/The House On Sorority Row
(Unrated, 1982, Scorpion Releasing, street date: November 15, 2011, SRP: $19.95).
THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW
(R, 1983, Scorpion Releasing, street date: January 24, 2012, SRP: $19.95).
(R, 1983, Scorpion Releasing, street date: May 15, 2012 , SRP: $19.95).
Four years after the success of Halloween, the slasher subdivision of horror films went from being the most proliferated form of fright flick to something not unlike your usual final girl in its fraught, frenetic dash for survival. The inundation of body count bloodbaths seemed exhausting by 1983, and major studios, with the exception of the Friday the 13th flagship Paramount, had ceded control of the slasher market to smaller companies such as United Film Distribution, Jensen Farley Pictures and New Line Cinema, who took a chance on Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street and came up aces. Some of the other organizations around that time experienced ownership shake-ups and financial woes that took them off of the low-budget terror (gravy) train. Take Filmways for example, who released The Burning in 1981 before folding into Orion Pictures the following year, or The Jerry Gross Organization's fiscally unrewarding attempt to branch out with Blood Beach.
A certain triumvirate in Scorpion Releasing's line of "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" DVDs spotlight efforts from Film Ventures International and Avco Embassy Pictures that fit into the unfortunate downfalls of these exploitation cottage industries. The first is 1982's Humongous, which reunited the creative team behind the previously popular Prom Night but was released in the wake of the less schlock-friendly Norman Lear's acquisition of Avco Embassy, which hindered any chance for a repeat success.
The remaining two, Mortuary and The House on Sorority Row, were distributed by Film Ventures' Edward L. Montoro through newly-formed sister company Artists Releasing Corporation but given equally duplicitous marketing campaigns that played down the stalk-n-slash aspect to ludicrous degrees. The one-sheet and trailer for Mortuary suggests mausoleum-based undead shenanigans maybe similar to the beloved Phantasm, whilst the House on Sorority Row poster conjured I Spit on Your Grave by marrying the image of a nightgown-clad woman swathed in sunlight with the tagline "Nothing can prepare you for what happens when she fights back." Such baiting and switching is kind of laughable coming from the producer of Pieces, whose trashy chainsaw massacre charms were touted up with no nonsense. Incidentally, Sorority Row creator Mark Rosman was hired and fired from a follow-up project, Night Shadows (Mutant), and that film's poor reception was one of a few setbacks, as well as the Great White lawsuit and Edward Montoro's own divorce settlement that would've handed FVI over to his ex-wife, that eventually led to Montoro mysteriously eloping with $1 million of embezzled funds and Film Ventures filing Chapter 11 in 1985. You can read more about Film Ventures, including an anecdote about the Mortuary TV advert (in which cemetery caretaker Michael Berryman gets dragged down into a grave), courtesy of former staffer Jim Bertges over at Bad Movie Planet.
I have come here, though, not to bury the sleaze merchants but to opine about the films in question. Were they bad enough that they deserved the lame promotion afforded them? Scorpion doesn't seem to think so, hence the DVD debuts of both Humongous and Mortuary as well as yet another special edition of The House on Sorority Row, which was given an anniversary party of its own back in 2008. All that remains to do is screen and scream away the night with all three of these obscure slasher chestnuts.
Mortuary, co-written and directed by Howard "Hikmet" Avedis (The Teacher, Scorchy), stars Mary McDonough (Erin Walton, herself) as Christie Parson, a junior collegiate plagued by nightmares since the death of her psychiatrist father less than a month ago. Although the credits sequence clearly shows us it was an act of homicide, only Christie suspects foul play, her mother Eve (Lynda Day George) continually assuring her daughter that it's just her imagination. This doesn't stop Christie from having waking, walking dreams that put her in danger when a cape-clad psycho in white face paint (which Avedis ridiculously tries to pass off as a rubber mask for the big reveal) begins stalking her, wielding a trocar that suggests he might be working at the town mortuary run by smug Hank Andrews (Christopher George).
Christie's boyfriend Greg Stevens (David Wallace) has suspicions of his own after his best friend Josh (Denis Mandel) turns up missing (see: killed) in the wake of an ill-fated plot to get back at Hank for firing Josh by ripping off a few tires from Mr. Andrews' warehouse. The two teens stumble upon Hank holding a séance with a few of the neighborhood women, including Christie's mom, but Hank officiously denies this to the sheriff. Christie and Greg investigate further in the hopes of solving Mr. Parson's murder, but it's Eve who belatedly confides a dirty little secret about Hank's family to Christie in time for her stalker to make the final move.
Zombies are nowhere to be found in Mortuary, and neither is Michael Berryman. Instead, Avedis offers up a rather unexceptional minor murder mystery filmed at the height of early Eighties cheesiness. When trying to find Josh after Greg is abandoned at the warehouse with his van stolen, the first place they think to look for him is at the roller rink! The resulting montage, set to a Donna Summer-imitation disco ballad ("Be My Lover"), is nearly as hilarious as the "Gangster Rock" party scene from Graduation Day, only without the jaw-dropping reveal of the actual performer of the nagging background song or the novelty of watching an early Linnea Quigley character die.
Speaking of bountiful distractions, fresh-faced Bill Paxton gets third billing here as Hank's son and embalming room assistant Paul Andrews, a classical music nerd with an awkward crush on the movie's heroine. The mere casting of Paxton as the fictional son of the reliably hard-boiled Christopher George is enough to make one believe in hog heaven on earth. But for a man whose film career ought to have its own "Crowning Moments of Awesome" page over at TV Tropes & Idioms, Paxton manages to trump even Charles Venarius in one memorable cutaway during Paul's trip to visit his mother's grave, where he just so happens to bump into Greg and Christie.
At his most charismatically crazy (Chet Donnelly from Weird Science and especially as Severen in Near Dark), Paxton fuses an aw-shucks enthusiasm with unpredictable madness in both physicality and dialogue. Mortuary finds Paxton operating in such a mode for his first substantial screen appearance, and it sure is a kick.
It's a shame that the rest of the movie isn't as adorably offbeat as Bill Paxton is. Avedis and wife Marlene Schmidt's script tries its batty best, throwing in superfluous supernatural elements, fleeting bits of black humor (watch for the sign over Hank's shoulder as he's about to shove his trusty embalming needle through a female corpse's torso), copious chances for panky between Greg and Christie, and a prolonged murder sequence that hints at the killer's psychosexual imbalance. But the literally straight-shooting Avedis doesn't really offer up much in the way of directorial flair. Once Christie, her mom bumped off and her relationship with Greg having reached a break, ends up running for her life, there is a palpable lack of suspense. The one moment when the phone goes dead and the power supply fluctuates arrives way before the chase and is used without attention to tension. The creepiest scene in the film involves a sleepwalking Christie confronting the killer outside the glass panel of a door with a knife in her hands, but the lighting, staging and the painfully transparent make-up doesn't scream "Boo!" so much as "A-ha!"
And then there's Eve's confidential reveal to Christie about the timid Paul's history as a psychotic, a condition tended to by none other than Christie's dead daddy, which effectively undoes all the prior nuttiness, leading to a wholly perfunctory turn of events. This late-breaking development doesn't quite jibe in the same way that the later A Nightmare on Elm Street did in that pivotal moment when Nancy's mom told her who Freddy Krueger was. The dynamic between mother and daughter is strikingly similar in both films, but less convincing here because of the more limited span between Mr. Parson's murder and Christie's current peril, which is much more urgent than Eve cares to realize. Let it be said that Paxton offers a tinge of damaged empathy, whereas Lynda Day George plays the doting mother card fine after Christie's conviction begins to feel justified to her. But Eve Parson is presented as a rather terrible mother, undermining her daughter's safety, intelligence and instilling doubts about her sanity at every turn.
The ending of Mortuary and the casting of Mary McDonough present a few inescapable parallels to Happy Birthday to Me, which was released around the time that Mortuary was being filmed (it was released by Film Ventures in 1983, the same year that Christopher George departed). McDonough is endearingly plucky when not miming catatonia and shares some memorable rapport with David Wallace (as when she utters the deathless line "Come on, Mr. Boogeyman...let's boogie!"), their often-deployed chemistry perhaps at the expense of a rather daunting lack of notable supporting characters. Indeed, there's nothing important at all about the appearances of the sheriff or a trio of Greg's friends at the skating rink. Aside from the early victim Josh (there won't be another gory death until the start of act three, for disappointment's sake) and Green Acres vet Alvy Moore (later seen in Scott Spiegel's Intruder) as Greg's highly-unlikely, always-irascible father, there are only five characters in this film even worth following.
Paxton's eventual stardom is duly exploited in Scorpion's recycled DVD artwork, where he gets top-billing on the front cover and three snapshots on the back of the sleeve, pushing aside poor old Christopher George. The 1.78:1 anamorphic HD transfer is sourced from the original internegative. There is a significant upgrade in contrast and colors throughout, although some scenes occasionally appear drab, no fault given the film's age and budget. Flesh tones remain consistently clean and detail, even in the darker-lit set-ups, can be glimpsed without much squinting. Grain is reliably natural and tempered, as are the presence of dirt and specks. There is a drop-off in a few shots during Lynda Day's murder, where a sickly green hue suggests some restored flashes of gore. The rock solid Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is proportionate enough to juggle both John Cacavas' suspenseful score and snatches of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."
Cacavas contributes a new 15-minute interview, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital, that is more of a career overview (Cacavas wrote music for two more Avedis efforts outside of his respected genre and TV work) than a film-specific discussion. The original theatrical trailer is preserved once again (as it was on volume four of Synapse's 42nd Street Forever trailer comps) and there is a reel of "Katarina's trailers" which includes Don't Answer the Phone, Death Ship, The Hearse, Greydon Clark's The Return, and Savage Streets(!). Established fans of Mortuary with high hopes of seeing comely hostess Katarina Leigh Waters or even her own body double naked on a gurney must make do with her "Antoinette, the evil twin" wraparound segments.
Having survived(?) the horrors of Mortuary, blond-haired hunk David Wallace returns as the male lead for 1982's Humongous, which is not a spin-off showcase for The Road Warrior's iconic goalie-masked barbarian. Instead, the title character is the illegitimate son of a lumber tycoon's daughter, raped by her boorish, drunken suitor on Labor Day Weekend, 1946. The grueling preamble, which shows Ida Parsons' (Shay Garner: Bullies) assault from her perspective, and haunting credits collage of photos that trace Ida's progression from beautiful youth to brutalized recluse are in a league of their own from the rest of the movie.
The present day story involves Eric Simmons (Wallace) taking his testosterone-abusing brother Nick (John Wildman: My American Cousin) and sassy, spectacled kid sister Carla (Janit Baldwin: Ruby) out on their father's yacht for a vacation cruise. Both Eric and Nick are joined by their respective girlfriends, cutie pie fashion model Sandy Ralston (Janet Julian, 1970s Nancy Drew and future Abel Ferrara regular) and vapid sexpot Donna Blake (Joy Boushel: Terror Train, David Cronenberg's The Fly). Unable to maneuver once the foggy night falls, Eric drops anchor but not before answering a distress flare from shipwrecked Bert Defoe (Layne Coleman: Gate II). Bert has been stranded nearby Dog Island, an isolated patch of land where Ida Parsons lives alone guarded by a stable of German shepherds.
Nick decides to commandeer the ship at gunpoint and crashes it upon a rocky patch, setting it ablaze and forcing everyone to evacuate to Dog Island. The swimming-impaired Carla, however, goes missing after presumably getting stuck on the boat looking for a life jacket. First Nick and then Eric & Sandy decide to search for help over at Ida's lodge, where the latter find Carla none the worse for wear. Eventually, they all run afoul of Ida's 36-year-old bastard child, a hulking, carnivorous monster with acromegaly who has depleted Dog Island's pet population as a food source and now wants to learn the taste of human blood.
Director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray worked together on Prom Night (Gray also wrote The Changeling from 1980, as well), although Michael Gingold points out in the commentary behind Humongous' trailer on the aforementioned 42nd Street Forever, Volume 4 that the follow-up was intended to be an island-based thriller called "The Graduation Party" where the kids are instead threatened by Joe Spinell of Maniac infamy. The part of me that really wishes that film got made (especially since Spinell wasn't alive to star in the similarly-plotted DiCaprio vehicle The Beach) has a hard time compromising with the project Lynch eventually completed.
Like Mortuary, Humongous isn't so much about the killer's violent spree as much as it is about teenagers trying to discover, if not ready help, then clues (diaries, picture books) or provisions (matchbooks, blankets) to give them some advantage. Humongous, though, offers up stock characters that are mostly mediocre and, in the case of Nick, more of a danger to himself and others than Senior Humongo. Taking his alpha male attitude and sibling rivalry to degrees that are flat-out sociopathic, Nick fires a loaded gun at his brother after degrading Donna over her refusal to fuck him. That is his introduction, mind you, and he only gets more aggravating after he hops aboard the boat. Seriously, brother Eric deserves sainthood for putting up with Nick's dangerous personality.
Equally frustrating is Donna, her character coming across as particularly shallow and bubble-headed in her interactions with the heroine as well as Bert. Although, the one moment she redeems herself is when, after picking blueberries and storing them in her blouse (credit William Gray's own lover at the time), she decides to warm up the wounded, hypothermic Bert by rubbing her bare abdomen over his chilly body. At least Donna has a sense of ingenuity in her one-dimensionality, and the alluring Joy Boushel, for all that she is given, gamely delivers the welcome quotient of nudity.
Janit Baldwin as Carla is likewise clearly underwritten, with nothing to do but quip and whine. David Wallace has less time to develop a convincing on-screen relationship with Janet Julian than he did with fellow transitioning TV actress Mary McDonough all throughout Mortuary, but he's just as affable here. But it's the ravishing Ms. Julian who is our designated Final Girl, with her headband of heroism and the story's attempts to have her arc equal the tragic fate of Ida Parsons. There's even an unintentional trace of Amy Steel in Sandy's psychological ploy to avoid getting killed by play-acting the role of the monster's mum.
Humongous has endured over time because of its cinematography, which is darker than usual because of the choice to use naturalistic lighting. Whereas Prom Night was more gauzy and garish, Lynch opted for a grittier mise-en-scène that, once again, has Lynch trying to relate the vantage point of his characters with that of the viewer. The fallacy of this technique was made sunshine clear by the poor quality of VHS, where Humongous was left to rot after its lack of a theatrical push from Embassy Pictures. Scorpion's DVD is the first readily available home video edition to have been mastered with greater emphasis on boosting the contrast levels, which reveals for the first time much more perceivable detail in the decomposing environment of canine corpses and smashed-up boats. Such improved visual quality does wonders for noted Cronenberg alumni Carol Spier and Barbara Dunphy's (The Dead Zone) art direction.
Essentially, the movie comes off less like Joe D'Amato's Anthropophagus and more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with Lynch throwing in some cock-eyed Dutch angles, split-diopter lenses and implied scenes of brutal violence as flavor. Not too many 1980s slasher films boast of a fast-edited double homicide which relies on three contrasting sound effects and the ironic invocation of the word "dead." The monster's shadow-obscured presence works well even if, like Tobe Hooper's classic, the chase scenes between Sandy and the killer rely on slow-moving pursuits in the woods where the prey is literally one step ahead of the predator, who has to move timber just to advance forward.
Like Mortuary, its timing didn't help obscure the movie's blatant derivations from prior films in the cycle. Humongous does manage to be creepy and crafty enough to warrant a recommendation for those seeking a "Greatest Hits"-style assembly of comfortable slasher movie beats.
Scorpion presents an uncut edition of Humongous which restores the opening rape sequence and the attacker's gruesome comeuppance to their intended squeamishness, with the laughably truncated R-rated edit thrown in as a bonus. To reiterate, this transfer shows more care was taken upon delineating shadows and tightening up the blackness than the old VHS releases. Details and colors in settings both indoors and out have also come into sharper focus. Yet comparing this to Mortuary and House on Sorority Row, both of which were mastered from archival film elements, it seems like the widescreen (1.78:1) image herein was sourced from a tape master. Flesh tones and backgrounds also appear hazy at times, with the occasional jagged edges and video-based noise. This restoration, if not the fulfillment of its digital debut potential, suggests what the film should have looked like the first time it was released on VHS. Just remember to watch it with the lights out.
The Dolby Digital mono track is just perfect in regards to Gary Robbins' grunting and braying as the titular Humongo, the electronic John Mills-Cockell soundtrack and the delirious foley effects used to simulate cracked spines and crushed heads. Dialogue sounds a bit lowly-mixed, with some minor distortion, but it's clear and consistent enough for you to at least hear the Canadian accents.
Aside from the trailer and censored beginning scene, the best extra included is an audio commentary with Paul Lynch and William Gray. Although Nathaniel Thompson and Katarina Leigh Waters both pull moderation duty, both the director and the writer do a solid job of carrying this feature-length track with a steady stream of anecdotes, opinions (Lynch tears into the PG-13 remake of Prom Night from 2008 while championing the gay-friendly 1988 DTV sequel Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss) and filmmaking specifics. There are duly noted allusions to both Psycho and Scooby-Doo, and the film's botched releases theatrically and on VHS are addressed up close and personally.
Said commentary is indispensable and elevates Humongous to a worthy purchase, but the blue ribbon unanimously goes to Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row. Not only the most beloved and entertaining of the three spotlighted features, it's the only title in the "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" catalog thus far fit for a two-disc collector's edition bonanza. More definitive in terms of extras and tech specs than the 2010 Liberation DVD, which was billed as the "25th Anniversary Edition" yet released after the crummy 2009 remake Sorority Row vanished from theaters, Scorpion have stepped up to the plate with arguably the best package afforded to an 1980s slasher movie since we got the uncut My Bloody Valentine from Lions Gate on both S-DVD and Blu-Ray.
How great is this movie? Let me count the ways. First, there's soap opera titan Eileen Davidson as the immortal Pi Theta Queen B. Vicki. It is she who instigates the cruel prank against iron-fisted, clinically insane, dove-embossed cane-wielding housemother Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt, excellent despite being an ADR casualty) which naturally goes awry and dooms her and the six other graduating sorority sisters. All she wanted to do was have responsible if frisky sex on her daddy's new waterbed, but that mean old bitch just had to interfere. Who can't sympathize with that?! Davidson's juicy character performance may have sealed her fate on the afternoon serials circuit, but it's really one of the most memorable roles in the history of the slasher movie.
Second, there's the botched joke itself, which involves Vicki loading her boyfriend's gun with mostly blanks but also a few live rounds for the illusion of business. It ends innocently enough until Mrs. Slater whacks Vicki with that pesky cane, resulting in an accidental discharge that takes Mrs. Slater out, supposedly, for good. It's one of the more gracefully handled set-ups of any body count film, and the outcome finds the girls desperately trying to act nonchalant and continue with their planned fiesta, replete with "Everything is coming up roses" banner and live performance by then-budding new wave act 4 Out of 5 Doctors, who were signed to Nemperor/CBS but didn't exactly turn out to be the New Romantics many hoped they'd be. It's the perfect 1980s microcosm, all satirical self-preservation, compromised morality and a surefire time capsule of what was then considered au courant.
Thirdly, there's Mark Rosman's direction itself, which is ambitious where it counts (the panning between all seven sisters in the crowd trying their best to carry on despite their guilt) and proficient all the rest of the way through. Rosman admits to feeling more love for the films of Hitchcok and Frankenheimer than the actual horror genre, which helps in steering the film towards a more shock-oriented atmosphere. It's no surprise to see characters walking around alone and in clearly unsafe environs, but damned if Rosman doesn't find the right beats to emphasize and the perfect timing to unleash the pay-offs. It all leads to a finale involving the typically decent heroine Kate (Kathryn McNeil) and an overzealous doctor who sedates her for the sake of trapping the slasher, taut and effective with plenty of dead-on jump scares and trippy, nightmarish edits. His screenplay also shows a fine sense of economy.
The dopey humor (like the obese partygoer in the pool claiming "I'm a sea pig!"), the requisite encounter with the law (as two of the girls try to sneak Mrs. Slater's corpse off the property via dumpster) and the overall anxiety of the girls plight to keep their secret are all utilized at the right time and with a droll sense of playfulness. Rosman doesn't pitch these elements too broadly, which results in a natural sense of tension release or sudden suspense. There's very little lagging space in this 90-minute film, which is to Rosman's credit. Alas, despite an early gig working as one of the film school student co-directors on Brian De Palma's Home Movies (1980), his later career is defined primarily by Hilary Duff vehicles.
Fourth, the female ensemble fit in naturally as both sisters and conspirators. Maybe it was watching this film for the first time two years after enduring the insufferable Sorority Row, which played up the shallow and bland natures of its main characters to contemptuous degrees. Rosman intended a movie which presents all seven sisters as culpable, true, but never loses track of their vulnerability and appeal. They also worked together well as a whole, from the stewardess-in-training Stevie (Ellen Dorsher), bohemian law student Diane (introducing the lively Harley Jane Kozak), Vicki's right hand woman Liz (Janis Ward), braided-hair bumpkin Jeanie (Robin Meloy), and yes, even hard-drinking, spaced-out blonde Morgan (Jodi Draigie). Even crazy old Mrs. Slater, herself the damaged product of a fertility experiment that went amiss, engenders a certain tragic weight by use of vintage photographs and antiquated children's toys.
I also found the moments of splatter, which Rosman admits were not his top priority, to be terse and queasy where they count. Make-up FX artist Kenny Myers (The Return of the Living Dead) does fake own death in the film's most obvious post-production concession to the gore crowd. The technical credits also include a fine musical score courtesy of Richard Band that was conducted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra(!), art direction from Vincent Peranio of John Waters' "Dreamland" repertoire (easy pickings given the Baltimore shooting locale) and an early cinematography credit for Tim Suhrstedt (Critters, Little Miss Sunshine).
Distributed by Elite Entertainment and Liberation in previous short-lived DVD packages, only the latter sported a solid print sourced from 35mm plus a spate of extras which included an audio commentary by Rosman, McNeil and Davidson. Scorpion's high-definition anamorphic 1.78:1 remaster ought to be an improvement over the previous editions not just in terms of supplementary material, but also a/v quality. Like Mortuary, you'll notice soft spots in certain scenes, an unobtrusive if visible grain level and mild print defects. That's it for negatives, though, as we get a colorful, crisp image with no compression issues or glaring inconsistencies in detail. The Dolby 2.0 monaural audio gets a passing grade, too. Much more basic than the Liberation disc, which expanded the mix to 5.1 stereo surround, it holds together well despite some rough dialogue dubs. Richard Band's score has fluid fidelity and dialogue never dipped into inscrutability.
Recycled from the Liberation disc is the aforementioned group commentary, a peppy affair that's just as production-specific as it is nitpicky (McNeil and Davidson jostle each other and much of the on-screen action with glee), a storyboard comparison feature, a photo gallery, Rosman's standalone recount of the film's original ending (briefly laid over a production still), and the original theatrical trailer. All of these appear on the first DVD alongside the feature presentation, as do a quartet of television spots and requisite promo reel for "Katarina's Nightmare Theater." Katarina Leigh Waters' optional mix of good-humored comedy bits, factoids and final thoughts are just as delightful as on the previous sets.
This time around, Waters spearheads a few of the exclusive bonuses, beginning with a new feature-length commentary where Mark Rosman flies solo. A straightforward Q&A give-and-take between the two allows Rosman more focus and room to elaborate upon much of the issues discussed in the prior track, such as set modifications and limitations, evolutions of his script (Bobby Fine is credited with much of the comedy), many late-breaking financial pitfalls, and his reception of the remake, that he defends as "a movie of its time" (make of that what you will), which gave Rosman an easy executive producer credit after some confusion over rights ownership and reunited him with Davidson and McNeil on both the red carpet and likely in the recording studio.
Harley Jane Kozak talks about her film career in a 42-minute interview, filmed without Waters' moderation and relying on a single camera set-up, that offers a wealth of mostly fond, often candid recollections. On the subject of The House on Sorority Row, Kozak remembers the actresses' $50 daily salary provided they were actually called upon to be in the scene, Rosman's Zen-like composure in the wake of numerous first-time dilemmas and the film's "premiere" screening in one of the old downtown grindhouses. Kozak later achieved breakout status with back-to-back high profile roles in Ron Howard's Parenthood and Frank Marshall's Arachnophobia. By the time she starred in 1997's Dark Planet alongside Michael York, doubts began to creep in about the integrity of sticking to the B-list actor path. Now mostly known for her mystery novels (Dating Dead Men, Dating Is Murder, Dead Ex), Kozak was kind enough to write an essay on the 1983 and 2009 Sorority Rows for the compilation tome Butchers Knives and Body Counts (whereas Rosman applauds the remake's handheld camerawork, Kozak felt disoriented enough that she was convinced she had Swine Flu).
Moving on to the second disc, Waters sits down with Mark Rosman (22:21), Kate McNeil (14:22) and Eileen Davidson (7:12) for a trio of "Kat's Eyes" interview featurettes. There will be very little that's revelatory when viewed alongside three hours' worth of commentary material, especially in regards to Rosman's memories about the film. Still, both actresses look fantastic still and take the time to not just talk about humble beginnings and later career peaks (McNeil starring in George Romero's Monkey Shines, Davidson's tenure on The Young and the Restless) but also their current vocations. Davidson, like Kozak, has moved on to writing and McNeil, who talks the most about her on-set experience amongst the trio, is now a special education teacher.
The set wraps up with another hour's worth of direct-to-camera interview segments. First is a comprehensive spotlight on composer Richard Band, who gets into specifics about the musical themes as well as the difficulty of his editing process at the time, which was handled via memory banks and 400 pages of notes. After nearly 20 minutes, Band goes back in time to recount what drew him to become a composer whilst growing up in Rome and goes down the memory lane of his other projects from Laserblast to Time Walker ("I just remember the mummy on skates") to his producer sibling's numerous Empire/Full Moon genre efforts to his recent Emmy-nominated return to horror reuniting with Stuart Gordon on a Masters of Horror episode. The second belongs to Igo Kantor, Film Ventures' in-house producer, who oversaw the post-production of House on Sorority Row (he remembers editing down the finale, which felt like a double-ending, for simplification) and brought Band on board. Kantor also recounts Montoro's paradoxical business savvy, which led to Kantor going to South Africa to film a sequel to a successful Italian pick-up called Kill or Be Killed.
Movie grades: 2/5 (Mortuary); 2.5/5 (Humongous); 4/5 (The House on Sorority Row).
Video grades: 3.5/5 (Mortuary); 3/5 (Humongous); 4/5 (HSR).
Audio grades: 4/5 (Mortuary); 3/5 (Humongous); 4/5 (HSR).
Extras grades: 2/5 (Mortuary); 3/5 (Humongous); 4.5/5 (HSR).
Final grades: 2.5/5 (Mortuary); 3/5 (Humongous); 4/5 (HSR).
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