I went to a showing of Sorority Row at my local Movie Tavern expecting the usual from a modern remake of yet another 80s slasher. I leaned ...

Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves in Sorority Row

I went to a showing of Sorority Row at my local Movie Tavern expecting the usual from a modern remake of yet another 80s slasher. I leaned back in my seat and prepared for an hour and a half screaming bimbos being pursued by a masked killer with a pimped out tire iron. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a film that critiques the sorority system as one that revolves around male stereotypes of women and argues that female solidarity can only exist outside such an oppressive system.

To give a broad synopsis of the film, five sorority sisters are stalked by a vengeful killer after a prank ends in the death of their friend Megan. They are Cassidy, the hold-out; Ellie, the nerd; Chugs, the alcoholic; Jessica the queen bee and Claire. In on the secret is Garrett, the one technically responsible for killing Megan.

Looking first at the hooded killer, it is obvious that he represents a patriarchal threat much like the psycho paterfamilias in the original Stepfather, the remake of which is due out next month. The killer is clad in a graduation hood worn exclusively by Greek (as in fraternity) males in the film. Interestingly, Jessica’s boyfriend Kyle is dressed in the same outfit during an altercation with Cassidy as she tries to call 911. Here Kyle becomes a double for the killer as he exerts the same oppressive force over women, pinning Cassidy against the wall to prevent her escape.

The killer’s weapon of choice is also spicier than the usual knife or chainsaw. It starts out as the lug wrench Garret plunged into Megan’s chest. The killer adds some upgrades to the original design, including a knife and a retractable grappling hook. The killer’s “re -tooling” (pun intended) of the lug wrench is an example of Freud’s fetishization of the penis that turns the physical male organ into a metaphysical totem of power (a theme that continually recurs in horror films like American Psycho and Halloween).

This is nowhere more apparent than when the killer shoves the lug wrench into Jessica’s mouth and out the back of her head. His phallic totem silences her and he comments, “That bitch never knew when to shut up.” This theme of silencing women is also reflected in the very oral death of Chugs.

Though the killer can be construed as a patriarchal threat to his female victims, his choice of male victims can also be read as punishment of men who oppress or take advantage of women. The first of these is the sleazy psychiatrist who plies Chugs with the promise of prescription samples if she’ll sleep with him. Chugs agrees but when she loses track of the lecherous therapist she calls out “I don’t have time for 'catch me, rape me’,” suggesting that the good doctor enjoys victimizing women, at least in fantasy. He is quickly dispatched ninja-style by the business end of the killer’s modified tire iron. This critique of the male psychiatric institution is similar to the one raised in Dracula’s Daughter, as Dr. Garth fails to probe the secrets of the female mind.

Following swiftly on the psychiatrist’s death is that of Claire’s boyfriend, Mickey the “dick”. He tries to take advantage of a pair of girls by offering them wristbands for the party if they flash a little skin. The girls err on the side of better judgment and decline, but the killer still takes care of Mickey in the abandoned dumb waiter.

The motives of the killer (revealed in the film) resemble those of the sorority which is bent on shaping women according to a male stereotype. Kyle’s Senator dad tells Jessica that there are girls you marry and others you just fool around with, and he hopes she’s the former considering her origins in Theta Pi.

But true sisterhood is forged when women band together to break out of this system of oppression. The sorority is a joke, and most of Jessica’s comedic moments come with the lack of sisterhood that can be found among the sisters of Theta Pi. As Megan’s sister leaves the safety of the bedroom to confront the killer Jessica tells her “Oh no. Don’t go out there,” mimicking true concern. As the other girls turn on her she replies "What? I tried to warn her."

Read in this context, the film’s tagline “Theta Pi Must Die” refers not to sisters of Theta Pi, but the institution itself. This is made clear when the sorority house burns to the ground and swallows the killer along with his tool.

The end of the film serves as a powerful anthem of female empowerment as Cassidy, Ellie (sans glasses) and Megan’s sister rise from the ashes of the burning sorority house to the lyrics of Aimee Allen’s Emergency:

Don't touch me.
Trust me, you disgust me.
Try to shove me in your daddy’s money,
But I’m better on my own.
I got some things that I do, better on my own.
I’ll show you how you turn my insides out…
Get the hell away from me, it’s an emergency.
Turn me black and blue.
Get the hell away from me.
All of my friends are free.
I got to break away from you.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review/analysis! I want to see this now - I have read some scathing reviews that indicated they either didn't get it, or they don't watch horror movies.