By Diane Hoh.
Maxie McKeon feels honoured to belong to the most prestigious sorority at Salem University. She loves living with her Omega Phi Delta sisters: President Erica; Candie – the daughter of Omega royalty; and roommate, Tinker, in their comfortable sorority house, looked after by house mother, Mrs B. But not everyone has quite as high an opinion of the Omegas as they have of themselves. The Lester dorm roomie Maxie left behind, Jenna, is scathing in her assessment of sororities, especially the one her friend abandoned her for. Maxie’s boyfriend, Brendan, is also resentful of how much of Maxie’s time is taken up by sorority obligations. And then there are two of Omega’s more unhinged rejects, Isabella and Holly, who cannot get over their pledges being turned down.
The sisters are mostly oblivious to their enemies on campus, until one begins to make him/herself aggressively obvious. Cherished items go missing; their pantry is deliberately infested with ants; their fridge is crammed with garbage. Soon their tormentor’s actions turn dangerous, even deadly. New pledge Cath, recently arrived from Nightmare Hall, breaks her arm during a hazing stunt which turns out to have been sabotaged. Then half the girls come down with what looks like botulism and turns out to be poisoning-by-insect killer. And Maxie injures her ankle running away from the perpetrator, after they blag their way into the house masquerading as an outlandish hairdresser.
Whilst the perp’s motivation remains obscured, their method of accessing the house to carry out their dastardly deeds – by adopting a succession of wildly diverse and brilliant disguises – quickly becomes clear. Soon the Omegas are terrified of every stranger they meet, and dread whatever horrible punishment is next in store.
It’s unsurprising there is a Nightmare Hall instalment set in a sorority house; it’s a classic setting for horror and works a treat in films like Black Christmas and The House on Sorority Row. I was therefore looking forward to this entry, with high expectations. The underwhelming plot, however, does not live up to its gift of a setting. Going down the whodunit route is fine, but having the perp appear repeatedly in broad daylight, albeit in disguise, grates against believability. These sisters live together, eat together, spend most of their waking hours together, but all it takes is a bit of make-up and a wig or a tissue in front of the face to make one of them completely unrecognisable? And we know it must be a sister doing these things, because so little care and attention is given to developing those characters outwith the sorority, that if it had turned out to be one of them, I’d have felt seriously short-changed.
Sorority Sister is rarely dull, but it doesn’t feel particularly engaging and it’s not much fun. Still, there are a couple of exciting set-pieces, particularly the one involving the hot-pink/lime-green clad fake hairdresser, Tia Maria. I concede that my expectations were too high, given the prime subject matter and setting, and my affection for the aforementioned films, but I still feel an opportunity has been wasted.
A sorority house may be a horror standard, but it also has the problem that the girls are always together, providing each other with a ready-made support network. They share the trauma and that dilutes the fear. Because of this, Sorority Sister never feels particularly scary until Maxie faces off against the perp alone – first as Tia Maria and again in the finale. And even then, it stretches our belief that none of the other girls are home (or about to get home meaning Maxie could easily be saved at any moment). I’d rather Sorority Sister had copied the sublime Black Christmas (1974) in setting the action during a vacation period. A few scared girls in a big empty house would be considerably more effective fear fodder than a place teeming with activity, vitality and supportive sisters.