Saturday, March 26, 2022

Sorority House Massacre II (1990)

... aka: Night Frenzy
... aka: Nightie Nightmare
... aka: Nighty Nightmare
... aka: Nocny koszmar
... aka: Sorority House Massacre 2: Nighty Nightmare

Directed by:
Jim Wynorski

Few films have had a more irritating reception than this one! It seems like most viewers fall into one of three camps: Those who think this is flat out terrible, those who find this hilarious in a SBIG kind of way and those who view this as a wholly-self-aware, intentionally witty and surprisingly clever slasher-exploitation flick. A reasonable case could probably be made by those who think this is bad because, well, that's in the personal taste / humor is subjective / "Hey, that's just like your opinion, man!" realm. An even better case could be made for the third group because they actually get it. However, saying this is unintentionally funny is complete bs. This is so obviously poking fun at itself the entire time that it absolutely floors me that anyone could find the humor accidental!

I also disagree with many of the other criticisms this title frequently gets, starting with claims that the cast is bad. While the performances are variable, they are mostly no worse than what you'd find in other 80s / 90s slasher flicks, even the ones Hollywood was cranking out around the same time. I'd even go one step further and say these actors are far more enjoyable! Even the lesser talents are more personable and charming than the assembly line fodder you usually get. If you're anything like me you'd much rather tolerate the occasional awkward line reading than suffer bland indifference from a cast and crew who obviously don't really care, especially if that means everyone is trying their best, enthusiastic about what they're doing and appear to be having a great time. You get that in abundance here.

Other frequent complaints are also mostly bunk; usually centering around the large amount of nudity in the film. To that I say, yeah. So what? Is that a crime? What exactly are you expecting from something called Sorority House Massacre II? Why would you even view a film with scantily-clad girls plastered all over the poster and the tagline "cleavage vs. cleavers" and then bitch about the nudity? There's an even more curious subset of slasher fans who take offense that this isn't anything like the original SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, nor is it really a legitimate sequel to that film. To that I say: Good! The original was a straightforward, humorless rip-off of HALLOWEEN and was muddled, dreary and pretty damn boring. So why not just pour on the sleaze and humor?

Five college girls - Linda ("Robyn Harris" aka Gail Harris), Jessica (Melissa Moore), Janey (Dana Bentley), Kimberly (Stacia Zhivago) and Suzanne (Michelle Verran) - move into their newly-purchased sorority house a day early with hopes of meeting up with the movers and phone / utilities people the following morning. However, they were apparently able to get their water turned on early, which, as we'll soon see, comes in handy in several later scenes. Unbeknownst to all of the girls but one, they've just moved into a former mass murder site called the Old Hockstatter Place. Five years earlier, a psycho named Clive Hockstatter murdered his entire family there before being put down by the neighbors. The house has remained vacant ever since.

The ladies are promptly visited by the portly, creepy, crater-faced, monotone, unflappable next door neighbor Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos), who tells them all about the home's sordid history. (Clips from THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE are used for the flashbacks, which has confused a lot of people over the years. For the record, this was not conceived as a sequel to either the original SHM or SPM and was simply re-titled to give it a better chance on the cable / video market.) After the murders, Orville was paid by the cops to straighten up the place (i.e. clean up the blood) and has been a caretaker of sorts there ever since. He gives the girls a key to the basement (which he pulls out from the front of his pants!) and leaves, but will be keeping a watchful eye over the place when he isn't watching clips of Hollywood Boulevard on TV, peeping in windows and scarfing down bowls of cubed raw meat! Instead of being a cheap throwaway side role, Ketchum is instead used to satirize the obvious red herring character always found in these kind of films and is amusingly played by Spellos.

After some dinner, some beer, some showering (understand why the water was turned on early now?) and some changing into skimpy thong undies and teddies, the ladies venture into the basement where ole Clive kept all of his murder weapons. There, they find a blood-spattered doll and a OUIJA board. Since there's nothing else to do, they light up the fireplace and contact a spirit guide with the board, asking him to talk to Hockstatter. Instead, the "diviner" shoots into the fireplace and it erupts in flames. Only slightly spooked by that strange occurrence, the girls decide to call it a night. A mysterious prowler armed with a hook then kills them off one-by-one. The occasional scream coming from the home has already been reported to the police, but Lt. Mike Block (Jürgen Baum) and Sgt. Phyllis Shawlee ("Karen Chorak" / Toni Naples) can't make it to the home right away due to a thunderstorm and some flooding. Instead, they make a b-line to the nearest strip club to interview a survivor of the previous massacre, Candy (Bridget Carney), who's kind enough to first treat us to a long strip routine.

When he's at his best, Wynorski has this amazing ability to wallow around in the seedier side of the genre while not making viewers feel like they need to take a shower afterward thanks to his ample use of self-aware humor, pleasant actors and lighter, sillier moments. In this one he throws the blood around pretty liberally and his camera lingers on naked or half-naked women the entire time but just the gratuitousness of it all makes it amusing to watch. Wynorski has also seldom been given credit for being able to slap together a competent film (back when films were actually SHOT on film) is such a small window of time. This one was made in just a week, but it's well-lit and photographed, even managing to capture a good old dark house atmosphere in the process. He's helped immensely in the mood department by a great score from the always-reliable Chuck Cirino.

I liked all five of the main girls well enough. We have 6-foot-tall blonde Moore, who had prior genre experience in (even lower-budgeted) Donald Farmer films, and Bentley (who had been in Fred Olen Ray's Bad Girls From Mars), both acquitting themselves fairly well. Verran is probably the weakest of the five, but considering all she'd done before this was porn (using the name Barbii), she's not too bad. The real wild card is Zhivago, who doesn't appear to have done anything else before OR after this. No one seems to know what happened to her, or why she vanished into thin air right after this, or even what her real name is. It's not too uncommon for an aspiring actress to do one film like this, decide it's not for them and just brush it all behind them and move on with their life, but I'd still love to know what she thinks about the film, especially since she's one of the better actors. So, where'd you go "Stacia Zhivago"? Come say hello!

However, my absolute favorite is the Brit-born fireball Harris, who is basically in the same category as Moore as a former model turned second string Scream Queen who never quite reached the level of success as top dogs like Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens. Regardless, she's very cute, spunky and funny and just throws everything she's got into the proceedings, right down to getting drenched in blood, screaming her head off and doing all of her own stunt work. This film wouldn't be nearly as successful without her in the lead role. Also putting in a brief appearance as a stripper is Shannon Wilsey, who purchased some larger breasts soon after this and became adult film superstar Savannah. This is one of just four non-porn films she appeared in (every role except for The Invisible Maniac was a nude bit part) before taking her own life in 1994.

The budget was 150,000 dollars and this utilizes leftover sets from other Concorde / New Horizons productions like SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III. Julie Corman produced under the name "Shelly Stoker" and it was supposedly filmed behind husband Roger's back when he was out of the country. When Roger finally did view the finished product, he was impressed enough to give Wynorski the green light to make another similar film, which was first called Tower of Terror before being re-titled HARD TO DIE (1990). A fourth film was also made by Wynorski and produced by Corman called Sorority House Massacre III: The Final Exam. Despite being completed in 2002, the film has yet to be released.

A few "mistakes" like visible boom mic shadows, visible panties during showers and (most amusingly) a bottle seen squirting blood during a murder scene would likely be corrected if this was ever given a widescreen release in the proper aspect ratio. The only DVD releases thus far (part of New Horizon's "Massacre Collection" line) have been full screen and none have been properly remastered, though I quite like the sometimes-grainy look of the full screen presentation.

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