HAD anybody become a little sick or queasy at last week's private premiere of "The House on Sorority Row," Four Out of Five Doctors would have recommended seeing the film again and then possibly taking two aspirin. After all, the Doctors were not only in the house (theater) but in "The House" (film). Washington's rockers figure prominently in this low-budget but fairly well-done "cleave 'em and leave 'em" feature, shot two summers ago in Baltimore. They perform five songs during the year-end party that takes up about 40 central minutes of the film's action.
"We thought they ought to change the name of the film to 'Picks and Chicks,' " says Jeff Severson, the group's keyboard player, recalling not only the film's propensity for sharp instruments of dispatch but the craziness of a long night's shooting in Baltimore. Adds guitarist George Pittaway, "I couldn't believe as much disorganization as I thought I was seeing could possibly wind up as a coherent movie."
Sorority sisters weren't the only thing "not live" in the film: the band lip-synced its parts "just like American Bandstand. We initially wanted to get a 24-track remote truck and do it all live, but the expense made that impossible." Pittaway wasn't all that comfortable with the process, adding that "it's even weirder to watch yourself later than it is to actually do it." Four out of five songs were from the group's namesake debut album, while " 'Waiting for Roxanne' was a rough demo. We hadn't even recorded it at the time, so we just played along with the demo." The Doctors went into the studio for their follow-up, "Second Opinion," soon after finishing "Sorority Row."
Their entrance in the film, immediately following the first of many killings, is auspicious: as the sorority sisters anxiously try to figure out what to do with the body of their accidentally snuffed housemother, the Doctors' van starts snaking up the driveway. "Oh my God, the band's here! Stall them."
Symbiotic relationships between rock bands and slasher films are not unknown, though the featured bands have tended to slip into the great unknown (anyone remember Tony Coco Cola and the Roosters in "Driller Killer" or the Del-Aires in "The Horror of Party Beach?"). Neil Sedaka had a bit role and some two-bit songs in "Playgirl Killer" right before his comeback in the early '70s. Beach bashes, high school confidentials and other teen-trauma tales are more common venues for rock bands.
The Doctors landed the "Sorority" spot when a friend of theirs, working as an assistant director, got write-producer-director Mark Rossman "to come see us at the Bayou, to see if we'd be visually right for the film," Severson said. "They liked the music and the show, so they asked us to do it. But we didn't want to be just a blur of a band in the background and they promised us we would be more than that." In fact, it's when the band calls the sorority sisters to take a bow in front of the bandstand that they notice One Of Them Is Missing. The Doctors were also approached to do the full soundtrack, but were too busy planning their follow-up album. "However, we did negotiate points so that if 'Waiting for Roxanne' was a big hit we'd get 1 3/4 points or something like that because it would help sell the film," Severson said. That didn't happen and, Severson adds, "as usual, we haven't made a dime."
The Doctors could be in danger of becoming the Jamie Lee Curtis of rock bands. "Sorority House" is actually their second shocker: they also had a song in "Boogeyman." "It just seemed like a natural progression," Severson says. "In 'Boogeyman,' a couple got skewered in the midst of a passionate kiss and as their friends were driving away, one of our songs, 'Baby Bye-Bye,' is playing on the radio." Another song, "Mushroom Boy," was listed in the credits but didn't survive the final cut. And yet another Doctors song, "Dawn Patrol,' is slated for an upcoming slasher whose name the band can't quite remember. What they do remember is the all-too-short, all-too-sweet shooting schedule. "It was hard to stay up all night long with these beautiful starlets who'd been trapped in Baltimore for six weeks," Severson says. "Oh my goodness," adds Pittaway. "Eileen Davidson a blond bombshell . . . poor Tom Balew the band's drummer was reduced to a wimpering puppy in this girl's presence. He'd walk up to her and just mumble. He was completely lost!"
Pittaway was the only band member who had seen the finished film prior to its Washington run. Severson was tied up in a studio session and didn't go with the others to the "premiere" at White Flint Mall Thursday night, before it opened in neighborhood theaters "and all your better drive-ins" (the film has been doing quite well, particularly Out West). Instead, Severson caught it "on the sly" Sunday afternoon. "I didn't want to go with a whole lot of people. I was sort of skeptical about the whole production and how we were going to look. It's embarrassing to see yourself 20 feet tall. The anticipation before we came on screen was terrific. Are we going to be complete fools or are we going to look pretty nifty? It's hard looking at yourself and trying to remain objective. But it certainly was . . . different. Actually, I don't usually go to see these movies myself."