"The House on Sorority Row" is a better-than-average sisters-in-jeopardy thriller, which might be expected from 25-year-old producer-director-writer Mark Rosman. After all, he served an apprenticeship with master of the macabre, Brian DePalma, and if Rosman's debut is a bit ragged in its bloodlines, it does as credible a job of exploring collegiate bonding as DePalma's "Carrie" did for teen-age anxiety.
The film, which opened recently at area theaters, was shot in Baltimore two summers ago and originally titled "Seven Sisters." In the newly title work, the "house" is more than a home to the somewhat strange house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt). A quick, misty flashback suggests that on a dark and stormy June night 20 years earlier, she had "a birthing problem." In the intervening years, her house has turned into the Pi Theta sorority house. Mrs. Slater always cleared the house by June 19, but this year's crop, unaware of the past as prologue, has decided to have a school-ending bash against Mrs. Slater's wishes. Though they basically are good girls, one leads them into a fatal prank.
The ultimate motivation and the acting out of revenge are fairly standard, though perhaps a bit less graphic than current trends. What makes "Sorority House" work is the solid effort from the sorority sisters. A believable year-end giddiness is subtly replaced by a genuine reluctance to haze Mrs. Slater; after her apparent demise, the guilt seems genuine, especially as the tension of having to carry on with the party dissolves into internalized hysteria. There's little jokiness to the girls' attempts to hide the body and as the disposal crew gets smaller, the survivors' fears grow larger.
The sisters are solid all around, with the best turns coming from Eileen Davidson as the sultry and nasty-but-not-evil Vicky (for her, things go from bed to worse) and the vibrantly healthy Kathryn McNeil as the really nice, intellectual-type Kathy.
Richard H. Band's lush, string-laden sound track is quite Bernard Hermannish and probably deserves a bigger, if not necessarily better, film. Washingtonians will be particularly proud of local rockers Four Out of Five Doctors, whose cameo extends for five numbers and actually serves to advance the plot. If that plot is a little thin, the toppings are rich enough to make "The House on Sorority Row" easy to stomach. THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW
Written and directed by Mark Rosman; music by Richard H. Band; executive producers John Ponchock and W. Thomas McMahon; produced by Mark Rosman and John G. Clark for Wheeler Film Co. Rated R; approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. THE CAST Vicky . . . . Eileen Davidson Kathy . . . . Kathryn McNeil