The Wynorski Project
Part Eight & Nine
Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die
Sorority House Massacre II Synopsis
Five voluptuous members of a local sorority find themselves tasked with the clean up and renovation of their new chapter house. Before they begin working they’re visited by their weird neighbor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them the story of how the house’s previous resident, a maniac named Hokstader, went nuts and murdered most of his family before finally being killed himself. After a hard night of work, the girls decide to hold a lingerie Ouija board séance and unwittingly unleash the spirit of the murderer back into their midst. By possessing the bodies of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville’s the only one who doesn’t die.
Hard To Die Synopsis
Five voluptuous temp and fulltime employees of a local lingerie company find themselves tasked with performing the annual inventory. Before they begin working they’re visited by the building’s weird janitor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them about his experience with a maniac named Hokstader, who went nuts and murdered five girls before finally being killed himself. Going through the boxes they have to inventory they inadvertently open a Chinese spirit box that contains the spirit of the murderer. By possessing the body of one of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (not quite as many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville finds true love at last.
Somewhere around October of last year, I sat down and watched Sorority House Massacre II and it kind of blew my mind. Not because I thought it was an amazing piece of cinema—it’s really pretty fucking terrible—but because it played so fast and loose with the idea of what qualifies as a horror movie sequel, going so far as to not only completely ignore the first Sorority House Massacre, but to actually employ flashback footage from a completely different series that had—by that time—already been sequelized twice.
The chutzpah of this is one thing, but when you go on to consider that while making SHM II Wynorski decided to reshoot the same script with only a handful of minor character and location adjustments and release it as an “original” movie called Hard To Die (which despite it’s title and advertising bares no resemblance to Die Hard) and you quickly come to appreciate that the famously bearded director has what must be the biggest pair of balls in the known universe. Or—at the very least—a pathological inability to experience shame.
If The Return of Swamp Thing represents the closest approximation of what Wynorski could have accomplished if he were a more ambitious, less cynical filmmaker, than the one-two punch of SHM II and Hard To Die serve as the harbingers of the jaded, dispassionate hackmeister he would eventually become.
Despite featuring all of the hallmarks of his established oeuvre, the two films mark the first time where his poking fun at the conventions of genre filmmaking no longer seems affectionate, but instead actively derisive. Whereas once his in-jokes seemed to be made in collaboration with his audience, now they seem to come at the expense of them. If before the subtext of his humour was “Hey, isn’t this stuff cool?” here it turns into a much darker and less entertaining, “So, this is the shit you assholes want, huh? Here it is.”
That this anger comes through despite the abundant spectacle of T&A he uses to disguise it, explains why I found the experience of watching SHM II so fascinating. How could something be so simultaneously craven and transgressive? And at what point does a filmmaker abandoning all personal dignity to give his audience exactly what he thinks they want, actually become a form of hostile artistic expression—the cinematic equivalent of the infamous Baltimore stripper described by John Waters, who used to shout “What the fuck are you looking at?” to the men watching her take off her clothes.
Without a commentary to explain the decisions that went into the making of the two films I am forced to guess at the reasons behind them, which is always a dangerous thing to do, but also a large part of what I find so intellectually intriguing about such stubbornly anti-intellectual films.
It doesn’t help that the credits only add to the confusion. SHM II is credited (on the actual print, not via the IMDb) to Bob Sheridan and James B. Rogers (a protégé of the Farraly Brothers who would eventually direct American Pie II), while Hard To Die is credited to Rogers and Mark McGee despite the fact the rewrite required to differentiate the two films couldn’t have taken more than a single day to complete. Wynorski takes full directing credit on SHM II, but credits the job on Hard To Die to Arch Stanton, a pseudonym I’m assuming is a reference to the name on the grave where the gold is buried in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
What I am 100% certain about is that in 1986 Roger Corman produced a movie called Sorority House Massacre. It’s an exceptionally unexceptional slasher effort; made memorable only by how ardently it rips off the plot beats of John Carpenter’s Halloween. And it would have been very easy to use footage from the film as flashback fodder for the sequel, but that isn’t what happened. Instead, at some point the decision was made to use footage from the original Slumber Party Massacre in its place.
And it would seem that this was a decision made while the script was being written, since the backstory Orville Ketchum tells the girls in both SHM II and Hard To Die bears no relation to the story of Sorority House Massacre. It also bears no relation to the story of Slumber Party Massacre either, but that’s easily solved via editing and Ketchem’s narration. Interestingly the story he tells changes in the two movies, despite the fact that the exact same footage is shown in both films.
The biggest question this begs is, simply, why? It would seem to me that the minimal time and effort expended to incorporate the footage from SPM into SHM II could have just as easily been used to change the script enough to justify SHM II’s sequel status, rather than confuse things with scenes from another franchise. Was it a matter of authentic confusion (it’s not hard to mix up the titles of the films), outright indifference, some random legal impediment (such as one of the actors in the original film refusing to have their likeness appear in the sequel) or just a deliberate “Fuck you!” to anyone devoted enough to the genre to notice?
Whatever the reason, the end result is a film that almost becomes its own meta-commentary on the strange relationship genre fans have with horror movie franchises that often seem to exist for no other reason than to anger and disappoint them.
While the motive behind turning a project into a franchise is the same regardless of genre—capitalizing on previous success—the nature of the horror genre dramatically lowers the standard by which that previous success is judged. During the 80s and 90s, the decision to make a horror movie sequel wasn’t based on how many people it was believed actually wanted to see it, but rather by how many video cassette units it was believed the sequel could sell. Video store operators were just as guilty as audiences of preferring the recognizable to the new and were much more likely to order the latest Leprechaun sequel than something original, despite the fact that no one you ever met ever actually claimed any desire to see Leprechaun 4: In Space.
For that reason, there were many franchise films that bore absolutely no relation to each other, often because they were retitled by their distributors simply to capitalize on a marketable name. SHM II would seem to be one of those films, but it takes the added step of implying it’s actually a sequel to a completely different franchise, one that by 1990 was already three films strong. The implication being that when it came to these kinds of films, the title was meaningless, so long as it sold a videotape, which made the actual content itself only an afterthought.
The cynicism of this appears to have inspired Wynorski to make two films that would seem to exist on no other than the most base exploitation movie level—80 minutes of non-stop tits, ass and blood—but he does so in such an extreme fashion that they transcend their LCD ambitions and force the viewer to reconsider what they are watching and why they are watching it. His apparent antipathy infecting the material in such a way that it actually achieves a strange measure of relevance.
Things get even more bizarre when you realize that two years later, Wynorski’s friend and sometime-collaborator would essentially remake both SHM II and Hard To Die as Evil Toons.
But, unfortunately, it’s getting late and I have to wrap this up so I can get it formatted and posted before the day ends. Next week I shall actually discuss the content of the films, such as they are.
Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die