Monday, October 14, 2013

Blood Sisters (1987) dir. Roberta Findlay

Logline: A ragtag group of snooty sorority pledges must spend the night completing a scavenger hunt in a haunted former cathouse for their initiation. The elder sorority sisters' frat boyfriends have rigged the house up with spooky gags to scare the girls during their game, so the girls are in for a harrowing time of it. But aren't the ghosts they're seeing a little too convincing to be mere mirrors and holograms? And why are all of their companions disappearing one by one? What's clear is that by the end of the night these pledges will become blood sisters... of one sort or another.

Crime in the Past: A prepubescent creep attempts to bribe his schoolmate with candy and lunch money in exchange for the privilege of touching her undeveloped private parts. She, rightly, proceeds to yell that he's a pervert (and, curiously, makes a point of making fun of him for lacking a father). The boy runs back home to the whorehouse where he and his mother reside. Enraged and emotional already, he's further troubled by the sight of his mother getting touchy with another new john. He then chooses to express his feelings in the only way he knows how: by shooting his mother and her client to death with a shotgun larger than his tiny perverted body.

Bodycount: 10 beer pong cups brimming with blood, plus one plucky gal dragged off-screen into the shadows, never to flirt indiscriminately again.

Themes/Moral Code: Well, we could certainly call the film's moral code conservative. Here is a list of some of the conservative ideals and beliefs that the film's action supports: 1) Exposing children to sex at a young age corrupts their minds, usually psychotically, 2) Boys need fathers, because mothers cannot raise children alone and will abuse, pervert, and damage their children's psyches without the presence of fathers to keep them in check, 3) Modern girls are flippant about sex and often sleep around, and this will almost certainly lead them into trouble. Some of the these young women will have multiple male dates on any given weekend and those who don't are merely envious of those who do, 4) Young girls don't care about their educations, and in fact actively strive not to better themselves. (One pledge snarls about her lack of scholarly ambition at university, "Daddy's paying for it. What do I care?"), and 5) Some young women are evil, perverted lesbians who join sororities exclusively to have easier access to other nubile young women. While these first two points explain-- almost sympathetically-- the tortured plight of the film's deranged male killer, the last three rationalize that killer's actions in wiping out the amoral sorority sisters, as if they had it coming. The film has a very clear opinion about its female characters, none of whom is allowed to survive this ordeal: after death, each sorority sister appears as a lingerie-clad ghost, joining the ranks of ghost prostitutes already haunting the dilapidated cathouse. Unambiguously, the film is calling them "whores," and, moreover, whores who could only benefit the moral fiber of society by being dead. So, yes, rather conservative.

Killer's Motivation: The little matricidal pervert from the opening scene grows up to be Ross (Dan Erickson), a crossdressing psychopath who conceals his mania quite well behind a dashing, level-headed college frat boy facade. We discover that poor Ross had spent the bulk of his childhood locked in a closet because his mother strove to deny his existence whenever a client was around (to admit to having a child would make her less desirable, she believed). This physical and psychological abuse, compounded with the absence of any male role model, drove him to his violent actions as a child and their effect on him has clearly lingered on into his young adulthood. Ross' choice to stalk the sorority sisters while decked out in a frilly nightgown and bright red lipstick for the majority of the film is less explained than implied: how about them domineering mothers, huh? Though he's the film's villain, it's hard not to reason out (as stated above) that the film expresses a certain sympathy towards him. He's not inherently evil, the film appears to argue, and blame for his homicidal tendencies rest snugly in the evil that "loose" and "wicked" women do.

Final Girl: An atypical final girl, Linda (Amy Brentano) is far from the wide-eyed tomboyish prude we have come to expect in these films. For instance, she's naked and writhing around on a bed with her boyfriend within the film's first ten minutes. In addition, she's a smidgen catty to her fellow to-be sisters throughout and so, considering that she's also the orchestrator of the evening's mean-spirited pranks, she more closely resembles a slasher film's "bitchy" character than she does its heroine. She reinforces this association by her selfish actions once the goings get bloody. By being a senior member of the sorority and accompanying and supervising the pledges during their initiation, she holds a role of leadership and responsibility that the other girls look up to. So when she abandons two of her friends to certain slow death at the killer's hands in order to save her own hide near the conclusion, our opinion of her as a benevolent caretaker lessens somewhat. Also relevant is the fact that her boyfriend is revealed to be the killer, demonstrating that she sure can pick 'em. For these reasons, Linda is knocked off before the credits roll. (Technically, she's not even really the final girl-- though she performs the final girl's basic functions during the climax-- as there is one final female corpse added to the pile after her in a pre-credits stinger.) A rusty old moral maxim proves its resiliency to progressive development here in this latter day effort: if you show your boobs, you die.

Evaluation: Female slasher directors are rare birds indeed, and so I always harbor the hope after catching one's name in the credits of any given slasher film that her perspectives and sensibilities as a woman will serve to complicate, if not elevate, the standard material in thoughtful and transgressive ways while she plays in the overwhelmingly male-biased jungle gym that is horror cinema. With a woman-helmed slasher like The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), that's absolutely the case: we find that film poking fun at the slasher's fondness for employing the male gaze while labeling the subgenre's basic formula as little more than a violent male power fantasy (that is, before expertly demonstrating how swiftly that premise can be twisted into a female-driven castration nightmare). But Slumber Party Massacre was directed by Amy Holden Jones (who would go on to pen the coming-of-age chick flick epic Mystic Pizza (1988)) and written by queer feminist author Rita Mae Brown. The later Blood Sisters, on the other hand, was written and directed by the notorious Roberta Findlay-- director of such forgotten hardcore classics as Teenage Milkmaid (1974), Anyone But My Husband (1975), Love, In Strange Places (1976), Fantasex (1976), and The Clamdigger's Daughter (1974)--  for the even more notorious Cannon Films. Thus, their combined agenda was clearly a little different from that of Jones and Brown.

One can easily imagine that Cannon merely wanted Findlay to make a derivative sorority slasher with just enough nudity and violence to garner it a prime slot on rental store shelves. In that she succeeds. A hodgepodge of premises and specific plot beats from the earlier Hell Night (1981) and Girls Nite Out (1982), Blood Sisters desires to pave not an inch of new turf in the slasher game, and because it's always at least competent it's difficult to take too much issue with that lack of ambition if you enjoy these sort of things. But from the mocking lines Findlay has spout from the mouth of the character Marnie (Marla Machart) that comment on the hackneyed quality of their situation-- "like any good horror film, the van won't start" and, sarcastically, "you think the hero of this piece will discover we're missing and come rescue us?"-- one receives the sense that Findlay is a tad self-conscious about phoning it in. The film's super-cynical ending-- which manages to both deny gendered retribution and, in effect, confirm that all of its characters are damnable harlots-- is a blunt capitulation to the subgenre's norms, crying-- proudly? stubbornly? resignedly?-- "There ain't nothing new to see here."


  1. Great review, man. I tried to watch this one but fell asleep. Then I decided to give it another go with Joe Bob Brigg's commentary track on and I ended up loving it. I have yet to try the film again without his commentary. I'm too afraid.

    1. Yeah, I'd read that the Briggs commentary was good, but AW MAN THAT MEANS I GOTTA WATCH BLOOD SISSIES AGAIN.

  2. Dude, really enjoying your slasher coverage! I love that you're breaking each movie down by conventions. It makes watching them a little more interesting, doesn't it?

    1. Thanks, Aaron! Yeah, I enjoy seeing how these films adhere to slasher conventions or break away from them, especially now that I've worked my way down to the oddball dregs of the subgenre. I am often being surprised and horrified by them (though-- I'm guessing-- not in the ways that they intended).