Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sisters of Death (1977)

Although the release date is usually given as 1977 Sisters of Death was apparently made several years earlier. It’s an interesting little murder mystery thriller with a dash of horror, not a great movie but an underrated and reasonably entertaining one.

An initiation at a sorority house involving a game of Russian roulette with an antique pistol goes horribly wrong, and a girl has her brains blown out. That’s before the opening credits. Then we move forward seven years in time. Five of the sorority members receive anonymous invitations to a reunion. They’re picked up by two guys in a station wagon and driven miles out into the desert to a mysterious house in an incredibly remote location. And left there. OK, if it was me, I wouldn’t even have have gotten into the car, but this is a horror movie and if we’re going to have a movie it’s necessary for the cast to do the obligatory Really Dumb Things.

At the house they find champagne and food laid out, the house is luxurious, there’s a pool and they each have a nifty separate bedroom laid on for them. But there’s no sign of their hostess (at this stage they’re assuming that another member of the sisterhood must have arranged all this). Their two drivers decide that it would be a pity to leave five beautiful girls all alone without any male company, so they (rather unwisely) decide to stay and party rather than just leaving the girls. Then they discover that they can’t leave. No-one can leave. They’re trapped behind an electrified fence with a lunatic, and the events of seven years previously have come back to haunt these young women. Elizabeth, the girl who was killed at the initiation, is going to be avenged. The inquest had come down with a finding of accidental death, the assumption being that it was all a horrible mix-up. But what really happened?

As you might expect, our seven hapless party-goers are going to be picked off one by one while the aforementioned lunatic tries to figure out which one of them was responsible for Elizabeth’s death.

There are some nifty plot twists, and there are some classic horror clichés that are used rather wittily (such as the dreaded gigantic tarantula used as a weapon of mayhem and the equally dreaded rattlesnake guarding the cellar). The tension is built up and maintained fairly effectively although it does drag a little at times. The ending has a wonderfully over-the-top use of a gatling gun!

The main drawcard for this movie at the time was probably the presence of 1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claudia Jennings in the lead role. That might lead you to anticipate lots of nudity but in fact there’s none at all. Jennings (who died tragically in 1979 at the age of 29) is actually reasonably good. The acting in general is fun in a cult movie kind of way - lots of scenery chewing! There’s virtually no gore, despite the presence of the gatling gun, but the initial shooting is still reasonably shocking, probably more so because it is a horror movie so you’re expecting it to happen.

The public domain print I saw was so awful that it’s impossible to make any judgments at all about the cinematography. I believe it’s available on DVD in a somewhat better although still not fantastic print.

If you don’t go into it with excessively high expectations this is an entertaining enough movie. Worth a look.

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