Thousands of college and university students will return to campus this week for O-Week festivities. No, it’s no longer called Frosh Week. At some larger Canadian campuses, where fraternities and sororities still do their thing, students will be looking for a place to belong. Down south in the United States, where Greek life is arguably bigger, Rush Week has likely already passed. But Greek life isn’t just for students – horror movies have been loving fraternities and sororities for years. After all, where else would masked killers do all their stalking? To celebrate the start of another academic calendar year, consider pledging any one of the following 11 horror movies revolving around fraternities and/or sororities.
Black Christmas (1974)
What other movie could kick of this list? Canadian horror classic Black Christmas is one of the earliest examples of the slasher and one of the best horror movies of all time. Bob Clark updated ‘The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs‘ urban legend and set his story in a sorority house plagued by a deranged killer hiding in the attic. Poor Pi Kappa Sig – Black Christmas may be one of the first horror movies to adopt the trope of psychotic killer targeting nubile students. Even after nearly 50 years the killer’s depraved phone calls are chilling stuff. That scene with killer peering through the door crack is also among the scariest put on film. Arguably, the recent remake – though not achieving the same effect – offers some social commentary on fraternities and misogyny.
The Initiation of Sarah (1978)
What’s easily the most obscure entry on this list, The Initiation of Sarah was a 1978 made-for-television thriller that’s tough to find. This was one of several 70s horror movies and thrillers looking to cash in on the success of Carrie. So yes, it’s about a shy young woman with secret psychic powers unleashed by a cruel sorority. There’s a good reason why you haven’t heard of this one. Nothing about the TV thriller is memorable and it largely skates by on its 70s atmosphere. But it’s head and shoulders above the dreadful 2006 remake.
Terror Train (1980)
Terror Train represented one of three slasher movie appearances in 1980 for ‘Scream Queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis. Though it was still early days for the subgenre, most of the tropes are present and accounted for in this Canadian slasher. The fraternity initiation prank that sets the story in motion may be one of the silliest you’ll find in horror. But the whodunnit and ‘stalk and slash’ at a New Year’s costume party on a train was pretty inventive. Throw in a killer who adopts the costume of each victim and Terror Train was one of the better B-list slashers from the 80s.
Hell Night (1981)
Though it wasn’t as successful as other early 80s slashers, Hell Night has its share of supporters. All the familiar ingredients are here. During college rush week, Linda Blair and a handful of other Alpha Sigma Rho pledge hopefuls spend the night in the abandoned Garth Manor. But the gothic castle still has two occupants – two deformed siblings who stalk the pledges over the course of the night. Aside from one well-staged and unexpected scare, the most surprising thing about Hell Night is that it’s quite dull. Nothing about this slasher justifies its bloated runtime. Its ending is appropriately bleak – like many slashers from the era – but there’s a reason this is a C-level subgenre entry.
The House on Sorority Row (1982)
Not surprisingly, critics weren’t too impressed with yet another slasher movie about naughty sorority girls and an unseen killer. Nonetheless, The House on Sorority Row is one of the better under-the-radar efforts from the era. Its story of a mean housemother and sorority prank gone wrong borrow loosely from French thriller Diabolique. Most of the movie unfolds just as you’d expect with a handful of decent kills and a bit of suspense. What separates this slasher from other B-level entries is the climax. It’s not so much the twist but how director Mark Rosman pull it off. There’s a genuine shock in the final moments that elevates The House on Sorority Row above low expectations,
The Initiation (1984)
The Initiation plays like a checklist of all the classic slasher tropes. A tragic past shrouded in a Freudian-inspired mystery. Young college sorority students who go somewhere they shouldn’t be. Random nudity and sex. Technically, The Initiation doesn’t do anything remotely interesting with the slasher formula. Its story about a sorority pledge plagued by horrible nightmares and a hazing – or initiation – to break into a shopping mall at night is about as rote as you can get. And The Initiation takes its time setting this thin premise up. Nonetheless, director Larry Stewart does an efficiently workmanlike job with the story. Neither scary nor shocking, The Initiation still plays better than most low-budget slashers. Somehow the movie also secured a handful of decent actors in Daphne Zuniga, Clu Galager, and Vera Miles. Just enough here works.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Upon its release, Night of the Creeps failed to make much of an impression in a crowded 80’ horror market. Maybe it had something to do with its gonzo story of an ax murderer infected by an alien parasite who’s cryogenically frozen for years before a fraternity initiation ritual sets him free. Yet genuinely good movies always manage to find an audience. And director and screenwriter Fred Dekker’s (The Monster Squad, The Predator) homage to 50s B-movies is a run blending of horror and comedy. Just character actor Tom Atkins’ performance alone is worth adding Night of the Creeps to your ‘must watch’ list.
Killer Party (1986)
This obscure Canadian slasher set at the fictional Briggs College finds three students desperate to pledge their campus sorority during Hell Week. Against the advise of their housemother, the sorority holds the initiation rituals in the abandoned Pratt House. Okay, no one’s going to mistake Killer Party for a genre classic. And it’s slow getting out of the gate. Director William Fruet and writer Barney Cohen (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) mix bits of teen comedy sex romp with parts of a slasher movie and demonic possession tropes. By and large, the mix never gels with Killer Party feeling like at least three different movies stitched together. Still it’s a wild mix that elevates this one above most B-horror movies. And it’s out-of-leftfield downer ending has the kind of creepy atmosphere that should easily qualify it as a cult flick.
Scream 2 (1997)
Okay, Scream 2 isn’t really about a masked killer stalking fraternity or sorority pledges. But Ghostface does kill an Omega Beta Zeta student and hazing rituals do play an important role in the latter half of the sequel. In hindsight, Scream 2 shouldn’t have worked. Direct Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson were tasked with following up one of the biggest game changers in horror. Somehow everything came together in a horror sequel that dishes plenty of meta reflection on why sequels don’t work while simultaneously avoiding those pitfalls. Both the movie’s killer opening and climax rival what Craven previously pulled off. There’s a shocking death, a good young cast of future stars, and a decent ‘whodunnit’. Bottom line, Scream 2 may just be one of the better horror sequels.
The Skulls (2000)
Okay, The Skulls is more of thriller than anything remotely resembling a horror movie. And yes, the premise revolves around a rumored secret society, Skull and Bones, at Yale University. It’s also not a very good movie on just about any objective criteria. But close enough. Besides The Skulls features a lot of good actors including William Peterson (Fear), Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist), Paul Walker (Joy Ride), Joshua Jackson (Urban Legend), and Leslie Bibb (The Midnight Meat Train). Moreover, it kind of approaches that ‘so bad, it’s good’ territory. Somehow two straight-to-video sequels followed.
Indie horror Pledge earned some positive word-of-mouth but this indie horror about dorky college students desperate to ‘David and his roommates, Ethan and Justin, are hoping to ‘pledge’ the right fraternity during Rush Week fell through the cracks. Something of a mix between ‘Torture Porn’ and ‘survival horror’ there’s a a few good traditional jump scares. Clearly, however, Pledge wants to evoke edgier horror movies like Green Room – it falls a bit short of this sort of visceral experience. Likeable characters, genuine tension, and some cringeworthy moments deliver what the movie promises. Overall, Pledge is a lean thriller that exposes the ugly side of fraternity lifestyles.