Sisters of Deathrecommended viewing

Beware of sudden dog
★★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
Joseph Mazzuca
Starring: 
Arthur Franz, Claudia Jennings, Cheri Howell, Sherry Boucher, Paul Carr, Joe E. Tata
The Setup: 
A sorority initiation ritual goes horribly awry, and seven years later… someone wants revenge.
Discussion: 

Okay, STOP THE PRESSES. It had previously been unknown to me that you could get both this amazing movie AND the masterful Messiah of Evil on ONE disc for a mere $8! THAT is your entertainment value, right there. Of course, for $10 more you could get both movies plus 48 more on 50 Chilling Classics. But this and Messiah of Evil are definitely among the highlights, so to have them on one disc, WOAH.

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I often turn to my 50 Chilling Classics boxed set—THE PREMIER entertainment value of our modern day—when it's late and I want to watch something but know I won't have time to finish it. Or I just want something really cheesy. Anyway, this INDISPENSIBLE horror movie set scores again with the goddamned awesome Sisters of Death! Bitchy babes! Horny houseguests! Perturbed patriarchs! Sudden dogs! How can you go wrong?

We begin with this sorority initiation ritual taking place on a rather sparse set. Two women kneel as three women with veils over their heads watch the ritual. Look at the frame above —from that moment on [a mere 1:20 in] I was hooked. So one of them [who turns out to be Sylvia] is conducting the ritual, put a bullet in an odd two-barrel gun, holds it to one of the pledges' heads, and pulls the trigger! Nothing happens, and the blond Judy is admitted to the sorority. Judy is played by Claudia Jennings, former Playboy Playmate of the Year who died at 29 when she fell asleep at the wheel of her VW convertible. So Sylvia loads the gun again, steps to the other girl and BLOWS HER FUCKING BRAINS OUT!

But come on, you knew that was coming.

We then have this rather nice credit sequence where the women's faces are frozen in expressions of horror and anguish beneath their veils [it's a bit like the moment in The Birds where Tippi has to just stand still with a shocked expression on her face]. You'll also notice that the red credits are arranged in lines that create interesting visual compositions with the image they appear with.

Seven years later, Judy gets a strange message in the mail. It says that she's pre-approved for a low 3.9% interest rate on balance transfers if she acts before August 31st. And she gets another message, referring to that fateful night, and inviting her to a mysterious get-together. She screams!—then makes plans to go.

We next meet some other SOD [sister of death] as she hitchhikes. She gets picked up by some lecherous Mexican with a big mustache [cutie Paul Fierro in his final role], and it's only a matter of time before his hand is creeping up her leg. I would of course be asking if he could reach better if I sat in his lap, but she says no, and he tries it again, at which point she pulls out a bible and starts reading it. He starts laughing uproariously and takes his hands off her—he's like, if you're that clever, you deserve not to be bothered. And I'm at home holding my head and saying "Wait a minute—was that scene actually, like, really good?"

Then another one, who turns out to be the charmingly idiotic Francie, who is clad in American flag patterns, by the way, gets pulled over for speeding. She tries her charms on the cop, and finally gets out of the ticket by saying she was speeding because she just really had to pee. Anyway, all the women arrive in one place, where these two thugs [suave white 70s thugs in tight pants], Joe and Mark, have been paid $500 to deliver the women to a certain spot and then leave. Joe is played by Joe E. Tata, who went on to play the bartender on Beverly Hills 90210. One of the SOD, Penny, protests about getting in this car with these two strange thugs to be delivered somewhere they know not, but the other SOD act like she's just hopelessly square and force her to go along.

They are delivered to this big mansion with a pool with a feast laid out next to it and a big sign saying "Welcome Sisters," and they're all so dumb and superficial they disregard the fact that they have just been driven to an unspecified location in the desert and LEFT, with no way to get back, all at the direction of a mysterious person they don't know, and they think it's all just RADICALLY AWESOME! Soon they discover that they all have separate bedrooms with a new bathing suit in each one. "It's fantastic!" squeals Francie, "It's wild fun!"

But what about those horny thugs? Can they just leave that whole house full o' poon untapped? Of course not. So Joe convinces Mark to go back—Joe is really quite obsessed with getting in there—and they climb over the non-electrified electric fence. They make passes at Sylvia, who is NOT receptive, to say the least, but the fun-lovin' other SOD think it's fine. Then it seems that they all one by one go to bed, because next thing we know the guys are drunk and left alone on the deck. Apparently it's supposed to be the dead of night, but it's a little hard to tell with all the brilliant sunshine. Are they in the Arctic Circle? Intercut with all this are the feet of a man who is walking downstairs for 30 minutes.

SPOILERS > > > So Judy wakes up the next morning screaming! And she finds a photograph of herself in her room! And the rest of the SOD have gotten them too, and Sylvia wants to know which one of them did it! She doth protest a tad too much, methinks. But everyone else is too polite to point this out. Then they turn around and there a mysterious guy there! He seem to know all of them, and soon they realize that he's Mr. Clybourne, the father of the girl who was shot! And I'm betting he's not there to tell them there's no hard feelings. The SOD insist it was an accident, but he says that one of them switched the blank with a live bullet, and thus one of them is a killer. But somehow I get the feeling that he's going to kill them all anyway.

Now follows my favorite moment, when Judy FREAKS THE FUCK OUT and runs outside. This wakes up the slumbering dudes, and they all run—and see that the electric fence is now turned on! Then one of them mentally snaps and there's a great slo-mo shot of her collapsing in anguish, and all of them generally realizing that they are FUCKED. Not such wild fun now, is it, Francie?

The thing is, this setup is actually quite good! The movie all along has been very off-kilter and creepy in ways that are hard to describe—it's a tonal thing—but this scene is where it all snaps together [before falling apart]. First the whole idea that we and the girls KNOW who the killer is. Then the fact that he's RIGHT THERE in the house with them, creeping around in crawlspaces and an apartment that they have no access to. And most potent of all, that these women KNOW they did something wrong, so the idea that they will suffer for it fills them with the anguish that somehow, all along, they've known that THEY DESERVE IT. And since they're trapped—as opposed to something like I Know What You Did Last Wednesday Between The Hours of 1:22 and 3:47 PM—they know that THEY'RE GOING TO GET IT.

So now they're stuck in this house with this killer, and he's not receptive to their pleas. Arthur Franz as Mr. Clybourne is fine, but I started thinking—based on his creepy performance in Obsession—how amazing Cliff Robertson would have been in this role. The whole suburban dad who's snapped—I like it. Anyway, it seems that all he has is a gun, which seems like not enough to fend off these seven people, but somehow it works for him.

Then someone, I think it's Penny, is out on her knees doing to mumbo-jumbo religious chant in the driveway! That's just not something you see every day. Then she goes over, sits on the curb, and sparks a doob! That's our Penny. Now, one might have thought that Penny would emerge as our final girl, as she's been the voice of caution and reason all along, but you'd be wrong, because she gets strangled! I guess she DID do drugs, so it's obvious that she deserves to die.

Meanwhile, Judy is NOT letting the fact that she is a captive in a house with a homicidal madman prevent her from falling in love with Joey. Talk about a meet-cute! Meanwhile we're seeing Dad upstairs making bullets… like… forever… and then he has a little reverie over his dead daughter and starts to play a flute piece. Then follows EXACTLY the kind of creepy, atmospheric scene that I SOOOO dig as his flute music carries throughout the house, and we have a nice long sequence of all the characters getting creeped out by it. And how does our marvelous Francie respond to the reality that she is trapped in a house with a psycho who is going to kill her and her friends one by one? She's going to take a shower! "Cleanliness is next to godliness, right?" she says, "So I figure, if I'm next to Him, Clybourne won't get next to me." That's using your noodle, Francie! Really, I guess there is absolutely nothing that can get this woman to take anything seriously. Then Judy sees a giant tarantula in her room, but when someone asks her what's wrong she says "Oh, just a spider." Now, dear reader, is a Tarantula ever really JUST A SPIDER? Or is it A GODDAMNED HUGE FUCKING KILLER SPIDER? Just asking. Sylvia is then menaced by the spider as it slowly creeps across her 24-foot-wide bed. It crawls up on her belly, at which point she freaks and runs out of the room, down the hallway, and into the living room with the tarantula still clinging to her belly! That thing would have sunk its fangs into her by now. Anyway, you may have noticed that things have tending gradually into the silly… I mean, not like they weren't all along, but the good, genuinely creepy elements are fading out, leaving only silliness. Ah well, what can we expect?

So the guys go outside—don't miss Mark's UNMISTAKABLE boner around 1:07:27—when there's a SUDDEN DOG that chases Joe into the fence where he is fried like the potato. I don't believe we caught so much as ONE glimpse of that dog before it suddenly ran around the corner. Then Mark and Judy and Sylvia are going to dig their way out under the fence when Judy takes two steps and is like 'Oh! I sprained my ankle!' Bitch, are you really that lazy? That is TOTALLY what I was like as a teenager when my Dad wanted me to mow the lawn. "Oh! I've been decapitated! Sorry, Dad!" Anyway, so they work for a while and then turn around and Sylvia is GONE! The ending is a series of twists, including a doozy right at the very end, that I wouldn’t dare spoil for you.
< < < SPOILERS END

Overall, a very fun watch. It’s got a shocking opening sequence, a lot of genuinely creepy atmosphere, a really scary scenario—even if it’s not fully carried through—and superficial hot women of the 70s, which is always a recipe for amusement. This movie was actually filmed in 1972, but not released until 1977, for some reason. This is really crying out for a remake, one that could sort everything out, have it make sense, and bring the story to cohesion. In the meantime, this version will more than suffice, if you’re able to simultaneously enjoy the cheesiness and look past that to the pretty effective story within.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, if you can enjoy the cheese and also get into the story.