If David DeCoteau continues at his current rate, he’ll have directed over a hundred features by this time next year and produced almost as many. Comparisons with Roger Corman are apt: his films are almost all genre efforts and his entry point into the industry was working for the man himself as an 18-year-old. Put simply, DeCoteau is a man in pursuit of a market and throughout his career has attempted to capture particular niches. He’s done horror movies, creature features, even the occasional kung-fu flick, but if you look a little closer at the filmography you’ll notice some definite patterns. During the past decade or so there have been the likes of The Brotherhood and its multiple sequels or the ongoing, ridiculously prolific 1313 franchise. Essentially these are films which cater for - to quote the director himself - “gay men, but also cougars”. Their cast lists are occupied almost wholly by clean-cut young men who get killed off in quick succession, but not before they’ve removed their shirts. The public gets what the public wants - and DeCoteau, it seems, has discovered exactly what a particular portion of the population like to see.
Before the homoerotic horror came a more female-centric brand of terror. Look at DeCoteau’s early credits from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties and you’ll find plenty with Babes, Goddesses and Girls in the title. A quick sampling would involve Beach Babes from Beyond, Petticoat Planet, Bikini Goddesses, Sorority Sisters and, most famously of all, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama. As the titles suggest these had topless girls in place of topless boys, though the genre thrills were much the same. Whether that meant horror or science fiction, you could always guarantee tongue-in-cheek, trashy entertainment determined to avoid even an ounce of seriousness. These weren’t comedies as such, but they did have a healthy irreverence to the kind of cinema they were supposed to be. In this respect the low ratings that almost all of them have earned on the IMDb (usually around the twos or threes) are besides the point. Beach Babes from Beyond, for example, is undoubtedly a bad film - but if it had taken itself seriously then it no doubt would have been terrible.
This distinction between bad and terrible is one worth making. After all, there is such a phenomenon as the Bad Film Club, yet it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Terrible equivalent. Bad movies can be fun and exert their own fascination, whether they be deeply personal (as in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?) or deeply misguided (Samurai Cop, say, or Birdemic: Shock and Awe). But terrible movies are simply downright awful and devoid of entertainment value; they don’t have the appeal that a bad movie can. In the case of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama and so many of the early DeCoteau pictures, audiences clearly came with certain expectations and I suspect that one of those was for a particular brand of badness. Nobody can expect films with these kind of titles to deliver quality in the traditional sense, but that’s not to say that they can’t deliver in terms of entertainment value. The question, then, isn’t whether Sorority Babes is any good. It’s whether Sorority Babes is any fun.
The set-up involves three of the titular babes, two pledges to their sorority and three nerd-types: one fat kid and two with oversized specs. The nerds are perving on the pledges only to get caught by the babes. Next thing we know, all of them are heading off to the local mall’s bowling alley in order to steal a trophy. The reasons don’t really matter - it’s the outcome that’s key, namely an imp happens to reside in their bowling trophy of choice. He grants them wishes, but of course they don’t turn out quite as the recipients expected. Meanwhile, a foul-mouthed janitor is locked in a closet for occasionally comic relief, plus there’s scream queen Linnea Quigley (best known then and now for Return of the Living Dead) on hand to deliver bits of badass dialogue. In combination they provide DeCoteau with all he needs in order to supply the gratuitous nudity, all-round silliness and bouts of gore essential to such a movie.
Actually the gore quota is surprisingly low. The main special effect is the imp himself, a tiny little puppet attached to a motor-mouthed voice actor in usual eighties fashion (see also Flight of the Navigator and Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors). He’s the least appealing aspect of Sorority Babes, there to further the plot and bring the horror elements into play, but of little interest in his own right. Thankfully DeCoteau knows what he’s doing and knows where to deliver. He keeps the pace up which, in a film totalling just 76 minutes, means we never dwell too much on any particular character or event. We simply move from shower scene to comedy moment to death scene and so forth with minimum fuss. In the meantime, DeCoteau has a cast who understand this kind of picture just as well. Quigley is wonderful as the smart-talking punk, forever pointing out the stupidity of this situation she’s found herself in. (Quigley later made the direct-to-video Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, which perfectly demonstrates her tongue-in-cheek attitude to her chosen genre.) Among her co-stars we find fellow scream queen Brinke Stevens; the future teen lead of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Andras Jones; and Michelle Bauer, who’d previously appeared in sci-fi porno classic Café Flesh under the pseudonym Pia Snow.
To answer the questions posed a couple of paragraphs back, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama is both a bad movie and a great deal of fun. As you would expect these two elements are also intertwined: the badness is intrinsic to the entertainment value and vice versa. DeCoteau and his cast understand the approach for this kind of film and we need to do the same. Sorority Babes demands low expectations and a certain frame of mind. It’s easy to dismiss - as indeed are many of DeCoteau’s movies - but if viewed in the correct light then its dumb charms should prove satisfactory.
Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama is the second release from new label 88 Films. They’ll be delving into the Charles Band back catalogue to unearth various genre gems (and, no doubt, a few stinkers) for both the newcomer and the nostalgist. Looking up the pre-orders currently showing online reveals the likes of the Gingerdead Man trilogy, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, the first entry in the ongoing Puppet Master franchise, and much more besides. They’ll be using new materials for each, thus immediately bypassing the various low-grade DVDs these films have suffered to date, and delivering Blu-rays when these are deemed of a sufficient quality. In the case of Sorority Babes we’re getting a DVD-only edition, though it’s hard not to be impressed by the presentation at hand.
The film is pretty much blemish-free and demonstrates excellent clarity as well as really strong colours (slightly amped up in typical eighties fashion). Unfortunately the final third of the movie unfolds in varying levels of near-complete darkness and the contrast levels aren’t quite up to the job. Black is rendered as almost exclusively black with little in the way of shadow detail making it difficult at times to perceive exactly what is going on. With that said, it’s hard to discern what was inherent in the production and it may very well be the case that the image simply couldn’t have been bettered under the circumstances. Indeed, this is exactly the case with the soundtrack. The DD2.0 offering is decent enough, but the poor quality of its recording back in 1988 means that the dialogue and score never quite sit happily together. In isolation they’re fine, and it has to be said that the synth-based score is really quite catchy at times. No optional subtitles, however, English or otherwise.
Whilst some of 88 Films’ upcoming titles will have a fine array of extras, Sorority Babes comes with just a trailer. Also present are various promos for other Charles Band-related features - a taste of things to come from the label.
Gratuitous nudity, general silliness and a little bit of horror - you know what to expect.