Exclusive: Director Stewart Hendler on ‘Sorority Row'


Sorority Row may have every element most horror fans want in a movie: wall-to-wall gore, hot naked chicks, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude.  Based on 1983's campy House on Sorority Row, this reimagining sees the girls of the popular Theta Pi sorority being getting slaughtered one year after a goofy prank turns deadly.  Today we chatted with Sorority Row director Stewart Hendler about, well, gore, naked chicks, and camp. Read our interview after the jump.

Why do you think the original House on Sorority Row was a good choice to remake?

It ended up being more of a reimagining than a remake.  The original House on Sorority Row was one of those low-budget, fun, campy horror movies that slipped below the radar for a lot of people in the 1980s.  I was lucky that Mark Rosman, the writer and director of the original, was a producer on this one.  He gave me license to do what I wanted, to take what I wanted and leave what I didn't.  So we could leave the original to its cult classic status and not have to worry about treading on hallowed ground, or ruining what people liked about the original.  We got to make something that was fresh and updated and more relevant for audiences today.

Had you seen the original prior to shooting your version?

I hadn't seen it.  I did see it right after I read the script.  It was fun to check it out.

Were you worried that seeing the original might color your vision of your own version?

From the script stage forward, the two versions were so different that it almost would have been difficult to make the [new version] like the original.  It is nice to see the original for what it was.

Your Sorority Row is a very hard R slasher movie.  Did you have much trouble with the MPAA?

No, we were lucky.  I've had really difficult times with them in the past, but they were great on this one.  We delivered them the cut we wanted, they gave us an R, and we said, "Awesome."

So you didn't add any extra scenes that you didn't want, to throw them off the scent?

No.  We submitted right after My Bloody Valentine 3D came out.  That one was over-the-top with the nudity and violence, so I think, comparatively, we were an easy R for them.

Shooting so many scenes dripping with blood and violence – was that fun or grueling?

Dude, that is the fun part of making a movie like this!  You get to be like an 8-year-old kid, playing with prosthetics and gobs and gobs of blood.  You get to spend an absurd amount of time talking about ways to kill people.  There have been a few moments where I go, "Wow, I get paid to do this!"

I was on a plane heading to Pittsburg.  We were taxiing and I was finishing up a phone call with Josh Stolberg [writer of Sorority Row].  We were talking in graphic detail about options for killing someone, and I looked around, and like six people were all staring at me.  I realized I was talking completely matter-of-factly about murder!

Did you say, "No folks, it's okay – I'm a Hollywood director"?  Or did you play it up like you really were a killer?

They looked so concerned that I just decided to work it into conversation.  Like, "Okay, I'll see you on set Josh.  Thanks for all that writing on the movie we are doing."  It was very odd, but in an awesome way.

Do you have a favorite kill from the movie?

Definitely the "Chugs" kill [one of the girls is laying on a couch, drinking from a liquor bottle, and the killer forces it down her throat].  That kill leapt off the page when I first read it, and that was also when I realized that I was in for something fun and new.  It was the most fun to shoot because it just looked so goofy.  Every setup we had for that scene looked sillier than the last – it was not scary.  Our poor editor saw the footage and just shook his head, saying, "I don't know what I'm going to do with this."  But it turned out really good.

Were you aiming for over-the-top ‘80s silliness, or did it just end up that way?

I totally love those ‘80s movies.  I feel like there is this "secret handshake" between those kinds of movies and the audience.  The audience knows that the filmmaker knows that everything is just a little bit over-the-top.  The movie definitely has a lightheartedness to it.  It's scary, but it's fun-scary.

In addition to the gore, there is a good amount of nudity in the film.  Were any of the girls reluctant to do the nude scenes?

It's always awkward shooting nudity – there is no way around that.  You've got sixty grown, burly men on the set, equipment swooping around you, and you have to stand there with your shirt off.  It's a rough time for actresses.  I try to make things comfortable for them.  None of our four primary leads do any nudity – some risqué stuff, but no full nudity.  All the nudity was done by secondary characters, and they knew what they were signing on for.

It's a sorority house.  It lends itself to a certain amount of nudity.  As goofy as it sounds to say this, it was kind of organic to have a nude shower scene in a sorority.  I think everyone knew what kind of movie we were setting out to make, so it all fell into place.

Are there any obscure or semi-obscure horror movies that you would like to remake, or would do well as a remake?

I feel like they are dredging up everything these days.  I can't think of anything that hasn't, at least, been kicked around.  If I were to do another horror movie, I would love to do something original.  I think it is fun to start from scratch.

I heard that your next project was going to be Flesh + Blood.  True or internet rumor?

That may or may not be my next project.  That's a cool adaptation of a UK novel.  It's sort of adjacent to the zombie genre.   Basically, everyone in the world over a certain age goes crazy, and tries to kill everyone who isn't crazy.  It's kind of a kids versus parents thing.

At what stage are you with that?

That is in development right now.  The next thing that I will probably do is a web series for Warner Brothers, with Bryan Singer producing.  I can't really say much about it because I am under a nondisclosure agreement.  But it's a sci-fi thing, set in the future, with a kind of Lost vibe.  It's amazing material.  I'm really excited about that.

Sounds big for a web series!

Tell me about it!  I have no idea how we are going to pull it off.

Are there any kills that didn't make it into the film that we might see on DVD?

We're not sure yet.  There is always talk of an unrated version, or a director's cut.  I'm pretty stoked on the version we got to release, which seems pretty rare these days.  We might slip a few minor things back in, but it's not going to be a totally different film.

Any other cool special features in the works?

We definitely have outtakes, we have some really good interviews with me and the writers, talking about where we were trying to go, from a horror standpoint, with this movie.  There is the typical behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with the girls.  There will be a few Easter eggs, but you will have to wait and find those.

There is a push towards 3D horror right now.  Why didn't Sorority Row go that way?

I'm going to be "that guy" and say that I am not yet a fan of 3D movies.  I am watching to see where they go.  Bloody Valentine was really fun, but it felt more like a ride than a movie.  Right now, 3D is really in the early stages.  Everyone is playing with the gimmicks and the effects.  I think to some extent it can take away from the movie.  Maybe it will mature to a place where it fits in more organically, so I am just waiting to see.  Patrick Lussier [director of My Bloody Valentine 3D] is a good friend of mine, and he really owned that 3D.  There was no question – he was trying to be as far over-the-top as possible.  And it worked. 

They're doing Halloween in 3D, right?  That's a gritty, gritty franchise.

Yeah, but I heard Rob zombie won't be back for the third.

That's true.  Actually, Patrick Lussier is in talks to direct that one.  He's a much different director than Zombie is.  2 didn't do as well as people were expecting, so maybe that will give him some leeway.