AUGUST 9 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD
I normally do not introduce Sayer’s reviews, but I must say that I recommend reading this one in full. It is long; like Dirk Diggler long, but much so worth it. And for that reason I am publishing it earlier than his other reviews. That and I’ll be vacationing in Austin this weekend, so no new posts from me for a few days. If it is as awesome as everyone claims, chances are good we’ll be living there next year.
Well, I’m off. Enjoy:
Let me make one thing very clear right off the bat.
I have seen a lot of Slasher films. To be specific: a Metric Fuckload. Plus a Dozen.
And if you add up all the ones I’ve watched with all the ones I’ve heard of but haven’t gotten around to watching, there aren’t many left. That is to say, there aren’t many I’m not aware of. It’s a very rare occasion when somebody name-drops a Slasher and I’m like, “wha?”
And when that does happen, I’m typically already about to watch it. The ridiculously few other times, i immediately do some research on the title. More often than not, my findings reveal the film to be unworthy of the effort necessary to track down a copy. Poor user ratings on IMDb or bad reviews from friends or internet critics lead me to shut down the search before it’s even really begun. Every now and then, against my better judgement, I continue my pursuit anyway. And live to regret it.
So I offer a simple thesis: There’s a very good reason the really obscure Slashers are still really obscure. They suck.
There are, indeed, exceptions to this rule, as I was recently made aware of by catching a screening of a print of FINAL EXAM. However, they are few and far fucking between.
HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS are genre forerunners. Trailblazers. Classics beyond compare. Films that have such a legacy they’ve virtually transcended the very categorization of Slasher. BLACK CHRISTMAS doesn’t quite get the huzzah it deserves in the mainstream, but you can be pretty sure that anyone who praises HALLOWEEN will eventually have their hat handed to them by its predecessor (typically courtesy of an annoying know-it-all friend such as myself).
FRIDAY THE 13th is a classic because it deserves to be. Its recognition and legacy are well-earned. It is, quite simply, a fucking magnificent gem of Slasher filmmaking.
THE BURNING is not quite as good, and is, therefore, a little less well-known. I still think it’s criminally underrated, but it has its following. And it earns that following.
Same goes for MADMAN, THE PROWLER, TOURIST TRAP, PROM NIGHT and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. They don’t measure up to the big boys in the ring, but they thow their punches with a certain flare and deserve the applause they get.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and APRIL FOOLS DAY received their cult status by fucking with genre expectations and pitching crazy curveballs at the end. They’ve been given their due.
Then we have THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. A film few people have heard of. And even fewer have seen. And even fewer have any sort of respect for.
There’s a reason for this: The movie sucks.
My thesis stands.
When I reviewed THE KINDRED, I got all excited to discover that the filmmaking team of Obrow and Carpenter (Stephen, not John) were also behind two other 80s horror movies – THE POWER, which I’d wanted to see since I was a kid, and THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (also called PRANKS for some reason or another), which I think I’d only ever heard of once. I was psyched to watch and review them. And after my laborious viewing experience with this one, I think I’ll put off THE POWER for a little while. Get my mojo back and what-have-you.
Because the few weaknesses I found sprinkled lightly over THE KINDRED seem to be the main fucking ingredients of this goddamn kitchen disaster.
You see, in its hey-day, the Slasher sub-genre consisted, basically, of three types of films: those that defied or improved upon conventions, thereby raising the bar and carrying the whole team to a new level; those that played by the rules and offered nothing new but were solid teammates nonetheless; and those shameless charlatan motherfuckers that just kept the bench warm and collected a check, cashing in on the sweat and rep of the MVPs.
The films of the era are judged and placed into one of these three folders by a battery of characteristics. To keep it simple, I’ll go with atmosphere, gore, story, characters, fright, and fun.
Atmosphere. HALLOWEEN is the king of this fucking realm. And it’s a key category. It is to a Slasher movie what “tough on crime” is to a politician running for office. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. You either have it, or you don’t. And god help you if you don’t, pal.
DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD has zero atmosphere. Remember that lack of geography that fucked up some of the scenes in THE KINDRED? Well that shit is all over the place here. None of the spaces used are established (except for the title building itself – once or twice – which doesn’t help considering that pretty much the entire film takes place in a myriad of rooms in said building, and one room that never actually comes into play). The lighting is bad. Like, high-school-video-project-for-extra-credit-in-Spanish-class bad. The shots are poorly composed. Too many awkward singles of people talking almost directly to the camera and WAY too much head-room in just about every frame. Yo, Stephen, your actors are DOWN HERE, tilt that fucking tripod, guy.
Also, half-assed art direction (what’s with the fucking rainbows on the wall everywhere?) and paint-by-number set dressing (single digits mostly) do not help matters. Hell, we don’t even get any implied atmosphere from the script. Sure, there’s some blah-blah here and there about the building being old and they’re closing it down and there’s some weird frizzy-haired dude who wanders around or whatever, but it all falls real flat. No spooky stories or alleged hauntings. No motivating backstory to speak of. There is absolutely nothing creepy or dreadful about this stuff.
Actually, wait, there is a little atmosphere here. And it all comes from Christopher Young’s score. True horror geeks may remember him as the guy who composed the pulse-pounding, bone-chilling music for THE COUNTRY BEARS MOVIE. His notes work here, nice melodies and some suspenseful strings, but they aren’t underlining anything.
Okay, so that’s a 0.67 of a point for Atmosphere (on a scale from 0 – 7 billion). Moving on.
Gore. A lot of Slashers that eat shit in the Atmosphere category can more than make up for it with Gore. Gimme some slashed throats, hacked off fingers, hanging eviscerated corpses, and maybe an eyeball poking or two, and I can maybe see my way to overlooking the oversights made in the lighting and all that shit. But give it to me onscreen, and with plenty of sauce.
There are two nouns in the title of this film. Dorm. And Blood. Okay, so we got the dorm (sort of), fair enough. But where’s the fucking blood, dude? For a place that is supposedly dripping with the stuff, I’m having a hard time finding it. I mean, I’ve looked in most of the rooms. Is there maybe a Slumber Party I should check out? Or perhaps there’s a Sorority House nearby…
Now, it’s not that there’s NO gore. Just not nearly enough of it. And certainly not enough to make up for the lack of atmosphere. Frustratingly, the film opens with some random, nameless dude getting his hand sliced – mangled even – in a very brutal way. And it’s pretty well done. And I’m thinking “Oh Fuck Yeah!” Actually, I’m not thinking it, I’m yelling it, with joy, at the TV screen. Trying to encourage it to give me more. Simultaneously, he’s being strangled. And it looks like the dude’s head was replaced with a fake for this shot. Which leads me to believe that maybe something more violent was planned, and subsequently cut. Of course, that’s pure conjecture and I could be totally wrong.
Because there isn’t much evidence in the other kills to support that theory. There are some interesting ones. Some REALLY interesting ones. But they just aren’t put into action well. There’s a pretty sweet bit of a chick under the wheels of a car. And a baseball bat gag that starts off nice, but should’ve gone further. There’s also a kill that’s just totally fucking off the wall, involving a giant steamer or boiling pot of some sort. It’s weird enough an idea that it almost makes up for the utter lack of ingenuity in its execution. Almost. Not quite.
And the rest is just Tamesville, USA. Lame, guys. Real lame.I mean, yeah, there is some blood. But it doesn’t flow. It doesn’t even drip, really. I just kind of, trickles a tad here and there. Like the worst kind of sex, the hand-job at the beginning is as good as it gets. OH SNAP!
Ouch, DORM. Whiffers on both Atmosphere AND Gore? Things are looking pretty goddamn grim for you, guy.
Story. I covered this a little bit while discussing Atmosphere. No backstories. No spooky legends or curses or anything. Just a woman who has to clean out a dorm to get it ready to either be torn down, or converted into an apartment complex (both possibilities are mentioned, neither really followed up on). I think she’s like, the head RA of the dorm or something. It’s never really fully explained just who she is. But she’s got some other people to help her. Students, I guess. So, yeah, they have to clear out the building, get it ready or whatever. They don’t. They just spend the whole time talking about bullshit and playing pool and shit. Two of the guys are seen taking out wood at one point. But as far as I recall, that’s about all they do in the way of accomplishing the mission stated in the beginning. When the murders start up, there’s no apparent rhyme or reason to them. Remember the guy at the beginning who gets his hand mutilated? Wonder why it happened? Me too. And that’s pretty much the standard operating procedure here until the big reveal at the end. The killer’s identity and all that shit. And I guess it sort of makes sense, but in a really convoluted kind of way. And when he explains why he’s been doing all the manglin’ and stranglin’ (relatively bloodlessly, of course), you realize that there hasn’t been anything earlier in the film to telegraph this motive. Like, at all.
Put a check mark in the “Bogus” box under Story.
Characters. I don’t think I even need to tell you guys about the joy of Slasher characters.And to be honest, I don’t feel like even getting into the archetype shit. You know what i mean. And yeah, DORM kind of touches on some of that here and there. But it goes from Tamesville on the Gore train and make their connection in Bland City when it gets on the Character bus. I mean, I couldn’t even remember any of their names until near the end. So I just made up my own. Let’s see, we have Boring, her boyfriend Closet Case, Moody, Doofus, Canadian Tuxedo, Creep, and Daphne Zuniga. No idiosyncracies. No real development. Nothing to make any of them truly stand out. Okay, so what about drugs and whoring? Ther’s a little drinking and some mild flirtatious banter. But nope. Nothing fun. Moody has a couple sociopathic lines and moments here and there. And his performance near the end is super hammy, which is nice. But it’s too little, too late. The most interesting character is Canadian Tuxedo, who calls Boring (our semi-virginal Final Girl lead) at TWO IN THE FUCKING MORNING to see if she wants to “get some drinks and get to know one another” while is girlfriend is in the next room. But again, he’s not enough to save this shit. Jesus Christ you are not, Canadian Tuxedo. Sorry, Existentialists.
The other problem is there are too many goddamn Red Herrings. I mean, I get it. In that era (before the Big Three franchises had really started to dominate the scene) part of the formula for Slashers was to mislead the audience, play the Who-dunit game. But fuck, this is just overboard. Is Closet Case – claiming to be away on a ski trip – the murderer? Is it the obvious, ubiquitous Creep? Is it Moody? Is it Daphne Zuniga’s ex-boyfriend? Is it Canadian Tuxedo? Whatever. Knock it off.
Even with the utter lack of motivational exposition, and lack of any real distinction among the characters, I called it in the first twenty minutes. Nice try, Carpenter and Obrow, but that was pantyhose you pulled over my eyes, not wool.
Obviously, they learned their mistake from this one, judging by all the unique traits sported by the cast of THE KINDRED. So that’s good. But before you can walk, you gotta crawl. And this shit is crawling at its most humble beginnings.
Fun. Here’s where I reach a dilemma. See, I’m not really one to be into the whole “so bad it’s good” thing. If I like something, I like it. I’m not – for the most part – amused by or taken with inept filmmaking. Yes, I appreciate the charm of something crude and naive. The painfully sincere, even. Like this hoplessly nerdy Polish kid at my high school. He used to wear this green t-shirt (in the mid-90s, mind you) with a picture of Frankenstein on it, asking “May I be Frank?” I loved that fucking shirt. And I loved that dork for wearing it. Not because I thought it was stupidly funny. Or because it made him look all Special Ed. But because I thought it was FUCKING AWESOME. I wasn’t making fun of him with my laughter. I was acknowledging his joy. Chuckling WITH. Not poinging and cackling AT.
I treat my Slashers the same way.
And sure, there are some gems of conversation and my favorite kind of movie fist-fight (the early 80s style of little-to-no-choreography, all awkward and sincere, like REAL fist-fights) and that crazy-eyed scenery-munching at the climax (which is, by the way, the LONGEST SLASHER CLIMAX EVER, or at least feels like it). And the very ending is GREAT. Different from its brethren in the sub-genre, and therefore a little refreshing. But I just don’t get the sense that most of these people were having any fun with the production. If they were, it certainly doesn’t come across on the screen. The kills are all grand teases. The characters (aside from Moody and Canadian Tuxedo) are wet blankets thrown over the limp pasta of the story.
So, if you like to be vindictive about your “fun” you might get one or two yuks out of this. But I can still think of about 764,320 titles you should watch first.
All in all, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was such a disappointing experience for me that I don’t even feel like fact-checking my info on the character names with a leisurely cruise over to IMDb, let alone verifying its home video release.
I think the UK put it out on a Region 2 DVD under the title PRANKS, which makes no fucking sense to me. There are NO pranks in the movie. Really. None. Moody makes some little joke at one point, but I wouldnt’ call it practical.
Obviously, there are some people who like this thing. Brian’s friend. A couple people on IMDb (if I remember my research there last week correctly). Maybe Daphne Zuniga. So I can’t say that I hope it never gets a proper Region 1 DVD release. That would just be mean. But I’ll tell you one thing, I won’t be checking it out. My VHS copy will be busy-as-fuck scraping together an impressively huge dust collection for the next decade or so.
We can go ahead and slip THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD into the “Shameless Charlatan Motherfucker” folder. Case closed.
Sorry, Dorm, you didn’t drip Blood. You dripped Suck