DECEMBER 27, 2009
Apart from being one of the movies Randy mentions in Scream 2 when he rattles off all of the college based slasher films (ah, the wit!), there isn't a hell of a lot to The Dorm That Dripped Blood's (aka Pranks) legacy. It was Daphne Zuniga's first film, but that's not quite worth seeking it out for. Die hard fans of Christopher Young might be interested in checking it out as well, since it's also his debut, but it would be a few years before he really hit his stride (in Hellraiser).
It's also not very good. OK, I'll cut it some slack - it was a student thesis film, after all - but at the end of the day it played in theaters for the same cost as every other slasher from 1982 (which there aren't a lot of - pretty much Friday the 13th 3 and Visiting Hours), which only makes it fair to judge it accordingly. And the film is sunk not by its budget limitations (the actors are OK, the effects are passable) but its horrendously slow script, jarring editing/blocking (though this improves as the film progresses), and a dumb twist that prevents the film from ever getting suspenseful.
One of the all time best "We keep trying to convince you that the killer is this guy but it's really this other, "good guy" character" executions is in My Bloody Valentine. They tell you its Harry Warden, and you buy it, and then you're probably pretty surprised to discover its actually Axel. Here, they go for a similar thing - with the (occasional) murders being blamed on the strange hermit who has been seen peeking through windows and such, only to discover that it's one of our "heroes" - but the difference is, MBV had a big enough cast to keep a. the murders coming and b. not let the audience notice that Axel wasn't around. Here, we only have four (OK, five, but one is killed before the end of the first reel) protagonists, which means that pretty much nothing can happen as long as the killer is on-screen, as they are saving his reveal for the end. And they spend most of the film holed up together, so there's not even a lot of stalking scenes to boot. Likewise, any scenes with the not-killer have to end without any sort of violence whatsoever, because he has no intention of causing them harm.
So thin is the story that when the not-killer is finally taken out (because the guy can't just fucking SAY "Hey, I'm trying to help you - that guy is the killer!"), the real killer reveals himself instantly after. Seriously, maybe 12 seconds go by in between the not-killer's demise and the real killer's announcement. Other movies might have the two survivors (killer and final girl) talk to the cops, go home, maybe make love to add to the ickiness, and then have the guy slip up and be forced to reveal himself. OR, they could simply close on a shot that reveals that he was the killer (like in Valentine with the bloody nose). But nope, the guy instantly goes into "over-explaining killer" mode, which makes the twist that kept the film from ever being exciting feel even more pointless. Though I did like that the guy then forces the heroine into the "Find the dead friends" routine. Instead of her trying to escape and constantly being blocked n' shocked by the corpses of her friends, he just grabs her and shows her where he's hidden each one. It's pretty hilarious.
And again, the editing is horrendous. Especially in the early scenes with a bunch of characters, everything is cut together as awkwardly as possible, and sloppily as well. This was pre-digital, obviously, but it seems like they didn't really know how to work the reel-to-reel either. Each cut has a bit of a jump to it (not unlike the jump that occurs when the reels are switched), and lines are often deprived of their final syllable (or left hanging too long) due to the result of cutting to the next shot. And it was not the film print either; while it was hardly pristine, this was definitely the way the film was presented. I even double checked against a VHS copy of the film that I borrowed in 2001 and have yet to return (my one attempt to watch it, back IN 2001, resulted in my dozing off before the first kill). Joe Canistro - if you are still reading the site, send me your address so I can return it to you.
Speaking of that first kill, it's about as good as it gets. Zuniga's parents come to pick her up, and after a hilariously awkward 30 second shot of them silently waiting in the car, the dad goes to find her. As he climbs the stairs, the killer gets him. Then he goes into the car and strangles mom. Zuniga comes along, finds both of her parents dead, and then the killer knocks her out. He then places her body behind the wheel of the car and runs her over. Hahahaha, YES! Wiping out an entire family in, around, and WITH their own car is pretty epic. The last kill is pretty mean-spirited too, as it involves putting a girl into a furnace and then playing out the entire last scene with two cops discussing the case as smoke (which "smells funny" according to one cop) blows behind them. But all of the kills in the film have one of two styles - offscreen, or obvious dummies taking the impact. And again with the bad editing; one guy is killed via drill to the head, and the sequence has the killer holding his head over a sink with one hand and working the drill with the other. They cut back and forth between the two hands, which is traditional, but they put the dummy head in way too early, so we are seeing a dummy head in 2-3 shots prior to the one where it actually comes into harm's way.
Luckily, there are a number of goofy moments that help make the film's interminable pace much easier to deal with (and I say again - this is why seeing a revival screening of even a bore like this film can be a good time). One shot of our heroine is framed in a manner that gives her a "halo" via a rainbow on the wall behind her, and the terrible and awkward acting (leading lady Laurie Lapinski has not a single other credit to her name) is always good for a chuckle. Also, during one of the scenes where the not-killer startles them, one of the guys says he's going to follow him, but tells the others to "stay here in case he comes back!". Wait, aren't you following him? Do you simply have no faith in your skills as a tracker? I also like the bit where the girl hides at the dead end of a dark tunnel. The killer knows she's in there, but instead of simply running in and grabbing her, he goes off to get a flashlight, allowing her to escape easily.
The guys that made this movie are also responsible for The Power (and one half of the team - Stephen Carpenter - gave us Soul Survivors), so I think it's safe to say that they are not very good filmmakers. Though I do have respect for co-writer/director/producer Jeff Obrow showing up unannounced for the screening and buying a ticket (as did Young - sadly they didn't do an intro or Q&A). Carpenter and Obrow also did The Kindred, which I saw some of back in 1988 (and always confused the title with The Changeling), and have been meaning to watch in its entirety. It was their 3rd film, so it's got the possibility of charm at least.
What say you?