If the title doesn’t capture your attention, then something is wrong with your neural net processor (that’s brain for you laymen). Presented totally uncut, The Dorm That Dripped Blood (a play on the title The Room That Dripped Blood, perhaps?) at the surface appears as a copycat slasher, mostly emulating Friday the 13th and Halloween, but it has more substance than that. The relationship between the characters is well developed, the atmosphere is dark and moody like a fall evening, the score sounds like a small orchestra (which sounds overplayed and you kinda wish they went for a simple keyboard/synthesizer score to play the scenes for subtly) and the special effects are great and gory!
Believe it or not, this movie is set during the Christmas season, although you could easily miss that since there is no snow or holiday music, two things that are associated with that time of year. You may think that is irrelevant to the plot, but what better way to clear out a college campus, all but a few students that are staying to clear out a dorm before demolition, a very unfortunate situation… and they haven’t even realized they are being stalked by a killer!
The movie opens right up with someone being chased and murdered, which is a way to catch your attention, but then we jump into a party with Joanne, who is growing distant from her boyfriend Tim. Our heroine Joanne is joined by her friends, all playing a somewhat stereotyped role to the slasher genre. You have young, naïve Debbie who is played Daphne Zuniga (who would later go on to be in Spaceballs as the Princess), Bryan the possible love interest, Craig the wise guy and Patty the frightened one. I know in any other movie, you would be able to guess their roles and what order they die or who lives, but The Dorm That Drips Blood does something a little different with them.
The caretaker Bill is also present, but doesn’t really interact with the group of kids. Only to inform them that one of his drills is missing… hmm… Also stalking around the campus is local weirdo John Hemmit who looks like he should be searching the dumpsters for a comb instead of garbage. Speaking of garbage, Joanne befriends Bobby Lee Tremble, a local salesman buying tables from the college and also hitting on Joanne. It doesn’t matter that Bobby Lee is tied to another woman, another woman that we only see in a scene later on just so we can get the obligatory breast shot, he is all about seeing Joanne again.
The film paces its kills at a good pace. Not too early, not too late. Almost like we are be treated to a three course meal. Rather than wait until the end of the film to cross off its characters, The Dorm That Dripped Blood not only starts with a tame kill, but shortly after the beginning, one of our characters parents are brutally murdered by a nail bat and strangulation and then proceeds to run over their child’s head! And yes, you will see the aftermath of it. Lesson learned, never help out your friends at a college when everyone else has gone home. The goriest and best looking kill by far is when one of the characters gets a power drill (Oh hey, that’s where that went!) to the back of their head. You see the drill crack and rip apart the back of their skull and spray blood all over the room. Another one of the cast is boiled alive and another is hacked to pieces. It’s a movie that goes for intense, brutal kills that are played out rather than quick cuts shying away from the violence, like most slashers at the time.
The film will also plays with the ‘who done it’ aspect, but does it subtly, so you keep guessing, but you aren’t overwhelmed by the mystery. I honestly kept guessing and changing my guess. Was it Tim? He’s seems angry enough. Maybe it’s Bryan. He has the hots for Joanne, but that would be too obvious, so maybe it’s that weird guy? He’s so bizarre, but that’s what they want me to think. By the time you find out who the killer is, it doesn’t really make sense, but when they give you the reason, it doesn’t really pay off. Because the killer loves her? It’s perhaps the most typical thing about this movie and it feels like such a copout, but the dark and unexpected ending makes up for it and leaves one reminiscing about the ending to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas.
Synapse released the Blu-Ray/DVD combo, which is the uncensored Director’s cut called Death Dorm. From a technical standpoint, at times, the blacks look washed out with blues or yellows, but it’s not overwhelming. Edges look sharp, objects pop out and a lot of the noise and grain is cleaned up. They left enough of grain and blacks in the film, so it still feels dark and alarming. The only audio mix, however, is 2.0 mono (I personally prefer this for older horror films rather than remixing it in 5.1) so it has that very radio sound and feel to it. You can even listen to the score isolated! It does have some special features, such as audio commentary with Directors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter, a few interviews with crew members, trailers and in traditional Synapse form, a reversible cover (the original US artwork entitled Pranks).
This is film is surprisingly overlooked and I would put it up with the greats like Twitch of the Death Nerve and Black Christmas. There are few dull moments, something is always happening and you believe the relationship between these kids. The dark, twisted ending was a nice surprise and I urge everyone to see this.
Check out this review at The Lost Highway!