When you want to get the most bang for your buck in a low-budget 1980’s slasher film, you could do a lot worse than The Dorm That Dripped Blood. It’s an elusive film that has never really enjoyed much of any kind of wide release even in the video market. It was really nothing more than a student film put together as a thesis for UCLA students Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow. Like most student films, the piece utilizes locations on the UCLA campus and makes use of local talent both in front of the camera and behind. But this movie doesn’t look like any student film you’ve ever seen before. With almost no budget, the team managed to make a film that was remarkably professional in the way it looked. The cinematography showed style that usually takes years or decades to develop. There’s none of the usual amateur mistakes, and you’d be hard pressed to find it not worthy of the rest of the films coming out of that genre and that time. The film went through various name changes and has been seen in many forms over the years. You might know it as The Prank or Death Dorm. Whatever you might call it, I call it one of the best slasher films that you probably never heard of.
The story is simple. There are no complicated set-ups. There’s no convoluted back story or supernatural urban legend to kick things off. Don’t worry about getting to know the characters very well. It doesn’t matter. They’re merely killer fodder, and we’ll get to know them about as well as we need.
It’s Christmas break at college, and one of the co-ed dorms has been condemned. It’s going to be torn down. Student Joanne (Lapinski) is in charge of a group of kids who will remain over the break and arrange for the valuables to be removed and sold. One of them has other ideas for using the isolated time. In typical fashion the teens are stalked and dispatched each in a unique manner. We have driller killer to the noggin. There’s strike eight, nine, and ten with a spiked bat, and another teen is “outta there”. There’s a little cuisine preparation featuring boiled teen. There’s also the more typical machete attacks and even a example of teen road-kill. The pace is just right, and you’re never very far from another kill scene. The film doesn’t get bogged down in morality tales. These kids don’t need to have sex or take drugs to warrant their untimely ends. They just need to be in the right place at the right time. Who needs morals anyway?
When you consider that the locations were often buildings and basements on campus, the film has quite a nice production style. They found wonderful locations with plenty of pipes and dirty concrete walls. There’s almost an industrial-bunker style to the dorm. It certainly isn’t like any college dorm I’ve ever seen. The industrial style makes the film look like it cost far more to make. I’ve seen directors spend millions to get this look. These guys just took advantage of what was available to them. The gore effects aren’t going to rival what you might see in some of the bigger budgets of the time. The drill-kill scene has such an obvious fake head because they couldn’t afford your standard prosethics. It’s papier-mache painted with a little hair, and it shows. But so what? Didn’t I tell you this was a student film? Everyone from the two filmmakers to the composer are making their first film ever. Even the makeup guy got pulled out of a classroom where he was teaching how to use makeup to make actors look older. There’s not a ton of blood to linger on, either. Each kill is a get-in-and-get-out proposition, with one or two exceptions. Many occur slightly off-camera. If you have to see every bloody detail in ultra-realistic glory, this won’t be the film for you.
Finally, there should be a nod to the cast. For Laurie Lapinski who plays the main character Joanne, this wasn’t only her first film. It was her last. That’s too bad because these guys got a solid performance out of the young lady. She wasn’t the only one to have a sum career on the film. This was the only movie for Stephen Sachs, Pamela Holland, Robert Frederick and others. Daphne Zuniga was the only performer here to get anything like a career. Her most famous role would be the Princess on Spaceballs and the various incarnations of that film. She’d be a regular on Melrose Place and One Tree Hill. But this was her first gig. Still, I’m amazed that all of this inexperience didn’t show on camera. It’s the best collection of amateur performances I’ve seen. And, let me tell you. I’ve seen too many.
Even if you are halfway familiar with the movie, you’ve never seen it like this. Synapse put together a wonderful version of the film that re-incorporates a lot of cut footage. Connoisseurs of the 80’s slasher are going to want to add this one to their collections.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 32 mbps. You have to keep in mind this was a student film from 1982 made on 16 mm. While the transfer comes to us from a 35 mm negative, it still looks quite raw. The image is still in pretty good shape, at least enough to capture the atmosphere of the original film. There are also some odd pixel issues that must have been part of the restoration and not the actual print. Colors lean to the cool side with a lot of blue throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is everything it could be here when you consider the source film’s age and budget. There is a bit of a shrill to the score, and the harshness distorts at times. Otherwise this is a relatively flat audio presentation that delivers the dialog and can’t really be expected to do much more.
My First Score: (8:11) HD Composer Christopher Young tells us that he’s been embarrassed by the score and still has never listened to it.
My First Slasher: (9:28) HD Makeup guy Matthew Mungle talks about the learning experience the movie was for him.
Where has this film been all of your life? For the most part, this version hasn’t existed for over 30 years. What surprises me most is how little the duo have done in the years since this movie. The only project they’ve done of any serious note is writing The Kindred. How do a couple of filmmakers make a movie this good, that shows this kind of understanding about filmmaking, and not leave a larger crater on impact? It must really suck to find after 30 years that you might have peaked in college. Just the same, Synapse has given that film a new lease on life after 30 years. I don’t know about you, but that “sounds like fun”.