Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Crash Course In Terror

What began as a commercially minded UCLA student film project ended up on theater and drive-in screens across North America—probably a big surprise to the arthouse-oriented classmates of co-directors and co-editors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter.

The two pupils also co-wrote the screenplay with Stacey Giachino with Obrow producing and Carpenter as cinematographer. THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was also the feature debut of composer Christopher Young (SPIDER-MAN 3) and actress Daphne Zuniga, who did another slasher movie (THE INITIATION) before hitting it big in THE SURE THING, SPACEBALLS, and TV’s MELROSE PLACE.

It’s unlikely anyone involved with this 16mm horror movie shot under the title DEATH DORM could have predicted its eventual success on the big screen and home video, even though it is a decent work of suspense. It’s about a group of college students left on campus during Christmas break to clean a dormitory marked for demolition and a mysterious killer who bumps off the cast in violent ways. The film doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but Carpenter and Obrow do nice work establishing a suspenseful tone and developing the mystery. Crude sound recording let down the stiff performers, who are at least likable.

However, because it’s nothing more than a simple meat-and-potatoes slasher, it’s hard to recommend. Obrow and Carpenter present a decent body count with impressive gore makeup by Matthew Mungle (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA), but it comes with slack editing and few surprises. The killer’s identity is no big deal and his motivation weak. The directors and Giachino do furnish a wry downer of an ending, and if the rest of the film had contained some of its black comedy, it would have been better.

Originally seen in theaters as PRANKS—a clumsy title, seeing as there really are no pranks in the movie—the film was re-released as THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, which is not only accurate and evocative, but also harkens back to a more innocent time of Saturday matinee chillers. The Synapse Blu-ray/DVD presents Carpenter and Obrow’s original cut with the DEATH DORM title before it was shorn of gore to receive an R rating. Mungle’s most notorious special effect is a power drill ripping into a skull, which got the film on Great Britain’s Video Nasties list.

No comments: