This is just a guess, but I'm betting a lot of film students turning in their thesis projects have hammered out something artsy, abstract, pretentious, and...well, terrifyingly like this:
Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter, meanwhile, handed a professor at UCLA a slasher flick. Not some post-modern deconstruction, not some high-concept spin on the old formula...just a gritty, grimy, brutal, straightahead slasher. Obrow and Carpenter wanted to use their movie as foot in the door in Hollywood, so instead of trying to do something offbeat or unusual, they did pretty much the exact same thing that all the slasher flicks from the class of 1980 were doing -- it's just that they did it better. So many of those early Dead Teenager flicks got distracted by ghost stories about a town's
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tortured past, the legend of some kind of boogeyman, and reams and reams of exposition and backstories. The Dorm That Dripped Blood strips it down to bare metal. A co-op dorm on campus has been condemned. While the rest of the campus empties out for the holidays, a skeleton crew of students hang back for a couple of weeks to finish shutting the building down. Some lunatic hacks 'em apart one by one. Creepy stalker type. Red herrings. Shocking reveal. Fade to black. Roll credits. I mean that in a good way too: all killer, no filler.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood keeps a really steady rhythm going. No matter where you are in the movie, the next kill is never more than a few minutes off, and especially in this uncensored director's cut, the murders are almost straight across the board cruel and vicious: a hand split down the middle, a chick tossed in a pressure cooker, a power drill through the skull, machete-fu, dismembered corpses, a spiked bat to the head again and again and again...the list keeps going on from there too. The cast -- which includes future Spaceballs starlet Daphne Zuniga! -- is better than average for an indie slasher, and with the body count as high as it is, hardly anyone has a chance to overstay their welcome. Just enough is revealed about these characters to give them a bit of a personality as well as some excuse to walk off by themselves to be slaughtered. Even my least favorite slasher trope -- the jokester who tries way, way too hard to get a laugh -- is tackled really well here. It's just fun without sopping with flopsweat the way a lot of these movies do. There's a pretty traditional whodunnit element about who the killer is along with the usual red herrings, but the reveal definitely caught me off-guard when the time comes, and it's all part of a really spectacular final half hour. I liked The Dorm That Dripped Blood well enough leading up to that third act, but the finalé is extremely tense and suspenseful...so effective that it's hard to believe this is the work of first-time filmmakers. Obrow and Carpenter mostly stick with a heightened version of the standard issue slasher formula for the bulk of the flick, but there are a couple of ways in which the final moments of the movie really break away from convention. The less said about that in a review, the better, but...yeah. Wow. The Dorm That Dripped Blood may be the handiwork of some barely-twentysomethings with a few grand and a stack of UCLA's film equipment, but it's as solid a slasher flick as anything else from the early '80s that I've come across. I think it takes a real love of the genre to really appreciate what Obrow and Carpenter have pulled off here, but if you're anywhere near as much of a slasher fanatic as I am, The Dorm That Dripped Blood comes very, very highly recommended.
Even if you've caught this movie at some point over the years -- either as The Dorm That Dripped Blood or under one of its other titles, Pranks -- you've never seen it like this. While putting together this release, additional footage was unearthed that even the filmmakers assumed had long since been tossed away. These extended kills -- including a spiked bat that's bashed into one poor schlub's head something like eight times rather than just being swiped at the camera -- have never been seen in any other theatrical or home video release.
Look, no one's going to accuse The Dorm That Dripped Blood of being pretty.
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We're talking about a movie that was shot by college-aged kids on whatever cameras they could grab out of the UCLA film department and on stock they more or less got for free. If you waltz into The Dorm That Dripped Blood expecting something sparkling and gleaming, then you're setting yourself up for a disappointment. For what it is -- a gritty, grimy 16mm slasher flick -- I really can't picture The Dorm That Dripped Bloodever looking better than this.
The transfer for this Blu-ray disc was sourced from a 35mm answer print of the original director's cut. The upside is that there's splatter here that's never been seen in any of the hacked-apart and retitled versions of the movie that've made the rounds over the years. The unavoidable downside is that it's a blowup from the original 16mm, so there's a little generation loss. It doesn't help that the photography skews kind of soft anyway, and a few shots aren't entirely in focus. Still, even with all these limitations and stumbling blocks, I'm kind of floored by what Synapse Films was able to pull off here. Damage and wear are minimal. The film grain is resolved exceptionally well here, and I feel as if I'm seeing every trace of detail that's in the original film print. Even with as gritty as the texture of the grain is, the AVC encode never once sputters or stutters. I've devoured enough 16mm horror over the years to appreciate how strong this presentation is, but if you really want to get a sense of what this Blu-ray disc has to offer, stack it up next to the DVD. You'll need to pop these open to full-size to see it, obviously, but...
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As pale as the colors are on the Blu-ray disc, they still pack more of a wallop than the DVD. The texture of the grain is muddy and indistinct in standard definition but immediately makes its presence known in 1080p. Contrast is more robust, and clarity and detail are both dramatically improved.
If you tear off the shrinkwrap for The Dorm that Dripped Blood expecting something as clean and gleaming as a bigger-budgeted studio slasher, then you're gonna be S.O.L. If you're delusional enough to think that all 16mm movies ought to look alike, then no, it doesn't have the sort of glossy sheen as that lavish restoration of The Evil Dead from a year or two back. Still, I'm a lifelong slasher fanatic, and I've plowed through enough 16mm splatter to wholly appreciate what an incredible effort this is by Synapse. It kind of goes without saying that this isn't the first thing I'd grab off the shelf to show off my overpriced home theater, but for what it is, I'm thrilled with the way The Dorm That Dripped Blood looks in high-def.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood is sloshed out on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, and the image has been pillarboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The accompanying DVD sports an anamorphic widescreen presentation and also has a dual-layer disc at its fingertips.
I usually keep my standards pretty high when popping in a Synapse release, but still, I was caught off-guard by how incredible The Dorm That Dripped Blood sounds. This DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack -- presented in two-channel mono -- is so clear that I feel as if I'm in a high-end recording studio with the original master tapes unspooling right in front of me. The distinctness, clarity, and detail here eclipse anything I could've hoped to hear. The dialogue sometimes sounds a little edgy but is otherwise flawless. I feel as if I can clearly discern each individual instrument throughout Christopher Young's orchestral score. There's a bit of a hiss at times, but it's not intrusive and sounds natural enough, and no pops or cracks ever creep in. There's no real low-end to speak of either, but that's kind of to be expected anyway. Especially given what I'm sure the state of the original audio was, this is a world-class effort.
There's also an isolated score, presented in monaural DTS-HD Master Audio as well. There are no subtitles, remixes, or dubs this time around.
Audio Commentary: Hey, why settle? Even the commentary track on this Blu-ray disc is dished out
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in DTS-HD Master Audio. Co-directors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter paint a pretty intriguing picture of what it was like to make The Dorm That Dripped Blood: a bunch of barely-twentysomethings figuring out how to make a movie as they went, using whatever locations and outdated gear they could get their hands on for free (or...::coughs!:: deferred payment), and turning a commercial slasher in as a student thesis project when everyone else in class is hammering out unwatchably pretentious art films. The sense of personality's the best thing about it, particularly those stories about gambling away their points in the flick over cards, how close some of the cast came to actually being butchered on the set, and the police being called in when a bloodied guy is walking around campus with a machete. Definitely worth a listen.
Interviews(17 min.; HD): One of the things that comes up throughout the audio commentary is how this was the first feature for pretty much everyone on both sides of the camera. One of the names on that list is Christopher Young, a composer who'd go on to score everything from Hellraiser to Spider-Man 3. In Young's interview (8 min.), he speaks about his methodology for composing a horror score, how he was recruited to work on Dorm..., and how crude the process was with the technology available in those days.
Matthew Mungle has taken home one Oscar and earned a couple additional nods from the Academy for his work in make-up effects, and he too got his start on The Dorm That Dripped Blood. In his nine minute interview, Mungle runs through how he pulled off some of the most memorable kills in the flick, and he speaks at length about his preparation and approach to this kind of splatter. There's also a quick peek at what the censored version of the movie looked like in the UK.
Trailers(3 min.; HD): Rounding it all out are trailers from both of the movie's theatrical releases: one as Pranks and the other as The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
...and if you missed it a few paragraphs up, there's also an isolated score.
Both of the discs in this package -- the Blu-ray disc and the DVD -- are all-region. Also, the cover insert is reversible, with The Dorm That Dripped Blood artwork on one side and a shot of the spiked bat under the Pranks title on the other.
The Final Word
One of the great things about The Dorm That Dripped Blood is that it really doesn't take that many chances. It looks at the glut of the earliest slashers and does the exact same thing they do, only a hell of a lot better. There aren't any annoying characters. The pace isn't dragged down by a bunch of filler or rambling, aimless backstories. The body count's high, there are some really brutal and demented kills, and the last half hour is about as suspenseful and intense as any slasher from the turn of the 1980s that I've come across. I grew up devouring '80s slashers, and The Dorm That Dripped Blood crams together just about everything I love so much about 'em. Even if you've caught The Dorm That Dripped Blood before, you've never seen it like this, restoring splatter that had never made it into any other release till now. If you're not much of a slasher fanatic, then...well, I'm not really sure why you've made it this far down in the review, but if you are, then The Dorm That Dripped Blood comes very Highly Recommended.