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Back in September, I went on opening night to see SORORITY ROW, a silly remake of a just-as-silly 1980s slasher. I really don’t like slashers in general, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself to the task of reviewing a bunch of slashers, the first round of which were school-based. Several months later, I stopped stalling and actually committed myself to following through on it (hey, I told you I can’t stand slashers). Below is the fourth in this series of reviews.
de•riv•a•tive (adj) copied or adapted from others
slash•er (n) a horror film depicting such criminal (attacks with a knife, razor, or the like) and featuring gory special effects.
I kindly thank American Heritage and Random House, respectively, for the definitions above. They made reviewing THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD easy for me. Looking at this film for my review, I was amazed at just how derivative the slasher film had become in a period of only two years. In 1980, Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH established much of the template for this cheapie breed; by 1982, so many scores of films had aped its elements that they became cliché in a record amount of time, even by Hollywood standards. As director and producer after director and producer rushed to cash in on Paramount’s cash cow, so precious few of theM seemed intent to add anything to the formula. DORM decided to adhere closely to the formula, and turns out one mundane experience.
Cunningham’s film began with a group of young adults at an empty summer camp, building it up before kids arrive. This film flips that concept: after a quick kill that seems totally unrelated to the rest, DORM has a group of young adults breaking down a dormitory after all the students have left. The setting provides the necessary isolation, as well as plenty of dark locations for the killer to lurk within (too dark, in many cases; several scenes are so close to pitch black, it’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on). It’s also one of only two element for which I can applaud directors Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Orbrow. Its scope added instant production to what is obviously a low budget effort.
If only the two had done anything exciting with that locale. THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD’s biggest sin is how it operates strictly by the numbers. A woman sitting alone in a car at night? She’ll get it from someone in the back seat. A man washing his face in front of a bathroom mirror? The killer’s bound to be behind him when he straightens up. This film even employs the “victim walking up the darkened stairwell as killer walks down it” not once but twice. And herein lies the problem: I see the solitary victim walking in the shadows, then the killer’s legs, I hear the “Harry Manfredini meets Bernard Herrman’s PSYCHO” score, and I know the slashing is imminent. By telegraphing every kill in the film this way, the movie’s attempt to provide build-up actually minimizes the tension, and as a result, it’s not frightening all. Following a formula is one thing. Following it in such rote fashion makes for a dull experience.
I mentioned there were two things that worked in this film when I discussed the setting. The other is its ending. By that, I don’t mean the last 15 minutes, in which DORM reveals its killer (yes, this is a whodunnit, another tired slasher convention), which I’m sure was supposed to surprise the audience, but didn’t catch me. I mean the last three minutes or so. I’m a fan of bleak endings in horror films, and DORM is audacious enough to break from formula here. These three minutes are grim and provide something fresh, but it’s too little, too late. If only the rest of the film had taken the risks that its finale does.
If you’re looking for this flick on DVD, you won’t find it. At least, not under its true title. The DVD goes by its British name, PRANKS, which doesn’t even make sense. But that does make it an entry in the Horror Movie Relocation program.
You also won’t find any extras, except a “Bios and Filmography” section. That’s actually a misnomer, because there’s only one. It outlines the career of Daphne Zuniga, who has a minor role here, and had a minor career in the 80s and 90s. Clearly, Substance Video didn’t think to excite slasher fans with extras any more than the film itself will.
In my recent reviews for SPLATTER UNIVERSITY and SLAUGHTER HIGH, I hammered those flicks for being ludicrous. They hold to their own ridiculous rules, and are by their very nature outlandish. What I didn’t acknowledge is that their absurdity at least gave them personality. Sure, they’re terrible, but they’re anything but boring. And under the right circumstances, they’d provide some good laughs over a few beers with some friends. I can’t say the same for DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. It’s more competently made than those films, but infinitely duller. If you always thought that school was mind numbing and you couldn’t wait for the closing bell, DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD will prove you right.
–Phil Fasso
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