With the success of Friday the 13th and Halloween, eager young filmmakers, often armed with little more than a camera and a dream, set out to make their mark on horror history. The bulk of these films were zero-budget offerings with dreadful acting, bad writing, and amateur production values, but, despite their glaring flaws, a few of these indie gems caught on with slasher fans, thanks, in large part, to their oftentimes imaginative and exceptionally graphic death scenes. The Dorm that Dripped Blood (aka; Pranks) is a perfect example of such a film. Made by a group of UCLA students for a meager $90,000 dollars, Dorm gained notoriety as part of the BBFC’s Video Nasty campaign, and, as a result, grew into something of a cult phenomenon. Now, nearly thirty years after its release, The Dorm that Dripped Blood comes to Blu-ray bigger and bloodier than ever in a never-before-seen extended director’s cut .
The utilitarian plot of Dorm revolves around a skeleton crew of students tasked with cleaning out a soon-to-be torn down dormitory building over holiday break. The team consists of the matronly, sweater-obsessed leader, Joanne (Laurie Lupinski); “hunky” doofus, Brian (David Snow); the mercurial tough guy, Craig (Steven Sachs);his shrill girlfriend Patti (Pamela Holland); and the cute, innocent Debbie (Spaceball’s Daphne Zuniga in her first role). The group plan on spending the next two weeks emptying out the contents of the building , but, unbeknownst to them, someone else wandering the halls of the abandoned dormitory is planning a little house cleaning of their own.
With wicked kills, bountiful blood, and more red-herrings than an Agatha Christie mystery, The Dorm that Dripped Blood is an entertaining bargain basement slasher experiment that fails as often as it succeeds, but that’s all part of its charm. The directorial team of Obrow and Carpenter manage to create little by way of tension or atmosphere, and there’s not a truly effective scare in the whole film, but the sheer brutality of the kills, from a stairwell beatdown with a nail-studded baseball bat to a bit involving a woman’s head and a set of tires, sets this one apart from the comparably tame studio slashers of the period. Of course, to see these kills one must sit through ninety minutes of inane dialogue, wooden acting, and the nails-on-a-chalkboard voice of actress, Pamela Holland, who sounds like the bastard child of Beaker the Muppet and a malfunctioning air horn.
Synapse Films brings The Dorm that Dripped Blood to Blu-ray in what’s being touted as the “director’s cut” of the film, featuring scenes thought lost for nearly thirty years. Presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the film looks about as grungy and grainy as one would expect being a cheapie of this vintage, but, when compared to the terrible VHS versions of this film that I’ve seen, the image looks pretty damned good. Yes, there are moments where the grain proves problematic, such as in close-ups where detail is a bit on the fuzzy side, but, to be honest, I’d rather there be grain than the artificial look of excess DNR, which, thankfully, Synapse avoids here. There are a few artifacts kicking around, and, in some of the darker scenes, a bit of blocking, but nothing too distracting. Frankly, the film looks better than I expected, the DTS HD 2.0 stereo soundtrack, while fairly uneventful, serves its purpose just fine. There’s a touch of distortion in the score, but dialogue comes across clear and evenly mixed, and some of the sound effects, especially the thud of the baseball bat hitting the skull of a hapless victim, are sickeningly effective.
Extras feature a commentary track by Obrow and Carpenter that offers a lot of insight into the making of the film. Tech geeks and aspiring filmmakers will enjoy the bits where they touch upon the techniques and gear used to make the film. I also appreciate their honesty as they appraise their work for what is quite probably the first time in decades. It’s a great commentary, and one that actually made me enjoy and appreciate their labor of love all the more.
Other extras include a featurette focusing on composer, Chris Young, who wrote the score for the film. Entitled, appropriately enough, My First Score (HD) this is more or a less an general discussion about the role of music in a horror film, but it’s entertaining and enlightening. Fans of the score will be happy to learn that it’s presented on an isolated track.
Following the “my first’ motif, My First Slasher (HD) features a discussion with Matthew Mungle, the man responsible for the film’s notorious gore effects.
Rounding out the extras, we get a pair of trailers (both in HD); one for The Dorm that Dripped Blood, and the other for the film under its alternate title, Pranks. Synapse also throws in a reversible cover, featuring the poster art for both versions of the film on either side. We also get a DVD copy of the film, but I haven't given that a spin yet as...well...why would I? I have the Blu-ray, dammit!
The Dorm that Dripped Blood is by no means a classic film, but it is an important one in that it was amongst the first indie slashers to break out into the mainstream, helped along by the notoriety afforded it by the BBFC’s Video Nasty label. Synapse Films’ Blu-ray treatment is top-notch, with painstakingly remastered print and audio complimented by a quality selection of bonus materials. Slasher fans will definitely want to add this one to their collection!