The Dorm That Dripped Blood (aka “Pranks”) (1981)
D: Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter
Laurie Lapinski, David Snow, Pamela Holland and Daphne Zuniga.
You have to hand it to Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter. What their feature debut Death Dorm lacks in pacing, technical acumen and suspense, it makes up for in sheer ballsiness. How else to describe a film that was renamed to capitalize on the Vincent Price classic The House that Dripped Blood? You may also find the film under its DVD title Pranks. At any rate, it’s never a good sign when a film is released under three different titles. It feels like the producers are trying to pull something over on an unsuspecting audience.
Whatever the title, the film lies on that thin dividing line between seventies schlock and eighties slashers, and that’s about all the value you’re going to get out of it.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around a group of coeds (Joanne, Debbie, Patty, Brian and Craig if you care) trying to clean out Morgan Meadows Hall before it’s torn down and replaced with apartments. The only actor you’ll recognize is Daphne Zuniga, and she’s gone pretty quickly, leaving the foursome to deal with some unseen killer.
The characters are your basic archetypes. Patty is the “slutty one.” Brian is the “horny one.” (Do the math on that one.) Craig is the “sensitive one.” Joanne is the “responsible one – and, therefore, ‘final girl’.” Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the genre should be able to figure out the film’s events based on those labels… or so you’d think.
But that’s getting ahead of things.
Obrow and Carpenter know that they have to introduce red herrings for this low-rent version of “Ten Little Indians,” so they throw out three of the most clichéd suspects you’ll ever see – the mumbling bum Hemmit, the sleazy delivery man who picks up the desks (and tries to pick up Joanne), and the gruff handyman.
The duo’s direction matches their screenplay, which never rises above the timeworn bromides. Visually, the film just seems flat, making the reported $90,000 budget all the more apparent. While John Carpenter and Craven (and even Sean Cunningham) transcended low budgets, Obrow and Stephen Carpenter (no relation) just point the camera and move on. At least the death scenes are appropriately gruesome.
The one aspect that drags the film out of the dreck and nearly redeems it is the Fincheresque ending. While saying too much more would spoil it for first-time viewers, it does shrug off the usual slasher finish in which the heroine survives but leaves the killer just enough wiggle room for a sequel.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood is hardly a classic of the genre. The production values are even worse than most slashers. The sets are horribly lit to the point where you can’t tell what’s going on in some scenes. The script has numerous flaws, not the least of which is Hemmit. A red herring doesn’t work if it’s obvious that it’s a red herring. Yet the film does have a certain energy to it that lets it just roll along under its own steam. The downer ending, while a tad sadistic, is definitely gutsy on the part of the writers/directors. Undiscerning slasher fans might enjoy a once-over, but the average fan will want more style and substance.
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