Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Census Bloodbath: Back to Skull - Day 2

Year: 1982
Director: Stephen Carpenter & Jeffrey Obrow
Cast: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, David Snow
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's back-to-school week and I would be remiss if I didn't include The Dorm That Dripped Blood in the college-themed proceedings. You see, it's the only film mentioned by Randy in Scream 2 that I hadn't actually seen yet. This is very important to me. It also has a presence on the Video Nasties list, the list of abhorrent films compiled by the British censorship board in the early 80's. If there's one thing I love more than slashers, it's slashers that the government doesn't want me to see.

Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, The Dorm That Dripped Blood isn't quite as nasty as one would hope, censored largely on the strength of one scene and a poster depicting a murder weapon. But it's pleasantly charming in its ineptness as the lesser slashers in that time period tended to be. So you won't catch me complaining.

Plus, we're treated to oh so sexy scenes like this one.

The Dorm That Dripped Blood  has the perfect slasher setup. A group of college students stay in an old dorm building over Christmas break so they can empty it out and prepare it for demolition. The canned Meat this time around includes Brian (David Snow), the helpful and supposedly hunky man's man; Patti (Pamela Holland), who is somewhat uptight and clingy; Craig (Stephen Sachs), the resident prankster and horny douchebag; and Debbie (Daphne Zuniga, the only member of the cast who can afford to have a headshot on IMDb and who also appeared in the terrific 1984 slasher The Initiation), the requisite girl who announces to everyone repeatedly that she is about to leave, then becomes the killer's first main victim.

This troublesome troupe is led by Joanne (Laurie Lapinski), an officious but capable young woman who is in a waning two-year relationship with Tim (Robert Fredrickson), a pushy and rude fellow who leaves for a ski trip early on in the movie and confounds expectations by not reappearing in the third act so he can be summarily offed. The kids work and play, but when mysterious occurrences begin to haunt them, the blame falls on John Hemmit (Woody Roll), a creepy drifter who looks like the result of an illicit affair between Larry from The Three Stooges and a tornado.

The film leads with its best elements - a healthy platter of college-aged victims and an intriguingly brutal sensibility. It's not particularly gory and the gore itself isn't particularly well-executed (one notable strangling has the woman's collar bleeding several inches above the wire around her neck), but the two scenes that really go for it hit the mark (well enough to land the film on the Video Nasties list, although offending the British isn't exactly a demanding achievement), landing at exactly the right points in the film to fuel any gorehound in the audience. And the many kills that are sentenced to exist slightly more offscreen still tend to feel gritty and savage in the best way possible.

If this doesn't fit your definition of "best way possible," maybe this movie isn't for you.

It's a good thing the kills are so (relatively) intense, because the rest of the film is so anemic. No single element is film-breaking, but that's only because each individual piece of The Dorm That Dripped Blood was broken before they even thought about coming together as a whole. In fact, the film is so resoundingly incompetent - and one's enjoyment of the film is so necessarily hinged on one's capacity to appreciate that fact - that I feel the need to expound upon this in a more lengthy manner than I typically prescribe.
  • The Editing: With copious use of dissolves that don't so much show passage of time as conceal deficiencies in coverage, The Dorm That Dripped Blood plays like a bad pornographic film. This is doubly embarrassing considering that the far more technically competent 1981 slasher know as Hell Night actually was shot by a porn director. If an internship in the porn industry could improve your film, maybe it's not quite time to be making features yet.
  • The Sound Design: In between more routine moments like footstep sound effects failing to match the actual footsteps, when the music attempts to be thrilling, it typically drowns out the dialogue, including one conversation that provides a major key to deciphering the finale.
  • The Cinematography: In most slashers, the cinematography only exists to put the gore onscreen, not to present it in any meaningful or artistic way. The Dorm That Dripped Blood ups the ante not only by failing to be artistic, but by fundamentally misunderstanding what it means to light and shoot a moving image. Actors step in and out of a single, retina-searingly bright key light as if their only equipment was a lighthouse beacon. An important kiss scene is shot from yards away and the actors all have such interchangeable shag haircuts that it's nigh on impossible to tell who is kissing whom. My money is on Craig and Brian. There's no sense of geography, just that of seven or so separate locations that exist without a modicum of contact with one another. And several conversations are shot in a dark room with a spotlight bearing down on a table, as if the table is drifting through the all-knowing Void. At least that staging makes some sense, as it's likely a ploy to hide the severe errors in...
  • The Production Design: The Dorm That Dripped Blood was clearly shot in some sort of warehouse, because not once does a set remotely resembling an actual dorm room come into play. Nearly every location is made up of four stark white walls, sometimes spruced up with a wan-looking rainbow flag. And due to the disconnected nature of the locations and the "cleaning up the dorm" thing, many of the requisite killer POV shots feel like B-roll from an unfinished documentary about garbage, rarely having anything to do with the victim being stalked, sometimes taking place in established locations halfway across the building from where we believe the prey to be. Although, of course, any sense of spatial relationships would merely be conjecture, requiring an advanced degree in nuclear astrophysics to accurately follow along.
  • The Plot: There's the usual Idiot Plot trappings - Joanne doesn't decide to call the police until long after the line has been cut, she closes her blinds but not the window, and there's "I'll be right back"s galore. But the true whammy is in the finale, so I'm gonna spoiler block it just in case. [After the killing is finished and John Hemmit is out of the picture, Craig nonchalantly reveals that it was him the whole time. He just tosses off that dialogue like a bit of idle chatter long before he devolves into the obligatory Final Ten Minutes psycho. There is little to no justification for this, merely the sense that a slasher really ought to have a twist so why not this one? A true classic ending.]
  • The Characters: First off, the main character trait in the film is that everyone wants to bang Joanne, despite the fact that she has about as much personality as a waffle iron. It's an epidemic claiming Tim, Brian, Craig, and even Bobby Lee Tremble (Dennis Ely), the man with the best name in recorded history who just wanted to buy some desks but got caught in Joanne's mighty gravitational field of inexplicable lust. Although my favorite anecdote that exemplifies the wafer thin characterizations is the fact that when Joanne needs to go get Brian and ask him for a favor, she opens the elevator door and he's just standing there blankly by the wall, merely a prop waiting to be called into use. It's too much to ask for slasher characters to have inner life, but an outer one would be nice. But here, characters that are offscreen merely cease to exist, lending credence to my theory that the director/screenwriter team wrote the first draft as infants before object permanence kicked in. That would at least justify the needlessly overexplanatory dialogue that runs rampant throughout the entire thing.
"How many EGGS do you want? I sure do hate SPIDERS. I hope there's no SPIDERS in my EGGS. What a PRANK, Craig!"

It's bad, is what I'm saying. But there are different tiers of bad. There's To All a Goodnight bad, where  everything is dull, underlit, and goreless. And there's The Room bad where everything is so sincerely terrible it's hard not to appreciate the pure misguided effort that fuels the whole thing. The Dorm That Dripped Blood is somewhere in between, not as thoroughly engrossing as Tommy Wiseau's masterwork nor as insipidly stupor-inducing as David Hess's lump of coal.

It's a rather workaday slasher that will neither offend nor titillate modern audiences, but it has that magic of pure 80's trash cinema that makes it worth viewing for any enthusiast. Don't put The Dorm That Dripped Blood on your Netflix queue unless you're thoroughly prepared with a squadron of chums and a full box of pizza.

Killer: [Craig (Stephen Sachs)]
Final Girl: Joanne (Laurie Lapinski)
Best Kill: Definitely the one that earned the movie its Video Nasty rating - the drill through the back of the head.
Sign of the Times: In true slasher dreck fashion, The Dorm That Dripped Blood has gone through a variety of names - also operating under the aliases Pranks and Death Dorm.
Scariest Moment: A shock scare in the very first scene is the first slasher gag in a while that's actually caught me off guard, although in retrospect perhaps it shouldn't have.
Weirdest Moment: Debbie's trip to find something in the basement storage room somehow lands her on the roof.
Champion Dialogue: "I'm sorry I took the bread. I just took it."
Body Count: 10
  1. Some Random Dude is strangled and his hand is sliced in half.
  2. Debbie's Dad is hit with a spiked bat.
  3. Doris is garroted with wire.
  4. Debbie is run over by a car.
  5. Bill is drilled in the back of the head.
  6. Brian is slashed with a machete.
  7. Patty is boiled alive in a pot of water.
  8. John Hemmit is slashed with a machete.
  9. Bobby Lee Tremble is shot to death.
  10. [Joanne is incinerated offscreen.]  
TL;DR: The Dorm That Dripped Blood is only memorable for its badness, but the relative quality of its kills and the ubiquity of its ineptitude render it more than a total dud.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1767

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