Monday, October 26, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Boringhouse

Year: 1982
Director: John Wintergate
Cast: John Wintergate, Kalassu, Lindsay Freeman
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Boardinghouse, which is a cult film according to all its own promotional materials (so why wouldn't I believe them?), is also one of the very first horror films to be shot on video, to be transferred to film for projection while keeping the budget low and the film prepped and ready for the fledgling rental market. It certainly was a watershed moment that set the standard for all SOV horror flicks to come, which are also very very bad.

Though I'm sure there are some great ones waiting in the wings for perusal as we head deeper into the 80's. Nervous laughter.

Boardinghouse is the twisted vision of John Wintergate (who had a bit part in the also bad Terror on Tour in 1980) who directs (as Johnn Wintergate, apparently a typo), writes (as Jonema), provides special makeup effects (as J. Wintergate), and stars in two roles (as Hawk Adly, definitely a typo because the story goes he wanted to be called "Hank"). His character Jim Royce (he also plays the unnamed gardener, billed as "Gardner" because why not at least be consistent) has inherited a large Los Angeles home from his uncle, which he converts into a boardinghouse in the hopes of attracting a bevy of aspiring actresses and models to come live there for cheap.

His dreams quickly become a reality, and he's lounging around dressed like Hugh Hefner while being massaged and flirted with by at least 8 beautiful women whose numbers seem to randomly fluctuate. The only ones who have any bearing on the story are Debbie (Penthouse model Lindsay Freeman), who has an untraceable accent and a dark secret, and Victoria (Kalassu, Wintergate's real life wife, with whom he has an annoying New Age music group that made music into the 2010's), who seems to rise to the top as lead contender for being his love interest. Also two of them are named Cindy and Sandy because maybe the film actively hates us? Jim studies telekinesis, and gets some of the other girls into it. And wouldn't you know it, but people around the house start dying in strange paranormal accidents.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Legend (and the two-disc DVD release) has it that the original director's cut of Boardinghouse is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, which actually explains several things. Distributors lopping an hour off certainly accounts for a lot of the subplots that either go nowhere or slam into the movie out of the clear blue sky (literally at one point a Black boarder appears out of thin air - and trust me, if she had been there before I would have noticed her in the writhing ocean of pallid flesh this movie calls a cast). But that level of sheer self indulgence the original run time belies (even the 1 hour 38 minute run time we got theatrically is needlessly indulgent) points to the source of every single sin this movie commits: John Wintergate, for whom auteur theory is doing no favors.

Calling Boardinghouse the The Room of the 80's slasher genre would be doing a huge disservice to that cult masterpiece, but Wintergate is certainly the Tommy Wiseau of his era, down to the psychological profile (he also claimed this film was an intentional comedy after a heap of bad reviews). He's a man who was starting to age out of Hollywood and likely overcompensated by putting a huge amount of work into his physique (his body is ripped, and I know this because he spends at least half of the movie with his chest bared, and at least half of that time in nothing but teeny tiny briefs). He seems to have found the means to create his own movie out of the twin impulses of positioning himself as a movie star and hiring people to be his friends and lovers. 

This film is creepy not because of any horror content, but because of Wintergate himself. Boardinghouse does itself no favors by making constant jokes about the casting couch, because it seems like every woman was hired just because he wanted to make out with them on camera. It's repulsive to watch on the surface level of its plot (no landlord should pick up a tenant and carry her into the shower, even if she is covered in yogurt), but it's downright skin-crawling the more you learn about the director and the making of the film.

There's exploitation, and then there's using a film starring your wife as a personal dating service.

Beyond all that, every other aspect of Boardinghouse's construction is dodgy. The acting is dreadful, of course. The female characters are all goggle-eyed sex vixens and the men range from hollow to "I'm legitimately worried he might be having an episode." The cinematography has that grimy shot-on-video glow of course, but also a heap of misguided camcorder zooms and shoddy colorful video effects slathered on top of everything. And the special effects are uniformly terrible. You can see the hands tugging along quite a few of the objects in the telekinesis scenes, the cinematographer loves to catch himself in mirror reflections, and for an electrocution scene, the effect is achieved by shining a flashlight into the man's mouth from off camera.

At the very least, the scare sequences have some solid vision, even if they're never achieved properly. I could see a lot of the imagery used here actually having an impact in a good movie, especially the scene where corpse hands burst from a woman's bed to grab her, or the material using a bloody pig head that grabs at people (there's a lot of grabbing in this movie). And some of the kills are even a little fun (we have a cheeky hand-in-garbage-disposal moment, for one thing). What's weird is that almost none of the people who die (and there are a lot of them) are actually the boarders. They're mostly just random side characters who wander into the movie. 

Not that I'm advocating for female characters to die specifically, but if you fill a house with babes with no personalities in a slasher movie, you murder them. That's just how it's done. Failing to accomplish that makes the movie more confusing (usually it's easier to tell what indistinguishable white woman is which in a slasher film once several of them have been killed off) and provides more evidence that Wintergate is making this film for the wrong reasons (see: the scene where a terrified woman tries to escape a shower by pressing her breasts into the glass over and over again).

At the end of the day, Boardinghouse might be a cult film for some, but those people have to be a loooot more interested in the naked female body than I am. And I do concede that there are plenty of people who fit this description. If you want to watch an incoherent, choppy story where a bunch of nobodies do nothing, and then get pushed into pools (or any suitable body of water that renders sheer garments see-through), then have at it. But for me, this film has an automatic "go to the bottom 5 slashers of 1982 list free" card.

Killer: Debbie (Lindsay Freeman)
Final Girl: There's plenty of them, and none of them matter. Although I guess Victoria (Kalassu), because she's the last one we see.
Best Kill: There's a part where a woman squeezes out her own eyes which has some aggressively dreadful cuts, but the fakey effect at the end is actually super gross to look at.
Sign of the Times: I know that making the rent cheap was meant to be the enticement to fill the house with babes, but even if you were doing that in 2020 (which you shouldn't), you'd charge more than $100 a month. Inflation's a harsh mistress.
Scariest Moment: After What's Her Name is scared in the shower, she sees herself as a pig-headed, male-pattern-balding monster in the bathroom mirror.
Weirdest Moment: When two of the women get into a playful, sexy splash fight in the jacuzzi, one tries to drown the other, and then gets her top ripped off in retaliation.
Champion Dialogue: "Hey, what is this gun?"
Body Count: 12; but perplexingly only 3 of them are the boarders.

  1. Don Hoffman drowns in the pool.
  2. Mrs. Hoffman gets her hand caught in the garbage disposal and dies somehow.
  3. Nurse Sherry hangs herself.
  4. Orderly rips out his own guts.
  5. Harris is electrocuted.
  6. Cindy drowns herself in the ocean.
  7. Pumpkin the Cat is hit with a hammer.
  8. The Black Boarder is shot.
  9. Detective shoots himself.
  10. Gardener is impaled on... something sharp, I guess. It's hard to see.
  11. Sandy plucks out her own eyes.
  12. Agent is telekinesis-ed to death.

TL;DR: Boardinghouse is a horrible, dreadful slog with some random pockets of imagery that is interesting in concept but not execution.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1504

1 comment: