Movie Number– 54
Title– The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
Running Time– 88 minutes (“Not Rated”)
Director– Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter
Writer– Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow, & Stacey Gaichino
Starring– Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, David Snow, Pamela Holland, Dennis Ely, Woody Roll, & Daphne Zuniga
(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Thanks to the popularity of John Carpenter’s Halloween, the 1980s seen a saturation of cheap, slasher horror films. Some of these have been lost to obscurity, (perhaps due to a lack of a DVD release) while others have grown to cult status, forever claiming a small, passionate fan base willing to argue the film’s merits to their bloody graves. The Dorm That Dripped Blood – also known as Pranks, or Death Dorm – falls into the second group. This thesis project turned “video nasty” was inspired by that 1978 John Carpenter classic, and, like most 80s slasher films, will only please the most fervent fans.
It isn’t that The Dorm That Dripped Blood (I’ll call it Death Dorm for short) is a bad slasher film, it’s just mostly typical to the genre. The story does its job of getting a small number of people alone in a potentially creepy location, but is shallow as the kiddie pool. If Death Dorm had nothing going for it, though, why would it have earned the cult label? I imagine that it has something to do with the fact that Death Dorm launched the careers of two future award winners: Matthew W. Mungle for makeup work, and Christopher Young for his work with film music. These two elements of the film happen to also be the most memorable aspects, and help make Death Dorm fun to sit through with vintage horror fans.
Death Dorm follows four college students as they stay behind during Christmas break in order to ready their dormitory for demolition. Though these students are supposed to be alone, they soon realize that one of the other students – the eccentric loner, John Hemmitt – has stayed behind. The leader of the pack, Joanne Murray, tries to contact John and asks him to leave. He ignores her. When things start happening around the campus, including murder, the students start to get worried and fear that Hemmitt may be more than just “the guy with the frizzy hair”.
There is a good reason why so few of these actors went on to do anything of note in Hollywood: aside from a couple exceptions, the acting is subpar, and can only be appreciated by cult horror fans. This did mark the start of Daphne Zuniga’s acting career, however. Zuniga later went on to star in the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs, and the hit TV series Melrose Place. Death Dorm was her first film, and though she plays a smaller role, does a nice job with the time she is given onscreen.
The influences of the films that came before Death Dorm are evident on both the cinematic and musical side of the film. This is Christopher Young’s first film score, and it is incredible. Young later went on to create the scores for Spider-Man 3, Drag Me to Hell, and Hellraiser to name a few, and this is an example of two young filmmakers getting lucky with a budding artist. There is no doubt that Hitchcock’s Psycho was a favorite of Chris Young’s as a boy, because the music in Death Dorm feels like it was taken straight from the infamous shower scene in Psycho. The score sets the stage for Death Dorm exquisitely, and can be reason enough to watch the film.
The other standout aspect of Death Dorm is the special effects makeup work by Matthew Mungle (who won the Academy Award in 1993 for his work on Dracula). By today’s standards, the effects look cheesy, but remembering this film was shot in 1980 – with a tiny budget – helps one realize how impressive Mungle’s work really is. This Blu-ray release is the first time that fans get to see Mungle’s work to its fullest, because the previous releases shortened the goriest scenes in the film. For both the inventiveness of the kills, and the special effects makeup work by Mungle, the death scenes in Death Dorm are top notch.
The story is weak, especially when it reaches the climax, and there is a lot of downtime where the characters are shown walking around, but Death Dorm is a perfect example of the 80s slasher craze. It will never be as good as its influences, but there is still some fun to be had. The musical score by Christopher Young makes the entire movie more enjoyable, and the makeup effects work by Matthew Mungle is perfectly 80s. If the acting were a bit stronger, and the story more justified, Death Dorm might stand up there with Friday the 13th on the horror hierarchy, but as it stands, will forever be a cult classic that only diehard slasher fans will enjoy.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.