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April 26, 2011

The Dorm that Dripped Blood

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Death Dorm/Pranks
Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter - 1982
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

This isn't the kind of film that I usually write about, and I'm admittedly not an aficionado of slasher films. Yeah, I saw Halloween when it first came out, and I've been a fan of gialli over the years. I also, memorably, went to see the original My Bloody Valentine with my mother, who was assigned to write a review for the Denver Post.

So why bother with The Dorm that Dripped Blood? What I found fascinating was watching the film with the commentary track by the directorial team of Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter. Sometimes the making of a film can be as interesting, or sometimes more interesting, than the film itself. And while I usually don't bother with commentary tracks, this one is fun as well as extremely informative. I would actually recommend watching the film with the commentary track for any film students or novice filmmakers as a way of letting them now how it was done, especially in those pre-digital and pre-home computer days when making a movie meant working with celluloid.

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The real story isn't about some mystery person hacking various people in a virtually empty college dorm, schedule for closure during the Christmas holiday. For me, it was the story of a gang of UCLA film students who grabbed what ever film equipment they could take out during a period of almost three weeks, film stock they could finagle, and some actors that worked for little or no money, shooting in and around the UCLA campus, finally coming up with a feature film that not only garnered international distribution, but provided entry for several people into varying degrees of professional success.

Most of the commentary is provided by Jeffrey Obrow, who with Stephen Carpenter, as well as alone, worked on several more horror films. I haven't seen any of their other work, but have to feel impressed that Rod Steiger and Kim Hunter were both in The Kindred. Carpenter has gone from direction and cinematography to some success as a screenwriter. The name Matthew Mungle might not mean anything until you check out his filmography and realize that you've seen his special effects and make-up work on at least a dozen films minimum. Film composer Christopher Young began his career with this film. And yes, the influence of Bernard Herrmann's shrieking violins from Psycho can't be missed, but it's still got some interesting moments. The DVD also offers an isolated music track, quite rightly. Young and Mungle also get brief DVD interviews discussing their participation in the film. Of the cast members, only Daphne Zuniga was sprinkled with stardust. Seen briefly in her screen debut, the future Princess Vespa is button cute.

Part of the appeal of The Dorm that Dripped Blood is that it was part of the (in)famous list of films designated as "Video Nasties". I have seen some of the other films on that list. The response to some of the more graphic moments is going to based on the viewer's tolerance level for such mayhem, but I can honestly say that I've seen bigger budget films that didn't look as good, a tribute to Matthew Mungle's craftsmanship. For those whose interest is less scholarly or in anyway critical, The Dorm that Dripped Blood has the requisite chasing up and down dark passages, deliberate false clues, brief nudity, and death by a variety of implements. For myself, none of the head bashing, strangulations or lopped off body parts bothered me as much as the cockamamie premise that a college dorm would close down in the midst of the school year.

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Posted by peter at April 26, 2011 08:26 AM