Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #709
Also known as Pranks, Death Dorm
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 2, 1982
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 104 minutes
Directors: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow
Producers: Stephen Carpenter, Stacey Giachino
Screenplay: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow, Stacey Giachino
Special Effects: Matthew W. Mungle
Cinematography: Stephen Carpenter
Score: Christopher Young
Editing: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow
Studio: Jeff Obrow Productions
Distributors: New Image Releasing, Frontier Amusements
Stars: Laura Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, David Snow, Pamela Holland, Dennis Ely, Woody Rollas, Daphne Zuniga, Jake Jones, Robert Fredrickson, Chris Morrill, Chandre, Billy Criswell, Richard Cowgill, Kay Beth, Jimmy Betz, Thomas Christian
Suggested Audio Candy
Christopher Young “Soundtrack Suite”
It can be tough standing out from the crowd. When Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th became a surprise theatrical success in 1980 and kickstarted the eighties slasher movement, American filmmakers nationwide were taking notes. In no time, audiences were presented with numerous pretenders to its throne and some of them were pretty decent too. However, while the likes of George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine, Joseph Zito’s The Prowler, Tony Maylam’s The Burning and Joe Giannone’s Madman more than catered for this fresh demographic, others sadly fell by the wayside.
Jimmy Huston’s Final Exam, Ken Hughes’ Night School, Ken Wiederhorn’s Eyes of A Stranger and Tom DeSimone’s Hell Night all struggled to make any real impact and were forgotten amidst all the hubbub. Another of the also-rans was Stephen Carpenter & Jeffrey Obrow’s 1982 effort, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, also known as Pranks, which is relevant as this particular number had a trick or two up its sleeve.
You see, when the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984 and 72 films taken to task for being unfit for public consumption, The Dorm That Dripped Blood managed to sneak onto the naughty list. Although never actually prosecuted, it’s profile raised almost overnight, and folk suddenly wanted to know what all the fuss was about. To be completely honest, there was little here to justify its inclusion outside of one particular kill featuring a drill, but nevertheless there is no such thing as bad hype as opposed to none whatsoever.
Another potential selling point was that it featured the film debut of a certain Daphne Zuniga, who then cropped up two years later in Larry Stewart’s The Initiation before being provided her shot at the big time. Though her role here was relatively tiny, it is movie trivia facts like this that can make all the difference and this curious little campus slasher profited from such strokes of blind fortune greatly.
The thing about eighties slasher is that, unless you were fortunate enough to be coming of age when the craze was reaching its pinnacle, most of its bloated canon is now looking decidedly long in the tooth. For those of us in or around our forties, we are willing to forgive and forget any minor discrepancies or even applaud them, those born after the brief boom died down may find themselves stumped as to what makes them so beloved.
To be fair, some of the more illustrious entries have actually matured rather well, although they’re definitely in the minority. Given that Carpenter & Obrow’s film couldn’t boast the kind of financial banking to set itself apart from the competition, time hasn’t been necessarily kind. With the exception of Christopher Young’s sumptuous stabbing score, which uncannily echoes Harry Manfredini’s composition from Friday The 13th, and a couple of half-decent dispatches, there’s little to no reason to track this one down unless you’re a shameless nostalgist like me.
After the typical attention grabbing teaser, we head straight off to Morgan Meadows Hall for the obligatory meet and greet. Do-gooder Joanne (Laurie Lapinski), her boyfriend Tim (Robert Frederick) and friends Bryan (David Snow), Patty (Pamela Holland), Craig (Stephen Sachs) and Debbie (Daphne Zuniga) have volunteered to stay behind and clean the place out before its planned demolition. It’s the end of semester and other options are at a premium so there seems no harm or foul in doing this good deed, and besides, what better location for a private party right? Regrettably, not all of the group are able to attend; but the others get cracking immediately. However, unbeknownst to any of them, something lurks in the halls this night and hasn’t taken at all kindly to the intrusion. I would have loved to be a screenwriter in the eighties when things were so much simpler. Find an abandoned dormitory, populate with highly sexed teens, toss in an unstable nutbag, et voila – you have yourselves a slasher.
Where The Dorm That Dripped Blood deviates from many of its counterparts is that Carpenter & Obrow are never looking to make things campy, and instead, there’s an air of quiet menace about their film permeating from the very first frame that serves it well enough to proceed. The build-up to each incident is patient, which lends a fair share of tension to proceedings, while the majority of our time is spent in darkened corridors and stairwells and this benefits the experience markedly. Unfortunately that’s pretty much as good as it gets as the characters are lacking anything even remotely individual to make us root for them and they’re as cookie cutter a collective as it gets. Nary a more uninspiring and one-dimensional cluster of knitwear sporting disposable teens you will find and this renders much of the atmosphere moot.
Lack of resources is also relevant when it comes to the all-important body count as, while a couple of standout dispatches are worthy of mention, others fall some way short in the invention stakes. All the customary beats are present and correct, such as the early doors loss-leader kill, one or two scattered through the first hour to uphold interest, knife-edge mid-section and the inevitable showdown reveal of the closing act. But there’s nothing much here that we haven’t seen numerous times before and it lacks that certain je ne sais pas to assist it in outstretching its reach. There is of course one final attempt to be clever, but by the time the mystery is solved, the likeliness is that you’ll be crying out for just one more kitty sapping slaughtering. Alas, The Dorm That Drips Blood finds itself a little front-loaded in that department and whimpers its way to wraptime.
I have no doubt that there are a few hearts aching right now and a certain section of my readership may consider my comments a tad harsh. I get that and, credit where it’s due, The Dorm That Drips Blood nails itself a tone and sticks to that game plan throughout. I’m also more than mindful of the fact that I didn’t catch Carpenter & Obrow’s film for the first time until way after the slasher boom had petered out and therefore cannot readily assign it to a chosen memory. Given their meager beginnings and the stiff competition faced from more moneyed players, the boys actually did pretty good. Indeed, this stepping stone paved the way for further collaborations, including their damn near excellent 1987 potboiler, The Kindred, before the pair eventually parted ways. I will say this – if eighties slasher gets the blood in your ventricles pumping as it does me, then by all means, feel free to fill those buckets at the dorm. Remember the whole glass half full chestnut and you should be just fine.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Props on the varied manner in which our killer goes about their business. We are bequeathed strangulation, road rage rinsed to repeat, skullcap hollowing, baseball bat thumping, machete slicing and even a dash of co-ed boiling (although I’d have awarded an extra mark had there been sufficient moolah to lift that lid and see what’s cooking). One soggy drill bit aside however, there’s not a great deal on the platter that earns The Dorm That Drips Blood its video nasty status.
For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: Meanwhile, I’d imagine that twenty bucks would have generally secure a quick melon flash from any cash-strapped actress at the time and I reckon she should’ve earned forty. Cheapskates. Care for a harmless recap? Of course you bloody well do, and if not, then why the hell are you mincing around at the business end of my appraisal? Shouldn’t you be in bed with a hot mug of Horlicks? I did my time on Sesame Street goddamnit; a healthy affection for the letters T&A really is nothing to be more than mildly ashamed of. Take it away sweet cheeks.
Read Friday The 13th (1980) Appraisal
Read Pieces Appraisal
Read Graduation Day Appraisal
Read The Initiation Appraisal