Monday, May 9, 2011


Back in the early 80s' two UCLA film students - Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter - decided that, instead of the usual arty or experimental approach that most of their classmates were bringing to their thesis films, they would make a brutal, bloody slasher flick - which they hoped would actually make it into cinemas. That film, DEATH DORM - also known as PRANKS and THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1982) - ultimately did get picked up by a distributor, and after a successful theatrical run, became a VHS perennial in the 80s. Now, Synapse Films brings the original, unedited "Director's Cut" to home video with a great Blu-ray and DVD Combo.

The plot - such as it is - is simple: a handful of college students volunteer to clean and shutter an old dormitory over a school break. Alone in the huge, isolated building, it soon becomes evident that there's a homicidal psychopath stalking the halls, and the hapless students begin to fall, one-by-one, at his hands...

THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (the print used on the disc sports the original title, DEATH DORM) is a fairly solid stalk 'n slay thriller, with some imaginative "kills," a fair amount of suspense, and an unexpected twist in the final act. It does drag a bit in the middle, the characters are under-developed, and there's a definite lack of (intentional) humor, but for a ultra-low budget effort by student filmmakers, it holds up surprisingly well. The inexperienced, mostly-unknown cast is reasonably competent and includes a very young and cute-as-a-button Daphne Zuniga as one of the killer's early victims. The musical score by then-newcomer Christopher Young (DRAG ME TO HELL, THE GRUDGE, HELLRAISER, SPECIES) is effective, atmospheric and remarkably accomplished.

Obrow and Carpenter co-wrote and co-directed DORM, and demonstrate some definite ability with the camera and a talent for creating something out of virtually nothing. When DORM was picked up for theatrical distribution, it was extensively edited, with much of the graphic gore excised for an R-rating, but it was quite profitable on home video and popular with the Fangoria crowd. The directors made two more horror films as a team - THE POWER (1984) and THE KINDRED (1987) - before going their separate ways as filmmakers.

Synapse's Blu-ray/DVD Combo is a great package. The Blu-ray features a 1080p HD transfer in the original, 1.66:1 aspect ratio from the filmmakers' original 35mm "answer print." As the movie was shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm for exhibition, there is considerable film grain evident, but that's inherent in the source material, and not a problem with the transfer. Overall, contrast is good and detail is okay, but it's still a  very dark movie from the early 80s. That said, this presentation is light years better than the original, murky, VHS release. The DTS-HD Mono Audio does what it can with the 30-year-old soundtrack; dialogue is clear, and Young's score sounds fine. In fact, Synapse has also included the isolated musical score as an audio option, also in DTS-HD.

Extras include an excellent audio commentary by Obrow & Carpenter that covers the making and reception of the film in great detail. There are also on-camera interviews with composer Young and make-up effects artist Matthew Mungle. The original theatrical trailers - including the PRANKS version - round out the package. The DVD includes all of the above, with a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from the same source, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

For fans of early 80s slasher films, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is a grim and gory little effort that deserves some fresh attention. Synapse's package is exemplary, and already-existing fans of of the movie will find the visual presentation of this edition to be something of a revelation. Recommended.

BUYThe Dorm That Dripped Blood [Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack]