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eighties horror you might have missed

Blu Ray: The Dorm that Dripped Blood (1981)

aka Death Dorm
aka Pranks
I love the setup for this one: a small group of college students are in charge of clearing out a dorm building over a holiday, so that it can be decommissioned - reminds me of Intruder a little bit. Apparently the film was made under similar conditions, with the directors filming in their old dorm buildings at USC during holiday breaks. The story takes a little while to get going, but once characters start getting killed off, the pace picks up a bit and the film really starts to shine. The main character, Joanne (played by Laurie Lapinski) is interesting and smart. Daphne Zuniga (in her first film role) plays one of the other students; she would star in The Initiation one year later.  The look of the film is very dark, with tons of shadows. Now, I assume that this was partially due to its small budget, but it really helps build tension in the last third of the film, when the characters split up in search of the killer. There's a lot of handheld camera work, too. When The Dorm That Dripped Blood was initially released, a good deal of the gore was cut out to escape an X-rating (particularly with the UK version), but Synapse has managed to restore it to its original form for this Blu-ray. One of the main elements that has been added back in is an excellent death-by-drill scene, which includes blood splattering onto white bathroom walls and a quick shot of graffiti that reads "Help". According to the directors, this was the first time a character was killed off in this way - it would spawn many imitators throughout the eighties. There are some great scenes in a boiler room at the end of the film, where Joanne fights with the killer, as he shows her each of the students he has killed. The ending is pretty fantastic, too.

Early posters using the film's original title, Pranks

Directors Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow followed up their success on "Dorm" with two other films together: The Power (which I haven't been able to find) and The Kindred. Interestingly, Carpenter is now writing episodes of Grimm, which is filmed here in Portland. The score is by Christopher Young; it was his first, but he would later provide scores for many horror films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and the first two Hellraiser films. The bulk of the music is orchestral, with some very effective low horn passages. There are also some interesting electronic moments with pitch-shifted drums and dripping, delayed synth sounds.

As with all of the Synapse Blu-rays, the quality of the transfer is very good, preserving the graininess of the original print, rather than killing it with digital noise reduction. The disc has plenty of extra features, including interviews and the original trailers; there's even reversible cover art! The commentary track is with both directors - they tell some great stories and provide an uncommon level of technical detail that would be of interest to anyone working on a low-budget feature.

As much as I love the final title of the film, the original title card for "The Dorm That Dripped Blood" is one of my favorites ever:

That needs to be on a t-shirt, right?