Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on April 26, 2011, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Neither memory nor a handy copy of the old VHS release allow me to compare the original director’s cut of The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which Synapse Films released today in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, with the version that played theaters (initially as Pranks) and appeared on tape back in the ’80s. What can be said is that Synapse’s assembling of the behind-the-scenes talent for the supplements has paid greater dividends than their restoration of the movie itself.

This is not to take away anything from Synapse team’s efforts to present the most complete and best-looking version possible—their new transfer is leaps and bounds past any previous home releases. But beyond the reinstatement of some MPAA-trimmed gore (which nonetheless stands as rather tame compared to what R-rated horror gets away with now), there’s no revelation of a neglected gem here. The only movie I can recall being cited as a “Dog of the Week” twice on Siskel and Ebert’s TV review shows, Dorm may not warrant that sort of repeat condemnation, but it’s awfully generic stuff, with all the slasher clichés present and accounted for. There’s the isolated location (a dormitory set to be closed down), the small group of young victims-to-be (students who have volunteered to clean the place out, some of them looking too old even for grad school) led by a sensible, sweater-wearing Final Girl, a weirdo red-herring character (played by Woody Roll, pictured above, apparently because Clint Howard wasn’t available), ominous point-of-view shots, a bit of nudity that even the filmmakers admit is gratuitous, phones that go dead shortly before the coeds do and a missing power tool that reappears later for some drastic misuse.

Then there’s the inevitable surprise revelation of the killer’s identity, which wins no points for subtlety; when the villain simply blurts out, “It was me all along!” you almost expect it be followed with, “And I would’ve gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you darn kids!” The movie does deserve credit for its unusually downbeat ending, and the atmospheric use of locations on and around the campus of UCLA, where directors Jeffrey Obrow (who also produced) and Stephen Carpenter and their creative cohorts were students at the time. On their commentary track for the discs, they admit that this feature was born when they saw Halloween and Friday the 13th and figured they could make a similar flick of their own—and despite the presence of three credited scriptwriters (Obrow, Carpenter and Stacey Giachino), Dorm was and remains an undistinguished carbon copy of the hot horrors of its day.

Synapse sourced its 1.66:1 transfer from a 35mm blowup answer print—bearing the title Death Dorm—of this shot-on-16mm production, and as can be expected, the colors aren’t at their richest (though they appear stronger on the Blu-ray than on the DVD), the grain gets heavy at times and there are moments of flicker. That said, the mastering is very clean and so is the image, with no discernable damage or speckling, and it’s served up with extra-crispy 2.0 mono sound. Christopher Young’s music is isolated on a separate track, allowing fans to compare it to his many, more celebrated subsequent genre scores.

Young, who made his feature debut on Dorm, and makeup FX artist Matthew Mungle, who executed its bloodshed before going on to his own Oscar-winning career, are separately interviewed in featurettes titled “My First Score” and “My First Slasher” respectively. Kudos to Synapse for tracking down these guys, who both wax nostalgic over this early credit—yet they differ in respect to the challenges presented by this grassroots project. Young recalls having to compose without footage, just timing notes, while Mungle has no recollections of any time or budget pressures, though he was disappointed that his work got trimmed at the time, with a heavily scissored clip from the British release shown as proof.

Despite this softening of its bloody impact, Dorm was one of the movies tagged as a “video nasty” in the UK—one of the many anecdotes that make Obrow and Carpenter’s commentary a lively listen. A good deal of their very clear recollections concern the experience of shooting a feature, pretty much on the sly, while still attending UCLA; Obrow even notes he missed the filming of a crucial scene because he had a final to take. Plenty of attention is also given the cast, with the kind of stories you’d expect from a horror-movie production (a bloody, machete-wielding actor was picked up by the cops) and others you might not (an auditioner was the first to inform them of John Lennon’s assassination). And of course, they acknowledge the many members of the Dorm team who went on to bigger things, from actress Daphne Zuniga’s graduation to The Sure Thing to their own ascension to movies like the slimy-fun monster flick The Kindred. One, however, escapes their notice: Credited as a member of the “Production Staff” is Darren Star, presumably the same one who, as creator/executive producer, would cast Zuniga in the original incarnation of TV’s Melrose Place.

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