The film that dripped cred (through its gaping plot holes)

dormthatdrippedblood2THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD

2 Stars  1981/18/85m

A.k.a. Pranks (UK title); Death Dorm

“When the kidding stops, the killing starts.”

Directors/Writers: Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter / Writer: Stacey Giachino / Cast: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Pamela Holland, David Snow, Daphne Zuniga, Dennis Ely, Woody Roll, Jake Jones, Robert Frederick.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Don’t you undestand? It’s been me the whole time – I’m the one!”

Shot for $90,000 over a series of weekends, this cut-price effort from the end of the first teen-slasher boom inexplicably found itself on the notorious ‘Video Nasties’ list back in the 80s, until someone came to their senses, realised how tame it was and released it, albeit with 10 seconds of footage cut.

A quartet of college students belonging to a co-operative volunteer to stick around for a couple of weeks to shut down Morgan Meadows Hall before it’s to be demolished. Not a surprise given how ugly the building is. A fifth – Daphne Zuniga in her first screen role – helps out for a day before her folks come to pick her up, but she and they are murdered by the off-camera loon who is stalking the dorms.

Joanne is the sensible leader of the group; Brian is the sensible do-gooder; Craig is the requisite smartmouth joker; and Patti is the whiney one.

Suspicion falls on a frizzy-haired red herring who appears at windows and picks items out of dumpsters, but he isn’t fooling anyone, we know it’s someone else altogether.

Furnished with a real off-putting twist that leaves a sour aftertaste, the film is effectively ruined by its own smugness. Up until this point, it’s just another parade of endless cliches: people saying “I’ll be right back”, phones cut, power out, lots of wandering about in the dark, and really, really boring dialogue between the terminally boring characters.

The killer, once revealed, claims to have done it all for the love of Joanne, whose boyfriend went skiing at the beginning of the film. Why kill someone who is vacating anyway and not bother killing the boyfriend? This is one of those films where you wish someone would ask why and get a valid answer – it literally makes no sense. But then, the kid is a loon, what did we expect?

A few minor thrills towards the end and just about acceptable production merits (excluding much of the atrocious acting) make this one worth ticking off a completist’s list but it’s certainly nothing more.

Blurbs-of-interest: Zuniga ‘graduated’ to final girl status a couple of years later in the far superior The Initiation; Stephen Carpenter directed weird horror movie Soul Survivors in 2001. The one with Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley and Eliza Dushku and a crappy, insulting twist. Anyone spot a trend?


  • Good review, I actually liked this a lot. Not without its flaws, but IMO a solid slasher flick

  • It was one of those I shouldn’t have watched again; I enjoyed it when I first saw it a decade or so ago. It would’ve been three stars had I left well enough alone.

  • Oddly enough I am the exact opposite. I saw it a long time ago and disliked it. Though the version I saw was the heavily cut Pranks and quality was basically VHS. I didn’t hate it but no desire to see it again. On a rec from a friend I checked it out again. With it uncut and far better quality I really got into it

  • I enjoyed The Dorm That Dripped Blood. It’s no Halloween or Friday the 13th, but I’d place it above a large amount of the crud I’ve sifted through over the years exploring the genre. It’s cheap and dark and kind of goofy, and the premise wasn’t revelatory even in 1981…but it just feels right. Compared to other micro budget slashers, I think it’s rather solid. The soundtrack is intense (Christopher Young would go on to score Hellraiser), far better than the Halloween-lite of most slasher knockoffs. That and the widescreen cinematography help to bring up the atmosphere a notch or two above SOV crap like “Don’t Go Into The Woods” or “The Forest” from the same time period. And the uncut version of the film is brutal. That first major kill sequence alone is worth the price of admission for genre enthusiasts. Even if it means losing the only character in the film that might have engendered any kind of sympathy from the audience.

    You have to forgive some things. But we forgive plenty of flaws even in the more esteemed slasher films and franchises, because of what they do that works. There’s enough in this one that I enjoyed for me to forgive the faults. It’s no classic, but it fits well into the early years of the slasher genre. And I’d be a much happier guy if there were less “the Forest”s out there and more “The Dorm That Dripped Blood”s.

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