The Dorm That Dripped Blood

Director: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow   
Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Pamela Holland

Some people say that the time you spend as a youth are the best years of your life. Some people are more specific, saying that they time you spend at college or university are those golden years. I now wonder if those people have rose-colored glasses. Let me tell you of a time several years ago in my past when I confronted my memories of campus life after a long period of not thinking about it. It was one morning when I had to leave my apartment because all the suites on my floor were being sprayed for bed bugs, and I had to stay away for a good portion of the day. I wondered what the heck I would do, and I got an idea: I would revisit the university I went to many years earlier. So I jumped on a bus and I took the long trip to campus, wondering during the journey if anything had changed since the last time I visited years earlier. As it turned out, a lot had changed. I was first struck by how many new buildings had popped up on spaces where there used to be nothing but grass and the many rabbits abandoned by their owners on campus grounds. It got worse when I visited the main campus library. I discovered that a good amount of the main floor was now a coffee shop. I started to wonder where all the books had gone when I went inside, and discovered countless shelves missing and now replaced with desks with computers. That might have not been so bad if I was still able to grab a computer and immediately start surfing the Internet, but I discovered that all of the computers now required you to be a registered student with a password before you could start surfing.

To make matters worse, when I decided to go across campus to a spot where I used to grab on occasion a slice of pizza and a Coke, that had changed as well. I now discovered that at that spot, they were now serving (ick) health food - and at greatly inflated prices, I would like to add. It should probably come as no surprise that shortly after making that discovery, I grabbed the next bus leaving campus and I spent the rest of my temporarily homeless status at various shopping malls. That night, airing out my apartment to remove the last traces of bug poison, I reflected on my experiences on campus that day, and I tried to think back of those golden days on campus many years earlier. But the more I thought of those so-called "golden days", I started to realize my experience at university had a lot of miserable things about it. I remembered having to spend hours studying for exams that would take up 50% of your final grade. I remembered how mediocre (and expensive) the food was at the cafeteria. But most of all, I remembered how especially miserable I was when I stayed in a dorm in my first year at university. The dorm was usually noisy, which meant getting sleep at night was sometimes hard. Laundry time was pretty horrible, since people kept hogging the washers and dryers. Worst of all, I had to struggle with fellow dorm residents for TV time in the lounge whenever one of the several Star Trek shows was scheduled to air - sometimes I had to sneak into another dorm and pretend to be a resident there so I could watch something better.

So when I came across a used copy of The Dorm That Dripped Blood in the thrift store on my block, I was excited. It was a movie that took place on a college campus, but also happened to be a slasher movie - I started to imagine the fun I would have watching the movie, picturing The Dorm That Dripped Bloodthe young adults in this movie as those young adults that made dorm life miserable for me. Here is the plot description from the back of the video box: "Morgan Meadows Hall, an isolated seven story dormitory stands empty. Corridors that were once filled with the vibrant shouting and laughter of students are now vacant. The structurally unsafe building has been condemned and soon must be torn down. Five college students volunteer to close the dorm during their Christmas vacation. Soon, however, out of the dark recesses of the quiet building emerges a haunting and lethal menace. Mysteriously all phone lines are cut and the students are plunged into the darkness of a powerless and increasingly frenzied gloom. In a series of grisly and barbaric incidents, the students begin to disappear. As the terror mounts and the high-pitched staccato of slaying continues, the remaining students realize that they are up against a terrifyingly real psychopathic killer. The memory filled halls of the dormitory now echo with the screams and death moans of the students and the corridors drip with the blood of the innocent victims. Once the object of nostalgic affection, Morgan Meadows Hall has been hideously transformed into the most suffocating nightmare imaginable."

When I popped my copy of The Dorm That Dripped Blood into my VCR, I was feeling fresh and energetic, and more than willing to give the movie a chance, even if there were a few shortcomings here and there. I then started to watch it. But before the movie had reached the halfway point, I grabbed the video box to check the running time of the movie while I pressed the "display" button on my remote. Seeing that only thirty or so minutes had passed, I internally moaned, "Oh God, not another fifty-four minutes of this movie!" Needless to say, I found this movie to be a somewhat torturous experience, and as I write this I wonder how I got through those extra fifty-four minutes after all the pain I experienced before that point. I'll start my list of the movie's shortcomings by describing just how low budget this movie is, and how the movie suffered by being made with limited funds. For one thing, the movie never gives us a clear idea of the setting of the story. Aside from a thirty second shot at the beginning of the movie, the entire movie takes place on the college campus, and we never get to know just where in the U.S. this college is. This may be a minor nitpick, same with the fact that I don't think the name of the college is ever mentioned, but the problem of getting a clear idea of where we are gets worse as the movie progresses. You might expect in a movie like this we would get a good look at the college campus. But I believe there is only a total of one minute of footage of events that don't take place in the dorm or its grounds.

I guess the movie could still have worked stuck in one location - the Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope succeeded doing that. But the script and the direction - and just about everything else you can think of - sink the movie. Take the look of the movie. There is the expected grainy, unsharp photography of a regional movie, but it gets worse. I swear that 95% of the movie takes place in the dark, whether the scene takes place in the dorm or outside. Seldom does a character do the logical thing and flip on the light switch. Sometimes the lighting of a scene is so minimal, that you have a hard time figuring out what is happening and you have to wait until the end of the scene to determine exactly what just happened. There are also times when the screen turns completely dark, and even turning up the brightness up on your television won't help you. Then there's one scene inside the dorm where an outside window is showing daylight, but when some of the characters go outside it's suddenly night. Anyway, even if the movie were brighter, you wouldn't exactly be viewing a lot of the stuff that people typically demand of a slasher. Sex and nudity? Well, there's no sex, and the one brief scene of nudity doesn't exactly show a woman with great attributes. Blood and gore? Well, there's one interesting uninterrupted bit where someone is whacked on the forehead and a bloody wound instantly appears, which made me wonder how the filmmakers did it. But mostly the film just shows small trickles of blood when it's not showing slashed body parts that are so obviously not real body parts (they look like they were made with paper mache) that their phoniness is not funny, just pathetic to look at.

Though I had a lot of problems with the movie's unlavish look, the constant darkness, and an extremely stubborn refusal to deliver the goods, I think that the biggest problem I had with The Dorm That Dripped Blood were the characters in the movie. Actually, I had little problem with the few characters in the movie that hadn't been young adults for years - they're passable. I instead had problems with the characters that were young adults. Many of these college students, for one thing, were played by actors who were significantly older than your average real life college student. This created an instant air of phoniness around these people, making it more difficult to get caught up in their plight. None of these "youths" is properly introduced at the beginning of the movie, nor are they developed further into the movie - they are all interchangeable, just like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Power Rangers. To make matters worse, there are long, long stretches of running time showing these empty characters doing empty things, never feeling until late in the movie that they are all in danger. Actually, there is something interesting about the one of the characters, and that is the killer right at the very end of the movie. Though you'll probably guess the killer's identity before the end, his/her fate, on the other hand, is unexpected. I can't recall another slasher movie having a resolution like this one. If one day some enterprising producer decides to remake this movie, I suggest to him or her that they start at this ending and work their way backwards.

(Posted March 11, 2019)

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See also: Slaughter High, Sorority House Massacre, To All A Good Night