The Dorm that Dripped Blood (1981)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Prom Night

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil

Graduation Day

The Dorm that Dripped Blood

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Joanne, the den mother
of Death Dorm.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood, also known as Death Dorm, is a typical low-budget slasher flick. If you follow horror films, or if you at least saw Scream, you'll be instantly at ease with this (almost) utterly conventional film. If you don't fall in to one of these categories, we'll be adding little Horror Movie Convention (HMC) blurbs to help you understand what's going on.

The Dorm That Dripped Blood begins, appropriately enough, in a dormitory. It's just before Christmas break, and the students are getting ready to leave before the dorm closes for good. Joanne, our main protagonist, bids her boyfriend goodbye and prepares to lead the team of students who are cleaning out the building before it's torn down. Pretty soon, the majority of the students are gone, and Joanne is left with the four other members of her little band.

HMC #1: The setting is usually isolated, to reduce the number of people who can resist the killer, and also to cut down on possible police intervention. How scary can the movie be if the cops can be there in five minutes? Other examples include: a school building after dark where phones are scarce, an abandoned hotel, a summer camp. Also note that cleaning out the building means lots of time spent in dark scary places like the basement storage room. Isolated places also cut down on expensive extras and location shoots.

One of the students, Debbie, is called away from the group when a relative falls ill. Her parents arrive to take her away, but, unbeknownst to Joanne and company, all three are murdered as they depart and the killer drives the bodies away in the family car. Debbie is played by future star Daphne Zuniga, though we suspect she dropped this film from her resume long ago.

HMC #2: It's always good to kill off a "main" character early in the film, even if they turn out to be incidental in the long run. Plus, the parents serve as incidental characters to drive up the body count.

HMC #3: As observed in Scream, saying "I'll be right back" is a great way to ensure that you'll never be back. Debbie's dad says this and whammo! he's attacked about thirty seconds later. Sharks can smell blood, dogs can smell fear, and psycho killers can hear a mediocre character actor say "I'll be right back" from 800 feet away during a thunderstorm.

Joanne (played by Laura Lapinski in her only film role) and the remaining three students begin the long work of clearing out the dorm. Brian, a sweet but oafish guy, seems enamored of Joanne, but holds back because of her existing boyfriend. Patti is a whiny scaredy-cat, and the perfect victim for Craig, the resident prankster and class clown.

HMC #4: Most characters in horror films fit certain stereotypes: the slut, the jock, the good girl, etc. One of The Dorm that Dripped Blood's failings is that these characters are too bland. It's difficult to identify which stereotype they fit.

Joanne and Craig search
for the killer.
As they perform their task, a few strange things start to happen. John Hemmit, the dorm's resident hermit, is apparently still on the grounds and rummaging through the trash bins. When he starts peering in windows, Patti freaks out and the hunt begins for this creepy intruder. In the meantime, a series of grisly murders have been carried out, including that of the handyman, who walks in and out of the film at whim. He's done in with his own power drill while the group walks around aimlessly.

HMC #5: Incidental characters must be introduced so that the main characters can live until the last half-hour of screen time. Sometimes these incidental characters even serve as "false alarms," appearing suddenly and scaring the bejeezus out of main characters. However, they're usually killed a few scenes later.

When the power is cut and the phone lines go dead, the four students begin hunting for John in earnest. This of course leads to the most revered Horror Movie Convention of them all.

HMC #6: The killer is never whom the characters suspect. Except in rare cases where the killer is notorious, like Freddy Krueger or Jason (or Jason's mom), the killer always turns out to be someone close to the victims or else an incidental character who might even have appeared to die earlier in the film.

The Dorm That Dripped Blood leaves the realm of convention only at the very end, and only when Joanne has faced the killer. And the cops even show up, unusual for a film like this.

HMC #7: If the cops do show up, they are buffoons. The two guys playing the police in The Dorm That Dripped Blood wouldn't be convincing as crossing guards at Denny's, let alone cops.

We won't spoil the end for you, but we will say that this movie's end pretty much ruined the film for us. Sometimes you need a certain payoff at the end of a film like this, and sometimes that payoff comes from following the formula because it works. Somehow the directors of The Dorm That Dripped Blood got all the way to the end of the movie and forgot what they were supposed to be doing.

Own it!

Review date: 10/16/1997

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