Shot on 16mm and then blown-up for 35mm, the ultra low-budget Dorm That Dripped Blood looks pretty awful on Blu-ray. But then fans of this sort of material will already know what to expect and almost certainly appreciate the definite gain in resolution and the grubby, film-like qualities that it possesses.
Encoded via AVC, the film comes in at 1.66:1, and it has not had an Evil Dead-style restoration. The grain is thick and very heavy, but it doesn't necessarily come across as a “noisy” picture. It just looks like what it is – full-on grain. There are no three-dimensional aspects to the image, the picture remaining extremely flat and devoid of even the merest hint of depth. The colour palette is un-boosted and, to be honest, looks incredibly drab and earthy and dull. The blood does stand out a little bit, but this is one grimy, soil-textured film, folks. Skin-tones are positively anaemic. Variance in hues for clothing or for hair colour is virtually non-existent. White shirts will stand out, however, especially when lit up by a torch amidst the gloom.
Blacks aren't too bad, all things considered. They are infiltrated by grain, but they tend to remain reasonably deep and atmospheric. Contrast is not good, however. It is bearable, but this image looks so dishevelled and muggy and insipid that you will swiftly give up on any clarity or visual demarcation. Whites can also bloom and haze at times. Detail is not a commodity that you will either notice or remember afterwards. The image is soft and murky. To many eyes, this will not look like 1080p – but the grain is better resolved and the resulting visuals much more textured and film-like than seen on the accompanying DVD edition. Another plus is the absence of DNR and edge enhancement. You won't have a problem with any aliasing either.
Damage-wise, there is plenty, though none of it particularly damning. We don't have all pops, tears and flecks that I would have expected, although there are a couple of stubborn dots that appear during one or two sequences that can't help but catch the eye. We have flickering and contrast-wavering. There are light-warped edges to the frame and smudges on the print. But we have to remember that this version of the film has not seen the light of day for a long time, and even if it had it would probably be in a much worse state than it is now.
Being realistic, this can only get a 5 out of 10. It may be accurate to what was filmed back in 1981, but it just looks awful.
Synapse haven't messed around too much with the audio by bestowing the film a bogus surround mix, but The Dorm is still kitted-out with a newly created DTS-HD MA 2-channel mono track that can't help but sound vintage and unremarkable. The spread across the front feels a touch too widened to me, however, the separation enhanced to provide some more defined positioning of the speakers and the effects. If anything, though, this amplifies the very limited dynamics of the source.
Whilst Christopher Young's score is ably presented, with a reasonable degree of separation and a fair amount of instrumental detail to help provide a very active and often aggressive presence, the dialogue could possibly have done with something of a remix. This may be authentic to the original source, but to me, this sounds quite horrible at times. The weird thing is that the dialogue often sounds very realistic, almost like these hacks are actually in the room with you. I think the problem lies with the fact that speech has been mixed too prominently, yet with the limitations of those ancient recordings and the delivery of the cast it sounds bright and dislocated, like some terribly old audio cassette recording. There is some background hiss, but this doesn't ever hamper the dialogue or the score. Effects don't really have much of an impact. Things do bang against metal walls and pipes, but there is no heft or weight to such things. The drill takes on a shrill whir that is perfectly in-keeping with the device, but we aren't exactly shrinking away from the screen as we do when we listen to Leatherface's chainsaw in Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw BD, or even the dentist's drill in Marathon Man. Gunshots lack bite or weight.
You can't blame the film for its lack of audio dynamics, and we really should be grateful that some effort has gone into providing it with more depth and clarity, but, as with the image, this is still quite an ugly experience.
Clearly the filmmakers are overjoyed at their creation getting such a dusting-down and a long-overdue reappraisal. Both Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter provide us with a joint commentary that is informative, nostalgic, fun and enthusiastic. We hear the history behind the making of the film, how they got the cast and how they filmed their debut. Lots of stories and anecdotes filter through, but it is interesting to hear about the film's initial reception and how they learned about its treatment in the UK, which they seem to recall with a strange combination of utter bewilderment and misty-eyed awe. Ahh, those Video Nasty days, eh?
The interview with FX creator Matthew Mungle has some weird digital smudge over on the top of his head but is, otherwise, a little treat. Mungle talks about how he got involved in the production and how he coped with the lack of budget. He discusses the various gags that he devised, recognising some of the obvious shortcomings, but is still clearly fond of his experiences. We hear about that big gory slaying that never made it into the final cut, and it really tantalises. Big blade, white shirt, red blood – and we see … erm, virtually nothing. And, naturally, he talks about the infamous drill murder. This lasts for around 9 minutes.
Christopher Young, beside keyboard and synth, gets a chance to reminisce about how he came to be involved with the slasher-pic at this early juncture in his career. The piece lasts for around 8 minutes and, sadly, is a very light and rambling affair.
And, in a wonderful touch that I give Synapse a pat on the back for, we even get to hear his score in an Isolated Music Track that comes in lossless DTS. Since the score is not officially available, this is a great little bonus for collectors like me. It isn't one of Young's best by any stretch, but the seeds of what he would go on to do so well in many later scores are sown here in his debut work for a feature film.
There are also trailers for the film's two incarnations as The Dorm That Dripped Blood and as Pranks.
And we get the DVD version of the film too.
Another deranged “Nasty” gets a reprieve and is sent back out into society with a supposed clean bill of health.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood is best known in the UK as the censor-snipped, though still banned Pranks, but it remains one of the lesser entries on that near-mythical list. Apart from the notorious drill “bit”, this isn't all that grim and now feels quite quaint compared to a lot of its far more gruesome contemporaries. The acting, despite coming from an exceptionally low-calibre cast, is pretty bad, but the mood is actually reasonably well-sustained. The young duo of directors find themselves a terrific location that could so easily have been bland and generic had they not been able utilise it and lens it so imaginatively. But if it is the gore that is the biggest draw for you, then I believe you may very well be disappointed. Indeed, even in this original uncut Directors' version, The Dorm is little more than pedestrian, its one celebrated kill remarkably fake-looking and well past its sell-by date.
Synapse give the film a faithful-looking transfer, but you really have to know the sort of source that you are dealing with to properly appreciate its hi-def appearance. What is indisputable is that this is not a pretty sight. And the new audio-mix doesn't do the original soundtrack recording any favours either. Extras-wise, we are in better hands. The commentary from the creative force behind the film is well worth listening to, and the two little featurettes are nice fillers, and Synapse make Christopher Young's debut score available in an isolated track, which is a cool bonus for his fans.
Neither a classic nor a total no-hoper, this low-rent slasher will certainly appeal to some, and it definitely bodes well for others of its bloody brethren to make the leap to Blu-ray in full uncut forms.
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