Synapse // 2010 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 26th, 2011
A crash course in terror!
It's college break time, but a small group of students has decided to give up their holidays and stay behind to help clean out a dorm that's being torn down.
Joanne (Laurie Lapinski), the leader of the gang, has opted to stay on and do the work rather than enjoy a ski week end with her boyfriend. Debbie (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs), who'd planned to stay, gets a last-minute call from her parents and has to take off early, leaving Joanne with the dependable if clueless Patti (Pamela Holland), Brian (David Snow), and Craig (Stephen Sachs). The only other person on campus is weird, balding loner John Hemmit (Woody Roll), whose very presence unnerves the group.
Unfortunately for our service-oriented heroes, there's a maniac among them doing what maniacs at deserted locales do best: slicing, dicing, and terrorizing.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood is a gloriously ridiculous slasher from the genre's "golden age." Although it lacks one of the vital elements of the traditional slasher -- gratuitous nudity, which is sorely absent here -- it does what it's supposed to do quite nicely. The abandoned dorm and its surroundings make for fine, atmospheric locations for the requisite running about and stumbling in the dark; the kills are more imaginative than the usual knife to the gullet; red herrings are tossed out like so many Mardi Gras beads; and there's a pleasantly cynical punchline. In short, it's a paradise of schlock in which genre fans will be thrilled to wallow.
Structurally, the film is a bit of a mess. It opens with a murder; however, that murder is never referenced again. We have no idea who the person is (was?) and why he was sacrificed -- and given the killer's long-winded rationale at the story's end, you'd think something like an additional murder might have been covered.
As a matter-of-fact, logic flaws abound in The Dorm That Dripped Blood, and not just the usual "why is everyone stupidly traipsing around in the dark?" variety.
Along with carnage, logic is the backbone of the slasher genre. Seriously. In a mystery-slasher like this, we want to know who the killer is, and we want a logical reason for the killings. Granted, it's usually half-baked monkey logic -- a middle-aged woman going on a killing spree because her camper son drowned 30 years ago while the counselors were makin' whoopee -- but it's logic nonetheless. It's an "Ah-Ha!" moment, and it gives us a bit of closure after sitting through an hour-plus of (generally) terrible acting and (sometimes really good) gore effects.
In Dorm, the reveal is so jaw-droppingly ludicrous you have to watch it twice for the whole thing to sink in. It makes little sense on a number of levels (to list them would be to spoil this thing), and we end up with a character delivering a crazed ramble to fill in plot holes that are just unfillable. It also relies heavily on the audience having an understanding of a character who's just not that well fleshed out. It's still a fun film, but the weak reveal prevents it from being the genre classic it could be.
While the film might not be slasher's finest hour, Synapse treats this one like a rediscovered masterpiece. In fact, Synapse actually kind of did rediscover this film. Even if you've seen The Dorm That Dripped Blood before, you've never seen this particular version, as this was the first cut of the film and was made before it was submitted to the MPAA. Even the on-screen title is different: the compellingly cheesy Death Dorm. This print contains footage that has never been seen publicly and was thought to have been lost -- mainly, extended gore scenes.
On their Web site, Synapse goes into detail about the painstaking process that went into creating this Blu-ray. I have to say that, at a time when it seems studios are too often more concerned with getting the disc out there rather than ensuring that it's the best possible rendition of the film -- look no further than Blu-ray reissues that are merely ports of an older release with a slight tech upgrade -- Synapse deserves some huge props. This is exemplary work, and even if the film is something less than magnificent, the Blu-ray is a Master Class on how to do it right.
The film is presented in a 1.66 ratio with a 1080p transfer. I'm not going to say it looks stunning, because this low-budget project likely never looked stunning, but I will say that, given the age and condition of the materials Synapse had to work with, it looks pretty damn good. Audio is a solid and serviceable 2.0 mono lossless track.
Synapse also includes a full slate of supplements, starting with a commentary with Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, who co-produced and directed the film and went on to make The Kindred and The Power, as well as other films separately and together. This is a genial, engaging track about how the two made the film as students.
Next, we get a pair of on-screen interviews. "My First Score" gives us composer Christopher Young (Spider-Man 3), whose Bernard Herrmann-inspired score effectively conveys mood and suspense. "My First Slasher" features make-up effects artist Matthew Mungle, who went on to win an Oscar for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Mungle's work is very good here and constitutes most of the previously excised material.
The set also includes an isolated music track -- a nice bonus but that, at least in my opinion, would be more welcome if it only gave scenes that feature music -- and two trailers, one under The Dorm That Dripped Blood title and another under the title Pranks. Plus, the artwork that wraps the plastic case is reversible, so you can keep this on your shelf as The Dorm That Dripped Blood or you can display it as Pranks.
Additionally, there's a second disc that's a standard DVD copy that you can share with your Blu-less friends.
While the film might not be all that special, Synapse's treatment is awesome. The company is really stepping up its Blu-ray game, with two other outstanding sets -- Vampire Circus and Embodiment of Evil -- released earlier in 2011.
Highly recommended. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Isolated Music Track
* Reversible Cover Art
* DVD Copy
* Synapse on the Restoration