In the early 1980's, thanks to the success of Friday The 13th, the horror genre found itself being littered with hundreds of low-budget stalk 'n' slash movies that were following in the wake of Sean S. Cunningham's surprise hit in order to try and get a chunk of the profits. It bred such garbage as Home Sweet Home, good stuff such as The Burning, and mediocre fare like this: Pranks.
Originally titled Death Dorm and also released theatrically and on video as The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Pranks marks the first collaboration between Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, two filmmakers who met up while attending UCLA that would go on to make a few (somewhat) memorable B-level horror flicks with this, The Power and the 1986 creature feature romp, The Kindred.
The set-up, and almost everything else, was probably getting overused even when this was released in 1981 (the second year of the early 80's slasher boom) as a group of college students have decided to stay behind for the Christmas holidays in order to work together to try to clean up the dormitory the school has decided to close down. They have a lot of work ahead of them as they have to catalogue the furniture, deep clean every room, and try to empty the place out completely. But, this being a slasher movie and all, things start to go wrong as people start getting killed off.
The first death involves Daphne Zuniga (from The Fly II and television's "Melrose Place" in her movie debut) who's parents are first killed off by an unseen murderer (dad gets it with a spiked baseball bat!) before she's run over. From there, Carpenter and Obrow pad their movie out with tons of "through the eyes" shots, overlong stalking scenes that really go nowhere and multiple shots of legs standing in the bushes or off in the distance.
Let's just say that Pranks has a pretty low body count for the type of movie it is. There's not many deaths going on here, the script has the typical red herring characters (the garbage picking homeless guy and somewhat creepy furniture buyer) and the mid-section is about as bland as it tends to get. On top of that the acting is pretty amateur as Stephen Sachs gets to hilariously freak-out when some bread goes missing from the dinner table while co-star David Snow somewhat looks like bassist Chris Novoselic from grunge band, Nirvana.
But it's not all bad in Pranks. There is a pretty good scare moment set in an elevator and the twist at the end is pretty decent (it would be used again in later slashers such as 1988's Intruder), but it takes slogging through a lot of "dull" to get there. However, the last five minutes here are golden (involving an incinerator and the giddy dialogue: "you're a dead man, you hear me? You are dead...") and a couple of the death scenes aren't overly bad - the best being one involving a pot of boiling water (which is ruined on the DVD box cover).
And speaking of the DVD, apparently the Pranks disc put out by Substance has been taken from an edited down region 2 version released by notorious "censor happy" company, Vipco. Watching the movie it's pretty obvious that there have been some cuts applied as most of the death scenes are lacking in bloodshed and tend to cut away early. Also, I seem to remember a lot more grue from back when I originally watched this movie on VHS from Media Home Entertainment. (Chris Hartley, 6/27/07)
Directed By: Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter.
Written By: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow, Stacey Giachino.
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, David Snow, Pamela Holland.
aka: Death Dorm; The Dorm That Dripped Blood.