I kinda' wish I had more to say about Synapse Films' Blu-ray + DVD release of THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, a film which has also been released under the title "Pranks" and was originally titled "Death Dorm". It's a largely forgotten second-tier slasher movie released in 1982 that's generally light on both gore and excitement, but has a certain naive charm that prevents it from being painful to sit through. The ending's a savagely nice surprise, the decrepit location a great touch, and while the film is pretty low on the red stuff it does still have a really fun bit with a power drill, which is reportedly restored to its' full intended runtime for the first time ever for this particular release. The score isn't half bad either, even if it's title track is the most blatant grab from Psycho this side of Re-Animator! It's certainly no My Bloody Valentine or Sleepaway Camp, and I honestly wouldn't even say it's quite of Friday the 13th Part 2 caliber, but it's all perfectly adequate and beats the living shit out of the last early 80s horror film I watched prior (goddamn Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse, if you're ever feeling so utterly masochistic).
I now know for certain that the new HD transfer was pieced together using the only surviving film print for this particular film, specifically an Answer Print made during the film's production about thirty years ago with color timing and a host of "fun" analog errors essentially baked in. The negative is long gone, and the audio was sourced from the mag tracks from the R-rated theatrical cut, though I remember a few occasions where it sounds like they might have had to resort to whatever analog video master the ancient VHS release was made from. We're talking two or three instances tops, so I'll not to be a dink and simply let everyone else try to find them on their own.
With negatives are long gone, this is literally as good as the film is probably going to get... so how'd that go?
By the metric one would use to guage a modern transfer this is one incredibly rough ride, but one absolutely has to factor in the history and production behind any film before an "ugly" transfer is immediately written off as a poor effort. Had this been shot on 35mm I'd be pretty pissed, but knowing that we're looking at a second-generation blow-up from a no-budget 16mm production... yeah, that all looks about right.
There's blow up artifacts, which are best described as a static layer of grime on top of the print, as well as some light-leaks around the edges of the frame. The grain (which is thick as hell) looks unmolested, the flickering and other analog issues have been left as-is, but there's surprisingly little in the way of major scratches or dirt. There's some stability loss around each cut, which fans of older anime will likely recognize instantly. The colors are mostly of the "too dark" variety and have a distinctly blue push, but whites are constant and very stable, while blacks are always rock solid. I admit that the whole film has a smeared and diffuse look to it, but 16mm is a fairly low quality format to start with; compared to the miserable transfer given to Maniac!, this thing is absolute reference material.
Much like the equally satisfying Fox/MGM release of Last House on the Left, the film only looks as ugly as its' production history suggests it should, and Synapse has clearly made every effort to present it with the best quality humanly possible. I can't even imagine what hell it was to color correct an already photchemically timed IP from 1981 with light-leaks everywhere, or how many layers of scratch removal had to happen before it didn't look like an extended cut scene from Planet Terror, but the results are something impressive; despite all of the flaws inert to the material, it looks and it sounds... good. Maybe not amazing, but a solid "good" is better than I can give most cult horror releases from the usual suspects. For an independent horror film without so much as a negative, "good" isn't a bad place to strive for either.
The Synapse BD+DVD combo is priced between $21-$23, and includes a commentary, some interviews, and the original trailers along with a reversible cover. I wouldn't recommend the film itself to people who aren't already head over heels with that vintage slasher shtick, but be confident knowing that it's a solid release, and that my expectations for upcoming titles - particularly Frankenhooker - are now quite high indeed. While not every Synapse release ever has been perfect they've certainly excelled here, and I can only hope we see more quality releases in the future like this. I know they just love their trailer compilations and such, and somebody must be buying them, but c'mon guys - quit sitting on all those feature length titles!
Regardless of my lukewarm reaction to the feature, Synapse has rightfully earned every penny they're asking for The Dorm That Dripped Blood. Discerning Blu-ray ready connoisseurs of drill violence, take note!