I really did watch Final Exam and The Dorm That Dripped Blood as a double feature last week, because I feel that these two movies go together like a pair of freshman roommates who actually filled out the personality questions and were only semi-randomly matched up by the housing office. They get along about as well as could be expected. TDTDB is the shallow city kid, and Final Exam is the naive but folksy small-town kid. You know what I mean. These are basically the same movie: college kids who are the last few on campus at the end of the term are horribly killed. You could Frankenmovie the two together and come up with a college slasher classic, but you’d have to let go of the “freshman roommates” simile since you can’t just haul off and do experimental surgery on undergrads anymore. They’re undeniably similar, yet neither falls into all of the cliches from the slasher genre’s early 80s heyday. You could even make a case that both Final Exam and TDTDB are underrated, compared to some of their counterparts. I’m tagging them both as part of my underrated horror series, but I will admit that in my opinion Final Exam is the better of the two.
In Final Exam, the major characters are still on campus after almost everyone else has gone home because they have one more day of exams. You have three girls: the smart one, the dumb one, and the good looking one. And there are four guys: the sneaky frat boy, the Bluto frat boy, the pledge, and the smart guy who likes horror movies. You also have a horny chemistry teacher, a caricature of a small town sheriff, the frat boys’ football coach, and the drunk campus security guard. Final Exam is set in North Carolina, where they really like to put community theater actors into big productions, but it works for me because every character has at least one gettin’ to know you scene. You can call me crazy, and you wouldn’t be the first, but I love gettin’ to know the characters before I see them get slaughtered. In this case, it’s a bonus that they’re not hateful people you can’t wait to see horribly killed, not even the frat brothers.
And it’s a good thing you’re not anticipating a bloodbath, because the deaths in Final Exam are some of the weakest in slasher history. Half of them even happen off camera, and you would think that would set you up for some horrific payoff, but no. Now, for me, the lack of blood splashing on the lens is not an issue, but I have to go ahead and admit that the deaths are not going to please all of you or you wouldn’t trust me when I say this is a fun movie. For me, the comedic and dramatic elements of the first hour are super enjoyable. I like feeling like I’m on the campus with these people, while also knowing there’s someone lurking around in a van waiting for night to come. If you attended a traditional college, you know that dorms honestly are creepy when they’re almost empty, so it’s easy to get into the feeling of isolation the final character experiences when she’s running for her life after everyone is dead. And the best part is that the killer is a nameless and almost faceless monster. That closes the sale for me. The ridiculous convoluted explanation for all the murders that stinks up the last five minutes of almost every slasher, giallo, and murder mystery on the planet? It’s just not here. The guy is a killer, period, and we’re left with total devastation.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood one-ups Final Exam on first glance because it has one of the most memorable titles in slasher history. Final Exam sounds like it came out of a title generator. Insert negative adjective and mundane noun here! Evil Radiologist! Ripped Pantyhose! Crushed Ladyfingers! Shitty Title! Overdone Joke! But The Dorm That Dripped Blood, now that’s a title. Unfortunately, the movie itself is very boring, and may actually be the key to a longer life for you, because when you watch it time slows down. But the kills are massively creative, even if you’re like me and don’t need that kind of thing to enjoy a movie. I at least like for there to be a story between the kills most of the time, but in this case, you can just zone out and then oh look! It’s time for someone to get boiled! And in this case, you DO want to see these people die!
The story of TDTDB is that four college students are hired to stay behind during Christmas break to clean out a dorm that is about to be demolished. There’s a main character who can’t decide whether she likes her boyfriend of two years, another chick who’s really irritating, a girl (the only person in either movie who you’ve ever heard of, Daphne Zuniga) who bails because her parents come to pick her up (but really they all get killed) after the first day, a guy with no personality, and a guy who’s a total dick. Then there’s a weird guy with awful hair who refuses to move out of the dorm, a sleazy townie, and a maintenance man, and that’s all. Oh, and the final girl’s unloved boyfriend, who went skiing after the beginning of the movie. So there are five or six red herrings and two girls, and almost no story at all.
Most of the film is spent with the four leads running around the dark building trying to catch the weird guy who keeps creeping around and then disappearing. But man, the first post-credits kill sequence is pretty terrifying and a little sad. Daphne Zuniga and her parents were on their way to their sick grandma’s house, and not only do the victims never know what hit them as the killer strikes, but poor grandma must be somewhere all alone wondering why no one shows up for her last Christmas. Think about that! And the last 30 minutes, in this case, are worth a watch. The final girl has to discover all the mutilated bodies, then she’s not sure who the killer is, and neither are the cops, who of course show up too late and get everything wrong. And the killer’s motivation, which we do find out in this case, is fucking stupid as usual. If you can’t think of a good ending, you’re better off with the Final Exam method of “well, he’s crazy.” Which you’d have to be to kill a bunch of people, of course, but TDTDB has no story, and then a nonsensical conclusion. The huge empty dorm does drip with atmosphere as well as blood, though, and you get to see a guy killed with a drill.
At least the cops show up at the end of TDTDB, unlike that asshole sheriff in Final Exam. I almost forgot to mention that the sheriff refuses to help during the slaughter at the end because at the beginning of the film he was called to the campus during his dinnertime when the frat brothers staged a faux murder prank to get the sneaky guy out of an exam. And speaking of pranks, the UK title of The Dorm That Dripped Blood was Pranks! See, these two movies were made for each other.
So, what college slashers do you recommend?