Dorm of the Dead (2007) (DVD)

Every dorm turns into the dorm of the dead at around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Goth girl Sarah Hannigan and her nerd girl friend Allison Gellar (something familiar about these names…) attend Arkham University, where they are constantly picked on by resident mean girl Clare. After learning all about zombies in science class (Wait, what?), Clare decides to play a little prank by sneaking into Sarah’s room while she sleeps and force-feeding her zombie blood while she sleeps. The next morning, Sarah is somewhat out of it, and hungry for human meat. She’s not the only one; in the dorm’s underground parking garage, more zombies lurk about, feasting on anyone they come across. By nightfall, this will truly become the Dorm of the Dead.

What we’ve got here is a zero-budget indie written and directed by Donald Farmer (Red Lips: Eat the Living). I know the guy means well, and, like most zero-budget indie directors, he deserves a medal just for getting his movie made. That being said, Dorm of the Dead is amateur hour. The “made with pennies” trappings overwhelm almost everything happening on screen. Note how scenes in which two characters talking to each other were filmed at two different times of the day or possibly even two different locations, and then spliced together in editing. Or look at how, during a phone conversation, when we hear the girl on the other end of the line, it’s apparent that the actress is actually just off to the side of the camera shouting out her lines. There’s a “crappy dorm room” that’s filled with boxes and junk, no doubt because the set was probably not a bedroom at all. And let’s not forget the pinkish-red blood, or the digital red letter “X” that appears over someone’s head to show us that she’s just been shot. You could argue that some of these bargain-basement elements were done on purpose to make the movie funnier, but it’s a distraction more often than not. This movie is so low budget, it makes Clerks look like Transformers.

Alas, there’s not a lot of horror in this horror flick. Yeah, you’ve got slowly shambling zombies chowing down on still-living victims, but there’s not much effort made to build up any suspense or tension prior to the zombie attacks. Instead, there’s a lot of walking. In one part, zombie Sarah somehow shows up at a carnival, where she’s apparently in search of her next meal. We the viewers are treated to long shots of her walking and walking and walking. This goes on and on and on until she finds her victim. Then, it’s one bite and we’re off to the next scene. There are a lot of long stretches of nothing happening in the movie. I can’t help but wonder if it was stretched out to meet a specific runtime, or to show off some of the many hard-rock tunes on the soundtrack.

I’m going to come across like a total pig by saying this, but, honestly, the best parts of the movie are the nudie scenes. It’s here that the camera shots are well-framed, the lighting isn’t so hastily thrown together, and the sound isn’t so “What’d she just say?” On one hand, there are a lot of lip-quiveringly beautiful women in this movie, so I can’t blame the director for going the extra mile on these scenes. On the other hand, why can’t this visual stylishness be used throughout the entire movie, and not just on the naked female flesh?

The acting is mostly flat, but I suspect that mostly has to do with the bland, uninteresting dialogue. Ciara Richards (Demon Sight) has most of the screen time, and seems to enjoy playing the supernatural evil girl in the movie’s second half. As Allison, actress Adrianna Eder shows a lot of natural charisma, so here’s hoping a director will make better use of her in the future. Jackey Hall plays Clare, milking the “mean girl” role as much as she can.

Modern-day scream queen Tiffany Shepis (Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula) shows up for a small role which involves making out with another woman, getting chased by a psycho, and then becoming a zombie, all in the space of, like, 10 minutes. Still, hers is probably the movie’s best performance. The packaging makes a big deal about Andrea Ownbey, a.k.a. “Miss Howard Stern,” appearing in the movie. Honestly, she’s only in one scene, and she has maybe two lines. She’s fully clothed the whole time, and she doesn’t battle and/or get killed by zombies. Instead, her big scene has her and Clare walking (Yay! More walking!) through a bunch of hallways just before Clare steals the precious zombie blood from her science teacher. If you’re interested in this movie for Ownbey’s involvement, chances are you’ll walk away with a “That was it?”

The DVD presentation is strictly ho-hum. The movie is on disc courtesy of Under the Bed films, where it is Volume Three in the company’s “Midnight Horror Stories” line. The fact that the word “Stories” is misspelled on both the front and back covers should give you an idea of the quality we’re dealing with. The full-frame picture doesn’t look too different from the camcorder tapes of your grandparents’ 1993 vacation to Pomona. The sound is very rough, with a lot of distorted, hard-to-hear dialogue. For extras, we get a pretty funny behind-the-scenes documentary that’s mostly Tiffany Shepis horsing around with a camera. A trailer is also included.

I’ve ripped this movie a new one, and yet, I have to admit, the raw talent is here. If Farmer somehow crafts a film that makes him the next big thing on the indie scene, or if any of these scrumptious young actresses gets her big break, then this movie will make for a nice, “Here’s where they came from.” Dorm of the Dead is like a tiny, barely-burning ember surrounded by dry wood. It just never gets the spark it needs to explode into something truly magnificent.

The Verdict

Maybe next time.

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