There’s a scam in the low-budget movie world. It’s a variation on the Cannon model of “make a cool poster, sell that to distributors, then make a film based on the poster”, only a little more advanced. Have you ever watched a movie which started off well, got you interested, then suddenly dropped off a cliff of quality after the first five minutes? This is often associated with a change of location or characters, or both, and is usually the pre-credits sequence.
The big secret is, they make that first five minutes to secure funding, and distribution; when they’ve got their money, based on the expectation that the rest of the movie will be as good, they knock out any old piece of cheap crap. This crap will then get sold to cable channels, video rental places (now streaming services, I guess), eke out a meagre profit and the cycle will continue. The ur-example of this is Fred Olen Ray’s “The Tomb” from 1986, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before switching to an hour of people talking on telephones, but there’s a case to be made for “Dorm Of The Dead” being a member of this group.
Ignoring (for now) the framing device, we get the first segment, where a guy tries to persuade his girlfriend to have sex before leaving, frustrated, only to then meet a couple of zombies, start making out with them, and get eaten. It’s well lit, filmed on decent equipment and (by and large) well acted. Now, the makeup is abysmal, even for a no-budget zombie movie – a bit of grey paint on the face, dark rings round the eyes, which looks even stupider when it’s a woman in a small top and you can see acres of perfectly healthy flesh – but everything else looks good.
Then, after the credits, we hear that distinctive hum that means someone is using their camcorder’s on-board sound recording, and all bets are off. It’s ISCFC favourite Donald Farmer, who’s been entertaining us since the mid 80s, and just like with most of his movies there’s an absolute ton of things to talk about. Playing over those opening credits, for instance? “Eat The Living”, the same song that so dominated the last Farmer movie, “Red Lips 3”.
After a 15-minute segment that has nothing really to do with the rest of the movie, where B-movie regular Tiffany Shepis cheats on her boyfriend, then the boyfriend’s a psycho, then they all get turned into zombies anyway so who cares, we get to the plot. Sarah, a goth girl, mildly insults Clare, a “townie”, in class one day (their verbal jousting is embarrassingly wooden), so Clare decides to get her revenge in the most insane way possible. The professor has a vial of zombie blood, sourced from Haiti, so Clare and her friend steal the vial, find Sarah in her dorm and pour the blood down her throat – this slowly turns her into a zombie, although I suppose Clare couldn’t have expected it to actually be real.
Where to start? Let’s talk about the editing of a couple of early scenes – the aforementioned classroom scene, then one right after it, where Sarah’s tuition cheque bounces and the principal takes great delight in telling her she’s kicked out of her accommodation (she has to move to Arkham Hall, where all the broke kids are). Anyway, it looks like Farmer filmed everyone in these scenes individually then spliced them together but did it with different cameras and lighting, in different locations, and it’s so obvious, for no real reason. It’s not like any of the actors were famous or good, so why not just hire people who were all able to show up at the same time?
In a film which barely hits 65 minutes before the credits roll, there’s also a heck of a lot of padding – check out the scenes where Sarah walks through a funfair, or the one where Farmer regular Jim O’Rear (surely a name more appropriate to a porn star?) escorts her through an enormous convenience store, where nothing happens, slowly. And the acting! Although I can’t use any of my trademark hyperbole, as Farmer has already previously employed the worst actress I’ve ever seen in my life (Kashmere, in “Red Lips 2”), there’s still a wide range of rank amateurishness on display. Ciara Richards (Sarah), Adrianna Eder (Alison) and Jackey Hall (Clare) feel like Farmer was just wandering through campus one day and picked them at random; they appear to have no desire or aptitude for acting. The men in the movie, all scumbags or rapists or both, fare no better.
Endings in movies are tricky beasts. A great one can elevate a weak movie, and a terrible one can do the opposite. It’s nice to actually have one, though, even if Donald Farmer disagrees. “Dorm Of The Dead” doesn’t so much end as just abruptly cut off, in the middle of a news report where the on-location reporter is unsure what a safe distance from a group of zombies is. There’s been no character development, no resolution to any of the plotlines, no sense of closure, nothing. It’s so poor, if it were anyone other than Farmer, I’d think it might be a deliberate audience alienation tactic. But there’s one crucial part of the ending we’ve not yet discussed.
Framing the movie is a Criswell-like narrator, Alf, played by a chap with the delightful stage name of Dukey Flyswatter. He supplies no useful information in the beginning, and just cackles with laughter before saying “get out!” at the end, but it’s his review on IMDB I wanted to mention. He says the film was terrible, only good for ogling the women, and mentions how he supplied his own outfit and improvised his own dialogue. I wouldn’t brag about that, mate! Anyway, he also mentions improvising a scene where he’s the father of a teenage girl, she’s on a date, her date is trying to get her to have sex with him and she’s completely (deliberately?) misunderstanding everything he says. It’s comedy for the severely head-injured, but he says the scene was cut short thanks to some “old woman” on the set complaining about the content, and it never made it into the movie anyway, not even the special features. Well, he clearly turned off the movie the second it faded to black, because the scene he talks about appears in the middle of the credits. And it is bad! It goes on for almost ten excruciating minutes, although I’m really not sure why it wasn’t just put in the movie – it’s no worse than any of the other terrible filler scenes.
This is, by any reasonable assessment, worse than Donald Farmer’s late 80s movies. The effects are worse, the acting is worse, the dialogue, the editing…it’s a rare director who seems to devolve, but Farmer has managed it. I take no pleasure whatsoever in saying this – he seems like a decent guy, a real film buff, but after wildly bizarre early efforts that never failed to entertain, there’s no sense of adventure or fun in these later ones. Aside from that well-lit first five minutes, the entire rest of the movie seems to have had no money spent on it at all – the sets are all whatever they could get access to for ten minutes, the makeup is just a bit of dirt rubbed on faces, the blood and guts could be freebies from a local butcher (or just Karo syrup)…you could tell me “Dorm Of The Dead” had cost less than $500 and I wouldn’t be surprised.
So, I give my shoulders a hearty shrug for this one. It’s abysmally bad, even if (like almost all Farmer’s movies) it manages to find new ways to fail, and is therefore sort of interesting for the bad movie enthusiast.
Rating: thumbs down