Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: Seven Dorms of Death

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Seven Dorms of Death
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing / MVD Visual
80 minutes / 2015

I am not sure if this would fall under the umbrella of DC or Marvel (or Archie), but if director Richard Griffin were to be considered a superhero, his power would certainly be taking used-up ideas and bringing new life into them. Wes Craven (d. 2015, RIP) is credited with doing that with the slasher genre when he released Scream (1996), but other than a huge budget, he gets to be the sidekick in my fantasy. Not to take away credit for any of his amazing earlier ground-breaking films, but when it comes to the rejuvenation of a subgenre, it would be hard to find someone to outmatch Griffin, considering the budgetary restraints and sheer volume of his output. I have not seen a single release of his to date that I would not recommend.

Yes, I’ve said this before, and I may repeat it every time I see one of Griffin’s films, that no matter what the genre he tackles (Shakespeare is next, I hear), I look forward to sitting down and turning on one of his films for the first, and even second or more times.

In the video nasty days of the 1980s, during the cheapie VHS phase of indie filmmaking, there was a different mindset to making a movie. Now, shooting, in itself, is no extra cost because it’s all digital, including the editing. Back in the day, though, getting film was much harder, and getting good quality material was even more difficult (i.e., it cost much more; and that expense doesn’t even go into the area of processing). Because of that, it was rare for reshoots, and it was realistic policy to employ as much of the processed film that could be used. If there was an accident, or an anachronism, it was either dealt with in editing, or most likely given an “oh, well…”stance. Fixing it in post was much more difficult, and also highly less likely.

Classic old guy giving the "you're all gonna die" warning"
It is with this premise as a motif that we are introduced to the 1983 Dunwich High School theater troupe, filled with ‘80s cliché characters, such as the pretty boy with attitude, the virgin, the cool/mean girl, the long Jeri-curled black guy, and the weird hippie occultist. Being a horror film based on the that period, there’s lots of H.P. Lovecraft references, a particular metal band mentioned often supposedly to try to connect with its audience of demographically teenaged boys, and some sex, nudity and, that tried-and-true trope that exists even today, the unnecessary-to-the-story shower scene.

It would be nearly impossible to categorize all of the intentional mistakes that were put in the film; blink and you could miss the script person in the scene, or the dead body breathing, or an actor looking for his mark. It’s also pretty obvious that the masked killer is played by numerous people, and the way Griffins concludes this particular cliché is, frankly, hysterical. In fact, the whole film is hilarious because of these inclusions. It may take a few recommended viewings to play Spot the Mistake-ake-ake-ake [supposed to sound like a fading emphasis echo]. Don’t make it a drinking game, though, or I guarantee a hospital visit.

Aaron Andrade as Vargas
The (again, purposeful) overacting, especially by the head police detective Vargas (Aaron Andrade), is so painfully bad that it’s stellar. The virginal heroine is named, of course, Severin (Anna Rizzo, wearing Catholic school girl attire, rather than shiny boots of leather), is nerdy-cute, and tackles the role with gusto. Another standout character is ace Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Pennysaver, Jane Peach (Laura Pepper), who amusingly and effectively brings back the quick-style dialogue reading of the 1940s, often employed by the likes of either Katherine Hepburn or especially Rosalind Russell (as a example, see His Girl Friday [1940]).

The body count is high and the gore is, well, strange. There is a lot of it, but much of it is just plain (and, once again, purposefully) silly. That also makes it part of the fun, whose quotient is exceedingly high in this film. And though taking place in the early 1980s (i.e., was supposed to be filmed then), Griffin still finds a way to work in gender/sexuality politics, and rightfully so, especially in this present political climate, similar to the homophobic Reagan regime.

This is supposed to be, in part, a reflection of the guiallo European films, such as Jesse Franco’s, but for me this comes across as very American, as small companies tried to cash in on the quickly expanding VHS market (whose biggest sellers were horror and porn) as major companies still eyed the cinema showcases, i.e., theaters. However, the ending of this film is straight out of a Lucio Fulci (d. 1996) playbook, especially like The Beyond (1981, aka Seven Doors of Death, along with a multitude of translated names).

The film reminds me of an earlier (and also excellent) Griffin comedic horror film, The Sins of Dracula (2015), though both approach the topic differently. In each release, it’s a theater troupe that’s in danger (here it’s overaged high schoolers; in Sins it is Community Theater) from murder and the occult. This is also helped by the sharp blue and red lighting, which are employed in both. I suggest not seeing one or the other, though, but rather both, as one shows what happens when the film technique is successful, and one where it is played as wonky.

But oh, there is so much more. The framework around the film is that it is being shown on a Monster Chiller Horror Theatre type program called Baron Von Blah’s Celluloid Crypt, with the venerable stage actor Michael Thurber playing the Baron, which mixes a bit of Count Floyd and his own scene stealing Roger Keller character from 2013’s short “Crash Site.” This is meant as a compliment, of course. Within the bookends and inserts within the film, we see fake commercials and promos (e.g., a trailer for Dracula’s House of Sadism), which essentially are shorts (very short) mostly directed by Griffin, but also the likes of Alex DiVincenzo (whose other worthwhile shorts have also been reviewed on this blog, but I digress…).

Michael Thurber as your host, Baron Von Blah
Taken all together, this is a beautifully hot mess, that any fan of the genre will watch with glee in the same way one would watch an April Fool’s version of The Simpsons or Family Guy (also taking place in Rhode Island!), where the references are more visual than just verbal connections.

One can’t help but admire Griffin’s acumen in such an output of films, and his merry band of actors keeps on growing – and coming back – which shows that they know they are dealing with quality product, writing (the main story here by Matthew Jason Walsh), and dedication. And there is so much for the growing fan base to enjoy, as well.

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