You know a movie’s gonna be cheap when the opening credits don’t even bother giving any actors’ names. And Pranks (also known by the way better title The Dorm That Dripped Blood) is one such movie. The opening credits begin with the Associate Producer and end with the Director…and don’t list a single cast member in between. Not only is this a sign that the budget wasn’t blown on a star’s salary, it’s also a pretty brave move; if I was in a movie, I’d be raging pissed not to see my name up front. Anyway, lucky for us, this movie was made in the early 80s, and therefore the unknowns have had plenty of time to become famous since then. Unlucky for us, none of them actually did manage to become famous…unless you count Daphne Zuniga as a celebrity.
Oh, and the pre-credits scene is actually a murder sequence that, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and features a character that will never be mentioned again.
Anyway, Pranks revolves around some college "kids" who are tasked with hanging around over Christmas break and clearing out a university dorm before it’s demolished. Why is it being demolished? Beats me. Why are these kids being forced to clean and board the place up? Beats me. Pranks doesn’t waste any time on plot or character development, which is obviously a big plus here at Tower Farm. It also makes for an incredibly confusing first ten minutes, considering the first thing we see is someone being killed, and then we’re suddenly seeing a bunch of random kids scrubbing down picnic tables.
Among this group is Joanne, who will clearly be the final girl because she’s wearing this unflattering unisex sweater:
A very young Daphne Zuniga is also present – this is before The Initiation and long before “Melrose Place” – and unfortunately she and her parents are the first people to go. Daphne’s parents have just come to pick her up from campus when Daddy ends up on the wrong end of a nail-lined baseball bat. Her mother is killed next in a hilarious scene in which the killer opens up a car door and crawls into the backseat – all the while the woman is sitting in the front seat oblivious to his presence! Now, I'm pretty sure that even if I were fast asleep in a car, I’d realize someone was opening up the door and crawling in. Anyway, Daphne sees her bloody parents, falls into a dead faint, and the killer simply backs the car over the poor girl. I like Daphne and all, but someone who makes it that easy on a killer probably deserves to die.
In the next horrifying scene, Joanne shows up in another unflattering unisex sweater:
We also get random appearances of my favorite red herring since Bridgette Wilson wore her “evil” glasses and glared at the camera in I Know What You Did Last Summer: some guy who wanders around the campus and looks like he’s just left the Regal Beagle from “Three’s Company” after a few too many wine coolers:
We also get this useless white-trash couple, thrown in for absolutely no reason and foreshadowing every character Rob Zombie would create twenty years later:
Oh, I take that back…the white trash woman flashes her chest, the only nudity included in this movie. So that’s why they were written in.
Anyway, finally the killer kicks things into high gear…eschewing every one of the numerous possibilities to kill the annoying kids and instead taking his anger out on their dinner table. What? Instead of actually killing someone, he smashes up their cookware? Come on…the kids have all been walking around alone in deserted hallways for the past twenty minutes! You couldn’t take that chance to hack one of ‘em up? Anyway, at least this scene gives us the hilarious moment where the kids stand looking down at the destroyed dinner table, and the awkward silence points to one of the actors likely forgetting a line.
Amazingly, even after someone smashes up the table and then cuts the phone lines and power to the building, the kids decide not to just pack up and leave. Come on, people…you’re not locked in! Anyway, finally the killer gets his stuff together and starts doing some hacking. The super-irritating Patti, a character who’s done nothing but whine up until now, gets the most creative death scene, as she’s tossed into a big vat of liquid nitrogen. Or is it liquid hydrogen? Dry ice? Just some foggy water? Hell, I don’t know.
The reveal of the killer is…well…completely stupid. It’s actually one of the students…and he's apparently killing off the rest because he’s in love with Joanne. Just a reminder, this is Joanne…in yet another unflattering unisex sweater:
So yes…apparently the above-pictured woman, in all her neutral-toned knitted sexiness, has caused her friend to go completely psycho (oh yes…he even does the evil chuckle of a Disney villain) and murder off all their friends. And who finally comes to Joanne’s rescue? The random white-trash guy, who shows up on campus in the middle of the night for absolutely no reason. Except that he doesn’t manage to rescue Joanne, and only ends up being shot by police. Oops!
While this movie is undoubtedly cheap and shoddily made, I've also read it was a student film (made by Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, who have actually gone on to direct some other genre movies) that managed to get released. Therefore, it ends up kind of embarrassing movies like Slaughter High and Girls Nite Out, which feature the exact same look and cheapness, but as far as I know were not student films. The best thing about Pranks is the ending, which does something not many horror movies do. Oh, hell, I’ll just tell you what happens: sweater-girl dies. And not just dies, she get burned alive in the building’s furnace! The last line even has police complaining about the stink. Awesome.
So, while I don’t know if I’d ever watch Pranks again…I’m not sorry I saw it once. The succession of frightening sweaters alone rates it at least…