Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dorm of the Dead (2006)

Directed by Donald Farmer
Starring Tiffany Shepis, Jackey Hall, Andrea Owenby

"He said he'd get a paying student to take my place. How cold is that?"
"Way cold. Even frigid-y."

No-budget splatter auteur Donald Farmer has been honing his craft since the mid 1980's. It is the art of cheap n' dirty, of local talent staring mindlessly into the lens and stuttering through lines of gibberish, of Karo syrup and food coloring splashing walls in lieu of actual special effects, of glaring continuity errors and clunky edits. On one level - the level most sane people would judge a film's quality by - Farmer's movies are tawdry, shot-on-video junk. But then there's that X factor that keeps a steady stream of sleaze-hounds coming back for more, for two decades and counting. I'm still not sure what it is. Even at his worst, Farmer is still a better filmmaker than, say, Ed Wood or Bill Zebub, so it's not exactly the trainwreck effect, and he's never thrown in enough skin or sex to get by as a softcore merchant. I think, perhaps, we all just empathize with the dude. Who among us doesn't want to make a movie called Cannibal Hookers, or Vampire Cop, or Dorm of the Dead? Who doesn't want to line up a half-dozen hot blondes for a few weekends of topless hijinks, pizza parties, and goofing around? Sure, he was paying her, but ol' Donald got to boss Tiffany Shepis around for a few days. He might even still have that sticky pair of cargo pants she ran around in on this one. So, perhaps we just live our z-movie directing dreams through Mr. Farmer, knowing full-well that we are blunderers too, that we'd forget to Xerox enough scripts, or call the guy that said he'd hold the boom mic, or find an actual actors for that one pivotal part. And, just like Farmer, we'd wing it.

Dorm of the Dead is, like, 90% winging it. It opens with a message of doom from Haunted Garage frontman Dukey Flyswatter, who is clearly aging into Lon Chaney, Jr. He is nearly ready to wheeze his way through the inevitable low-balled Dracula VS. Frankenstein remake.

Cut to: douche-y dude macking on hot blonde chick, Dawn (delicious Michelle Penick), who pretends to give him a blowjob, but then smacks him in the dick and sends him packing. Out in the alley, he runs into a ghoul-girl (Kiersten Hall - Jackey's sister, most likely) and, despite the fact that she's bone-white and covered in blood, he starts making out with her. Naturally, she bites him, and he finds himself fighting off a trio of extremely slow-moving chicks in mini-skirts and, weirdly, a short Kung Fu dude.

Meanwhile, back inside, Dawn takes off her sweatpants and shirt and takes a nap. And then zombies show up. Roll credits.

The story-proper opens with Amy(Tiffany Shepis) making out quite awkwardly with some redheaded chick while what sounds like German electronica plays on the soundtrack. Then her boyfriend shows up, and he's pissed. She offers him a three-way type situation, but he's having none of it. I don't really see this scene playing out like it does here. This seems more like a best-day-ever scenario to me. But whatever. The fucker obviously has problems. Amy kicks him in the nuts and calls him a "faggot"(really?) and then hauls ass out of there. She drives over to the local dorm and tries to get her friend to let her in, because she's worried about the boyfriend going berserk, even though the guy is clearly no match for her. Anyway, she begs her stupid friend to call the cops, but instead, her friend just blurbles "Amy? Amy?" on her cell phone while the guy drags the Shep out of her car and chokes her. Again, seems unlikely, but who knows what goes on out there.

So he's choking her and she's trying to warn him that a girl-zombie is behind him. He won't listen, and so he gets chomped. The mayhem is represented by blood splashing on the concrete walls of the parking garage, which mostly made me wonder how they mopped that shit up after the shoot. So he gets eaten, followed by Amy, followed by her stupid friend, who continued to say "Amy? Amy?" right until the end.

So then two girls who couldn't possibly hang out together in real life - Sarah the creepy goth chick (Ciara Richards) and Allison the nerdy, waif-ish chick (Adrianna Eder, clearly a non-actor), go to the cemetery before school to do some tombstone rubbings. On their way back, they run into Claire (Jackey Hall), the stereotypical mean girl, who gives them the business.
"Hey Sarah, guess what?" She barks in her southern-bell-gone-bad twang. "I looked up 'geek' in the dictionary and saw your picture."

Interestingly, Jackey and her on-again off-again BFF, Andrea "Miss Howard Stern" Owenby were the subjects of a four-part reality TV series on the Howard Stern cable channel a couple years back, and if that was any indication, there's very little difference between Claire and the real Jackey. They're both pretty mean. And what's hotter than an ill-tempered, southern-fried blonde with tight pants and stars in her eyes? Sure, her constant put-downs here are terminally lame, and her motivation for murder and mayhem muddy at best, but then, this is not her universe, it's Farmer's. The real Jackey Hall would have brought these two to tears/eating disorders, I'm sure of it.

Cut to: The zombies in the parking garage chomping on some fat fucker.
Cut to: A young science professor telling his class he's got a vial of zombie blood, which he got on a trip to Haiti. This is represented by a shot of a black guy running around near a waterfall chewing on beef jerky. During his lecture, Claire continuously hurls insults at the teacher, but since she's shot in a different room completely, the scene makes very little sense. You are, however, supposed to come away with this: Sarah and Allison laughed at Claire when the impatient prof finally snaps back at her, and those nervous titters are enough to send Claire screaming for vengeance.

Sarah almost gets kicked out of school because her mom spent the tuition on Jenny Craig, so she is forced to stay at "Arkham Hall", a pile of junk that's supposed to represent a dorm set up for 'charity-cases'.

Meanwhile, Claire and her helium-voiced pal Julie (Owenby) decide to break into the professor's classroom and steal his zombie blood. But first they walk up a ton of stairs. Endless amounts of stairs. I am assuming these shots are included so we might savor the jeans-clad rear-ends of our two actresses, because otherwise, it's a bizarre choice for filler. Julie is, naturally, confused about the nature of their mission, and the two squabble. Eventually, Julie wanders off (she's supposed to storm off, but I don't believe the notoriously dim-witted Owenby understood what was required of her), and is never seen or heard from again. Claire is forced to continue her bloody work alone.

So then the professor ends up in the parking garage with the zombies, and we flashback to how the whole mess started. Seems that he was banging one of his students, Laura (Amy Owenby, presumably Andrea's sister/cousin, who might have been a bit too paunchy/pregnant for her sex scene), and in order to get rid of her, he shot her full of his Haitian zombie juice. That seems like the opposite of getting rid of someone, but whatever. Of course, he ends up getting eaten too, but not before Claire gets the test-tube full of blood. It should be noted that Claire walks down a flight of stairs in a wood-paneled basement to get the test-tube, but the prof was clearly in the parking garage. This refusal to accept the most basic rules of continuity gets a little disorienting after awhile.

Despite having just witnessed murder, mutilation, and cannibalism, the clearly jaded Claire gingerly heads over to Arkham Hall, where she dribbles the zombie blood into Sarah's sleeping mouth. The next morning, Sarah shows up at Allison's house. She's ashy, pale, and ravenous for meat, which is odd, because she's a vegetarian. They head over to the local drive-thru and she feasts on "Monster burgers."

"I'm glad Pamela Anderson isn't here to see this," says a startled Allison, as Sarah orders every meat-centric sandwich on the menu.

Later on, Sarah goes back to her dorm and eats her new roommate. The carnage is represented by a bloodied mannequin head. And so, Arkham Hall truly becomes a Dorm of the Dead. Sarah then heads over to the dean's house, where she eats his European wife (Martina Urbancova, a Czech woman with an amazing accent). Then she picks up a guy and goes to the drive-in and eats him, too.

And then she runs into Claire outside a redneck bar, and turns her into a zombie. And then - she's having a very active evening - she goes to the country fair and wanders around while this White Zombie/Thrill Kill Kult-ish track blares away on the soundtrack. This shot continues for the entire length of the song. She did look sorta foxy at that point, though, so maybe it was worth it.

Her slo-mo rampage continues, but by now, the local media - and the local gun-toting yahoos - have caught wind of the zombie invasion. I'm sure you can figure out the rest. It should be pointed out that Farmer's one moment of true horror/high drama was entrusted to Eder, who is incapable of acting on any level. Good call, sir!

Watching Donald Farmer movies is a lot like eating an entire pizza all by yourself. You just know no good will come of it, but you give in to your more primal urges anyway. And while you gorge on the cheese and empty calories, life seems alright. Later on, of course, it's all regret, gastronomical distress, and vows to never do it again. And then, just a few weeks later, you hear about another awesome-sounding pizza./movie, and the cycle of self-abuse begins anew. It's been this way for 20 years running, so why stop now? Farmer's next film is called Chainsaw Cheerleaders. Tiffany Shepis and Jackey Hall are back, and now there's chainsaws. And cheerleaders. And I totally want to see it.

Listen, I'm only a man. I have weaknesses.

Availability: Dorm of the Dead is available on DVD.

Link: Worship at the altar of mean-girl Jackey Hall!

Clips: Chainsaw Cheerleaders trailer!

Jackey Hall (and Clueless's Stacey Dash!) star in upcoming Sci-Fi movie, Chrome Angels!

PS: Stacey Dash: Holy smokes, I need a subscription to King Magazine asap.

PPS: She's 42 year old!

- Ken McIntyre

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