Boardinghouse (1982)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-05-20 10:53

Written and Directed by: John Wintergate

Reviewed by: Brett G.

The horror genre (more so than any other genre) seems to inspire average, everyday people to round up a cast in an attempt to make a film. The genre is full of this ilk, as evidenced by the prolific amount of shot on video horror films released in the 80s (I refer you to Brett H.ís review of Video Violence for further reference). Boardinghouse is an early example of this trend, and it is a glorious example at that. Iíll go ahead and warn you that it takes a special person to appreciate something like Boardinghouse. Itís an ultra low budget affair full of cheesy acting and cheap effects, and its production values betray its shot on video origins at all times. Still, if youíre a die-hard horror fan, you know that these symptoms arenít always a kiss of death, as many of these films find a way to become charming affairs that are so bad that theyíre good. Is Boardinghouse such a flick?

Even though Boardinghouse almost defies explanation, Iíll give it a shot anyway. Before the proceedings get underway, weíre given a warning as to the graphic nature of the film, and an unseen narrator gives us cues that let us know when we should close our eyes. Yes, this is as awesome as it sounds. The film then properly opens with an unseen character accessing some police files on the Hoffman house and the grizzly deaths that occurred there in the 70s. We also learn that the house has recently come into possession of Jim, a decendent of the previous owners, who decides to turn the place into a boarding house for young ladies. Jimís plan goes off without a hitch, as the house is soon populated by some well endowed girls with a penchant for partying.

Meanwhile, we also discover that someone (or something) has escaped from the local sanitarium and has apparently returned to wreak havoc at the Hoffman house. Thus, the film plays out a bit like a slasher film, as an unseen force begins to kill off the characters. There are a few other subplots sprinkled in here and there, like Jimís harnessing of a telekinetic ability that he teaches one of the tenants (which conveniently comes in handy at the end of the film). The various girls all have their own things going on, too: one is aspiring to be a music star and another has escaped from an abusive relationship.

If the plot sounds jumbled and incoherent, itís because it is. This flick is all over the place with regards to both plot and tone, as the film plays out like a teen sex comedy (well, if you ignore the fact that Jim is easily pushing 40) for over half the run time before turning into a gore-filled romp that features various mutilations and a ton of bloodletting. Iíve already told you that this was filmed on a shoestring budget, but it should come as no surprise that the gore effects are nice. As is the case with most of these types of flicks, the director knows what youíre here to see: blood, sex, and nudity, and Boardinghouse delivers all three in spades.

Itís a good thing, too, as the film isnít particularly well directed, nor is the acting at all strong. Furthermore, since John Wintergate seemingly devoted 90% of the budget to gore effects, the rest of the practical effects suffered as a result. For example, the various telekinetic effects are realized by simply cropping out the off-screen crew member thatís manipulating the objects on screen. There are also a few scenes that involve the filmís villain attacking the various girls, and this is realized by using red lights to simulate eyes, I think (pictured left) and cheap-looking masks that look like they were bought at a supermarket down the street. One of these sequences occurs at night, and Wintergate must have run out of money for lighting because itís almost impossible to see whatís going on. The filmís score, however, is surprisingly memorable, as the main theme provides the proper amount of menace to know that the film is, in fact, a horror movie. It sometimes sounds like someone sat down at a synth and came up with a poor Carpenter imitation, but it gets the job done.

If you canít tell, this film is ultra low budget and makes Doom Asylum look like a Hollywood blockbuster by comparison. However, does this spell certain doom for Boardinghouse? Surprisingly, no. Somehow, despite its massive flaws, the film manages to be entertaining because it has that intangible low-budget charm that many 80s horror films have. Itís an inexplicable quality that simply canít be replicated, and itís one of those things that horror fans know when they see it. If youíre a fan of stuff like the aforementioned Doom Asylum or The Forest, then Boardinghouse will be right up your alley. Iím convinced that 95% of the general population will never ďgetĒ what makes films like this entertaining, but if youíre part of that select 5% and can derive pleasure from low budget affairs like this, youíll end up wearing Boardinghouse like a badge of honor. With the filmís recent re-release on DVD, many will likely end up seeing it, but few will enjoy it. If youíre like this reviewer and find that you canít help but smiling from ear to ear at the ďwarningĒ at the beginning of the film, then youíll know where youíll stand early on.

Speaking of the DVD release, this bad boy comes courtesy of Code Red, a company that has carved quite a niche for itself in recent years. Boardinghouse is presented in its proper 4:3 ratio, and Iím sure this is the best itíll ever look. Yes, it looks cheap, but thereís no other way for shot-on-video material to look. The audio, on the other hand, is very crisp and clear, with the occasional drop in quality. There are some nice special features too, including a commentary by director/star Wintergate, and it provides more information than youíre ever likely to glean elsewhere. Like I said earlier, it takes a special person to enjoy something like Boardinghouse. If you think youíre up for the challenge, itís a film that really has to be seen to be believed. Itís cheesy and gratuitous, but itís somehow strangely intriguing. Rent it!

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