Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Strung Out on Slashers: BOARDINGHOUSE (1982)

They say you never forget your first love and I think the same thing can apply to your first shot-on-video horror film.  Much like your first love, it is a completely foreign experience that will most likely leave you a changed person after all is said and done.  I can remember the first shot-on-video film I saw like it was yesterday. And, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, you know what a lousy day yesterday was.  I lost my SOV virginity to CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988).  Having just gotten my drivers license, I was free to inspect video aisles on my own and found the cover with a guy chewing chunks of flesh from a girl’s throat staring at me.  Now this I gotta see, said my foolish brain.  I was never the same afterward.  And while this magnum non-opus may have been my earliest exposure, it wasn’t the first shot-on-video horror flick. That honor belongs to BOARDINGHOUSE (1982).

Renting horror flicks in the 1980s, you honestly couldn’t escape seeing a trailer for BOARDINGHOUSE on every horror title released by Paragon on VHS.  I’m pretty sure there is a small army of folks worldwide who (involuntarily) have the narration memorized and the “peeee-owwwwwwww” sound and psychedelic glove shot burned into their brains.  Prolific promotion aside, BOARDINGHOUSE deserves historical attention for being the first mainstream horror release to realize that video was the way of the future.  Not only that, but the producers even transferred a shot-on-Betacam movie to 35mm and got this bad boy in theaters.  Sure, it had been done before (like the 1976 Redd Foxx comedy NORMAN…IS THAT YOU?) but this was the first horror film to do so. The fact that it got into theaters and made money (Variety reported a haul of $390,000 in just two weeks!) is even more amazing (although the filmmakers say they never got a dime).  Variety also famously said of the film “tape-to-film horror pic hits a new low” but, like it or not, it still was groundbreaking.  It broke the barrier that led to a new era in exploitation filmmaker, for better or worse, and accurately predicted the current era of digital filmmaker.  Yes, Steven Soderbergh owes BOARDINGHOUSE some rent.

BOARDINGHOUSE advertised alongside a re-titled RITUALS 
(Farmington, New Mexico - October 1983)

The film revolves around, duh, a boardinghouse.  In 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman, two scientists experimenting with telekinesis and the occult, died horribly in the house and their child, the sole survivor, is sent to a mental institution.  Ten years later, Jim Royce (director John Wintergate under the pseudonym Hawk Adley [which is revealed on the commentary to be a mistake as it was supposed to read Hank Adley]) inherits the house and decides to turn it into a boardinghouse.  In a move that would make THREE’S COMPANY’s Jack Tripper proud, he decides to only rent to young women.  With a bevy of beauties moving in, it seems like pure early ‘80s heaven (or the set up for a porno).  Well, except for the weird gardener (also played by Wintergate) who is always creeping around.  Oh, and the bad news that the now-adult Hoffman child has escaped from the loony bin and this gives the psychic killer plenty of victims.  Jim, however, has a secret of his own as he too possesses telekinetic powers.  Jim starts to get close to all the girls, but mostly Victoria (Kalassu, Wintergate’s real life wife), who starts to take an interest in his Eastern philosophy-influenced lifestyle.  But he has to figure out if one of his boarders is a killer looking to pay the rent in blood money.

Now before you think I’m crazy (or crazier), let me say that I don’t consider BOARDINGHOUSE to be a horror classic.  However, there is something oddly alluring about the film for me.  It has a definitely WTF quality to it, no doubt. And while the filmmakers contend today that they were making a spoof of horror flicks, I’m not really buying that real estate.  It is cheap and cheesy, but I enjoy it.  Much like the adult films of the era, the video format provides a better tool in capturing the early ‘80s aesthetic.  Truth be told, BOARDINGHOUSE is like a time capsule that captures the early ‘80s in California better than anything I can think of.  You’ll marvel at the clothes, pools, and furniture.  And even little things like a blow dryer will get you feeling nostalgic.

Since it is the first shot-on-video horror film, BOARDINGHOUSE has been afforded a certain status in horror film history. Believe it or not, it has been the recipient of two special edition DVD releases in the last five years.  Yes, BOARDINGHOUSE gets two special editions before STAR WARS fans get releases of the unaltered trilogy on Blu-ray. There is something so wrong, yet so right about that.  The first release was in 2008 from Code Red.  Five years later, the new upstart Slasher // Video has given the film a loving special edition in their 30th Anniversary release.

Two of BOARDINGHOUSE's gruesome bits:

The biggest attraction here is a never-before-seen director’s cut of the film. Released theatrically and on video via Paragon with a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, this extended version runs 2 hours and 37 minutes.  Let me repeat that – 2 HOURS AND 37 MINUTES! Yes, nearly a full extra hour of BOARDINGHOUSE.  Now, if you had told me that this film would have seen two special edition releases in 5 years, I would have called you crazy.  If you told me that there was a director’s cut with nearly an hour of extra footage, I would have driven you to the asylum myself.  Now if you had told me this extra footage not only makes the movie more cohesive and expands up the personal philosophies of the Wintergates, I would have gladly joined you in that padded cell. Yet, here it is, a longer version of BOARDINGHOUSE for the entire world to see.  It is pretty obvious the distributor wanted to get straight to the horror, cutting out anything they deemed superfluous to the spurting blood and T&A.  For example, the infamous ice pick scene occurs around the 21 minute mark in the earlier version, but takes place at the 50 minute mark in the director’s cut.  Believe it or not, there is tons of extra footage explaining the personal dynamics a lot better.  And you even get the original, extended ending that explains who bought the house and teases a follow up (the Wintergates say they already have the script for a sequel BOARDINGHOUSE 2: ILLUMINATI VORTEX [wha!?!] done).  On the downside, we get lots more of Wintergate in his briefs.

To make it up to you for that last framegrab, I offer you this:

As with the Code Red release, John and Kalassu provide an audio commentary for the film, but this time they are talking over the longer version.  Of all the extras on the disc, this is perhaps the most frustrating.  Disc producer Jesus Teran joins as a moderator and, unfortunately, seems to get very little out of them.  Many times they are completely silent, watching the action unfold on screen.  Teran brings up their musical careers quite a bit, but fails to give the listener a clear timeline of their history as musicians.  Same goes for the film itself.  At one point Wintergate mentions it cost $35,000 to blow up the film to 35mm for theatrical screenings and says, “That cost more than the movie.”  Rather than ask how much the movie cost to make (a detail still left unknown despite a nearly 3 hours commentary and 30 minutes of interviews in the extras), he just lets the comment escape. And it isn’t until 90 minutes in that we find out this director’s cut (which features some crazy video wipes/editing) was something Wintergate created in 1999.  I’ll let it slide this time as he is relatively new to the DVD game, but I can’t think of what a shame it was to learn so little about the film on the audio commentary.  Yes, I’m the weirdo who wants to know every little detail about the making of BOARDINGHOUSE.

Please don’t think that I dislike this special edition though. That is only a minor quibble on what is truly a labor of love from this new cult label.  The special features are filled with probably more BOARDINGHOUSE minutia than any fan could ever want.  In addition to the two separate Q&A sessions (one recent and one from 2008), the disc offers 24 minutes of BOARDINGHOUSE trailers and audio (including the original narration recording sessions) and an extensive video sleeve library.  A healthy section is also devoted to the musical careers of Wintergate and Kalassu in the bands Lightstorm, 33 1/3, and Teeth.  You get three music videos, several songs and even some footage of them performing live in Europe.  A hidden Easter egg on the disc also has Jesus recording them as they react to footage of themselves in the earlier TERROR ON TOUR (1980).  All in all, this is a great special edition that I’d highly recommend for horror trash lovers.  It's not for everyone, but those who dig this kind of stuff will definitely enjoy spending a night in the BOARDINGHOUSE.

1 Reactions:

  1. Hey, I followed this link from Sindelar's forum and enjoyed your post (and your screen grabs!). Excellent work, I'll be back to explore some more.


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