Let's talk about Pranks (1982), shall we? This movie arrived at Casa Stacie the other day, and the box copy promised me 3 things: Daphne Zuniga, a killer wielding a spiked baseball bat, and, well...pranks. Did it deliver on these promises? We get Ms. Zuniga (that's 'Jo' of Melrose Place to you, if you're nasty) in her first movie role, so check. One person is killed with the spiked baseball bat- check. Although, frankly, the funky motion-y graphic on the left there made me somehow assume that everyone would be killed with the bat, but that's another story I'll get to in a bit. Now, what's left on the list...ah yes, 'pranks'. Umm...there are none! "When the kidding stops..."? There's one character who's kind of a smartass, but mostly just a jerk. And he plays no pranks! Maybe it's my fault- I inferred from the title that there would be a hand in warm water to make someone pee, fake deaths a la April Fool's Day, or at the least the ol' corpse-in-the-bed gag from Terror Train. Yeah, that's it- I was expecting some pranks, dammit! Apparently the original title of this movie was The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which is a much better title in my opinion. It's not so generic or misleading as Pranks, and it's a nice cheeky nod to the 1970 Hammer anthology flick The House The Dripped Blood.
The short of it, Pranks tells the tale of 5 college students who stay on campus during Christmas break to clean out a dormitory that is slated for demolition...and, uh, someone starts killing them. The long of it, Pranks is a movie I really wanted to like. It started out with some poor sap being chased by an unseen killer- and when caught, he gets his hand cut in half- the long way. Eww! Such promise right off the bat! About 20 minutes in, I thought it might be a quirky unknown gem. An hour later, I thought "I know quirky unknown gems...and you, sir, are no quirky unknown gem, Daphne Zuniga or no Daphne Zuniga!". She's probably the only actor in this movie you'll know- in fact, this movie is the ONLY imdb.com credit for most of the people appearing. Despite playing a college student, Ms. Zuniga doesn't look much older than a high school sophomore here. In fact, I don't think she'd even hit puberty yet, if you know what I mean- wink wink, nudge nudge. I'm talking about her boobs, or lack thereof.
She's a little Jo Polniaczek from Facts of Life there, isn't she? No matter- she won't be sticking around long.
Debbie (Zuniga) tells Joanne (Laura Lapinksi), the leader of this pack, that actually she can't stay to help close down the dorm- she's going home for the holidays, and her parents are waiting outside in the car for her. When Debbie takes too long to come out, her dad decides to head inside to look for her- big mistake, dad! As he's heading up the stairs, the killer is heading down the stairs armed with the spiked baseball bat in hand and a pair of Chuck Taylors on feet. He swings for the fences and knocks dad's head outta the park. Well, you know me- I wish the head had come flying off...what actually happened was dad fell down with a bloody head. Not as thrilling, but OK. Then suddenly, we're back out at the car with mom, who's waiting patiently. Someone pops up from the backseat and strangles the poor thing to death with a piano wire. Wha? There's two killers? No no no...just some really awful editing and storytelling. There's but one killer, and I guess after offing dad, he managed to sneak into the backseat of the car without mom hearing a thing. Suuure. This shoddy direction plagued the entire movie- the POV changed so many times and there were so many slow pans and random music cues that it wasn't always clear who was looking at whom or who was in the scene or if I was supposed to be scared or what. At any rate, Debbie finally makes her way downstairs, only to find dead dad in the stairwell! Yikes! She races out to the car, opens the door, and out spills dead mom! Double yikes! Debbie is so distraught she passes out on the spot, and the killer takes this opportunity to back over her head with the family car. He dumps the whole clan in the trunk and speeds away in the Volvo. Do you see how the words 'unknown gem' began to float around in my brain pan? Yes, he'd killed 4 people with 4 different weapons and I wanted only the spiked baseball bat...but he backed over someone's head. That's good stuff.
Things slow down from there, unfortunately. Joanne and the other three students talk alot, and the exchanges are awkward, yet somehow I found them somehow captivating:
"Brian, how many do you want?"
"2, thanks, scrambled."
"Patti? How many do you want?"
"How about you, Craig?"
"2 please. Over-easy, not too well-done. A little runny in the middle."
"Hey, aren't there any more napkins?"
"You may have to get them out of the supply room."
Did you see in the exchange above how 'difficult' Craig is? He has to have his eggs made all special-like. Can't settle for scrambled like everyone else. What a diva. Anyway, the dialogue is like that alot. There's also much unnecessary explaining and exposition- for example, instead of just leaving a note on someone's door, which the audience should be smart enough to figure out if you just show the action, Joanne says "I'm going to leave you this note now. I think you should read it.".
In addition to the foursome, there's someone else on campus- the transient weirdo, John (Woody Roll- quite possibly one of the best names ever)...he's not supposed to be there, and he's weird! He skulks around, picking through dumpsters, wearing Chuck Taylors (gasp!), and looking like the result of a wild night of lovin' between Art Garfunkle and Richard Simmons. I'm very, very sorry to put the idea of a Garfunkle/Simmons tryst in your head and mine, but it had to be done.
Very sorry. Anyway, John is, as Patti (Pamela Holland) calls him, "That weird guy with fuzzy hair.". Did I mention that he's weird? Hey, what's that smell? Could it be...red herring?
Eventually, everyone is dead except John, Joanne and Craig (Stephen Sachs). The others have met their fates via machete, power drill, and a big cauldron of something that's supposed to be steaming but just looked like dry ice. That's right, the baseball bat was retired after one use. Craig gets knocked out. John, carrying the machete, is pleading with Joanne to let him help her get out of this Death Dorm (another alternate title for this movie!)...but he's weird, so Joanne chops him with the machete when he drops it. Then, Craig appears to kill John and save the day and...out of the blue, confess to everything. Yes, it was he! Craig did it! Craig killed them all! He gives a lengthy explanation, of course, as to why he did it- because he was in love with Joanne, that's why. Okaaaaay. And...I guess somehow all those victims were preventing he and Joanne from being together. Sure...so he didn't kill Joanne's boyfriend Tim (Robert Frederick) who left town for a ski trip in the film's first 5 minutes, but he did kill poor flat-chested Debbie who was leaving to spend the holidays with her family? Great logic there, Craiggers. Oh, and when I say explain, I mean he explains..."You see, I went to the kitchen with Patti, then I pretended someone hit me. It really hurt, but...".
Just when you think Joanne is never gonna get out of this mess (and this movie is never gonna end), here comes the deus ex machina, in the form of some white trash dude Joanne met earlier that day when he asked about buying the dorm's furniture. This time, Joanne ends up knocked out. White Trash Dude, aka Bobby Lee Tremble (Dennis Ely) gets Craig cornered and is about to finish him off when the cops bust in for some reason. Craig slyly turns the tables and convinces the cops that White Trash Dude is the killer- and when White Trash Dude makes a sudden move, the cops shoot him up. With bullets, not smack or crystal meth or anything like that. He dies, and Craig is left alone with his beloved, unconscious Joanne. He carries her to the building's incinerator and...well, we don't know what happens. I guess he stuffs her in. I don't know if he follows her in to complete some weird murder-suicide mission or what. Cops on the dorm's roof, though, comment on the stinky smoke coming out of a pipe, so I know someone ended up char-broiled.
Such promise, Pranks...when you ran over Daphne Zuniga with a Volvo, you showed such promise. You failed to meet my expectations, though, and for that I must give you a mere 4 out of 10 panties in the freezer. And where the hell were the pranks?!
What stuck with me the most from this movie was a lingering feeling of "I've seen her somewhere before, but where?" in reference to Laura Lipinksi, aka Joanne. This is her only movie credit, so I've never seen her on the screen before. It nagged and gnawed at me, and finally about 7 hours later, I got it. She looked just like the result of a wild night of lovin' between my hairdresser Abbie and Hillary Clinton from those old pictures of her and Bill in college.
This comparison would impress you if you knew my hairdresser, honest.