One thing I absolutely love about Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse is that it constantly exposes me to little known horror films I otherwise would never have gotten exposed to. This includes obscure titles like; “Invasion of the Blood Farmers”, “Another Son of Sam”, “Mardis Gras Massacre” and last night’s gem, “BoardingHouse.” These are the kinds of movies that might never be seen again in their 35mm glory unless resurrected and returned to the silver screen by dedicated programmers like Joe Ziemba and his predecessor, Zack Carlson. For that, I am eternally grateful for their hard work.
The 1980s saw the boom in home video that brought video stores to every corner shopping center (and even a few gas stations), VCRs in almost every home and a constant hunger for new product. To meet this demand for constant, fresh product a new industry sprung up that made cheap, straight to video films shot on video using the primitive technologies of the day. Of course two of the big genres to take advantage of this new way of making movies were pornography and horror.
We all know that porn really took off with the advent of home video machines so people could watch adult films without having to sit in a seedy, inner city theatre surrounded by the kinds of people who see pornography in cheap, inner city theaters. They could sit home and be with the same kind of people (themselves) with realtive anonymity. It was also easier to market and make porn for the home market and it became the primary method of production and distribution until the internet came along and gave it all away for free.
As for horror movies, the cheaper production methods and easier distribution of the home video market meant that aspiring auteurs could get their films made and out to the public without worrying about big studios getting in the way. It was also an avenue for making a name for oneself quickly. Horror was a good fit for this new market because exploitation films (much like pornography) are always in demand, tend to make a quick profit and thrive on excess and shock value the big studios are picky about. So, we got movies like “Sledge Hammer,” “Things”, “Truth or Dare”, “Microwave Massacre” and “BoardingHouse.”
"BoardingHouse" is about a man named James who inherits a large, 10 bedroom house from his late uncle, who died mysteriously inside a few months back. James has the idea to turn it into a boardinghouse and puts out an ad advertising for "Women between the ages of 18 and 28 with no attachments". Surprisingly this unequal opportunity approach lands him the bachelor pad of his dreams and 9 eager young ladies move in with him, paying him 100 dollars a month. James is also a practicing psychic, honing his mental powers by "channelling cosmic energy to unlock the secrets of the universe". This means he’s got telekinetic powers sufficient to levitate a bar of soap and make it dance across the surface of the water in his bathtub.
What James does not know is that the house he inherited once belonged to noted psychic researcher Dr. Hoffman who died along with his wife under suspicious circumstances. They left behind one child who has been confined to a mental institution ever since. Well, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happens. We see a figure wearing black gloves force a nurse to undress and commit suicide by hanging herself with nylon stockings. All I could think was, “WOW! Lord Vader sure has some kinky fetishes.” This is, however, not a dark lord of the Sith but our mysterious killer who makes a beeline for the old house.
From here on we are treated to lots and lots of nudity. No, more nudity than that. In fact, this movie has so much bouncing, heaving, exposed flesh that I got sick of seeing it by the end and just wanted all the girls to put their clothes back on. Worse, we get LOTS of scenes of James and his strange body wandering around in thongs as well as lots of shots of his butt. Someone was overly proud of their overly tanned, slightly wrinkling body, let me tell you. He does own a Datsun (the forerunner to Nissan) 280ZX though so he has SOME taste.
The nudity is punctuated every now and then by an act of telekinetic violence. One annoying girl gets an icepick through her hand, another has visions of being a pig-headed monster eating mice in the bathroom. I literally have NO idea what this scene was about other than a sign that someone who made this film was on waaaaaaay too many drugs. One of the murders even involves a girl being forced to bleed all over and wander into the sea. By far though, the most ridiculous death is the girl who’s eyes pop out of her head and fall into some party dip. You can see in the pictures above that she was just holding her hands over her face with face eyeballs squeezing out between her fingers.
I won’t spoil any more of the fun of this film by revealing who the killer actually is or what their motive is. Let’s just say it’s weird, fun and a lot like this movie itself, comes out of almost nowhere and gets to you. However, I will say the greatest villain in the entire movie is the editor. He seems to cut scenes short just as people are beginning to talk or worse, cut scenes off before they even start, leaving just a tiny clip of something that may or may not have happened. I seriously think half of the plot got lost in the ham-handed editting.
I can see the makings of a much, much better movie lurking in this one. It seems though that the director’s reach far exceeded his grasp, budget or the talent of his cast and crew. With a higher budget and more professional people behind the cameras, this could have been a very exciting, intriguing thriller on the lines of “Carrie” or a bizarre free for all of ideas like “Hausu.” What we get instead is the germ of a great idea that has yet to germinate because the manure it was buried in is just too thick.
Let me get something straight here though. I do not hate this movie. I don’t consider it terrible or ‘so bad it’s good’. In fact, I have come to loath that last phrase almost as much as I loath the concept of ‘guilty pleasures.’ If you like a movie, admit it, don’t backhand compliment it to try and preserve your ‘cool’ status or impress anyone else. Heck, I -like- the Michael Bay “Transformers” movies and I am not afraid to admit it. I will defend the “Star Wars” prequels with my dying breath because there were some good ideas in there. Could they have been made better? Probably, but not by me.
The same applies for “BoardingHouse”. It’s not a great movie, it’s not even very competently made but it never bored me and I could see a glimmer of something good in it. Anyone willing to put their heart and soul into making a movie, even a low budget horror film (Hell, ESPECIALLY a low budget horror film), should be praised for having the spine to get it done.
In the words of the great Mr. Lobo, horror host extraordinaire, “Open your mind to the possibility that they’re not bad movies, just misunderstood.” If you do, I can guarantee you you can enjoy more movies and find new horizons of cinema. Heck, you might even join us at Terror Tuesday and have your horizons expanded for you. Or, go rent “BoardingHouse” and see a potentially great movie that entertains better than anything Merchant Ivory ever put out.
I had tracked the name of this one down for someone before, and (without bothering to read anything about it) just chalked it up to being another run-of-the-mill failed slasher flick. Now, however, I’m a bit more intrigued. I think I might have to give this one a shot, even if only for the pig-headed mice-eating scene (I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disturbed to discover that the object being dangled in the air wasn’t the used tampon I assumed it was).