Home Video Version (Blu-ray) Theatrical Version (Blu-ray)
"Psycho Killer" Version (Blu-ray)
Code Red (DVD)
Slasher Video (DVD)
"Sally & Jess" (Blu-ray)
Directed by John Wintergate
Starring John Wintergate, Kalassu, Alexandra Day, Joel Riordan, Brian Burderlin
AGFA + Bleeding Skull (Blu-ray) (US R0HD), Slasher Video (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Earning a distinction in the horror history books as the first (and for a while, only) shot-on-video gore film with a national U.S. theatrical release, this ultra-cheap labor of love managed to spawn decades of do-it-yourself Camcorder curios ranging from early adopters like The Ripper and Video Violence all the way to today's straight-to-video gorefests. Is it actually any good? Well, that depends entirely on your personal perspective and familiarity with SOV insanity, but its impoverished and very dedicated execution can be endearing if you're not expecting anything even remotely close to a traditional horror film.
Trying to form a coherent synopsis for Boarding House (or as the title card tags it, Boardinghouse) is quite impossible, but for the record, it starts off with a rambling back-story rolling across the screen apparently shot off the screen of an Apple IIe. The action kicks off at the titular house, which is apparently being menaced by a dark, evil force (i.e., a video superimposition) that kills people, usually when they're near the kitchen or anything watery like a swimming pool or shower. (The beginning of the movie in some iterations also warns us, William Castle style, that a spooky noise or visual will announce any upcoming traumatic scenes, but this gets abandoned very early on.) Enter Jim Royce (played by director Wintergate), a telekinetic, womanizing playboy who inherits the house and decides to open it up to any nearby homeless, big-breasted California women. Some of the ladies have horrible hallucinations, and one by one they die when they're not busy getting it on with their landlord.
Complete with dime-store demons, a bizarre dual role for its leading man, and obligatory T&A and "gore" effects, Boardinghouse certainly can't be called dull even if its artistic abilities never rise above public access levels. Nobody involved went on to anything else of note, but at least their film managed to squeak out into theaters at the height of the slasher craze and thoroughly confuse viewers who were absorbing a diet of Lucio Fulci imports. The basement band synth score by the filmmakers themselves and inscrutable video lensing also contribute to the air of an early '80s home movie shot in some jabbering, mystical parallel universe. Don't say you weren't warned.
Briefly released on tape from Paragon back in the early '80s, Boardinghouse went out of commission for many years (and according to the filmmakers, they got screwed over on the theatrical distribution while the VHS edition was completely unauthorized, which is odd given Paragon's otherwise legit status). The feature looked about as good as could be expected when it hit DVD from Code Red in 2008 in its extended 99m19s home video version; for what it's worth, this is much sharper and cleaner than the old tape version, but that basically just means you can make out some facial features this time around. Ditto for the mono audio, which is about what you would expect from 3/4" video. While the film was matted off for its theatrical exhibition, the DVD is appropriately presented in full frame as originally shot.
No one seemed to know anything about this film when it came out or in the ensuing years, so Code Red's DVD finally answers the question, "Just who the heck are these people, anyway?" Apparent fans of mysticism and definitely not familiar with the horror genre as a whole, Wintergate and wife/co-star Kalassu turn up for a "spooky" video intro (21s), a commentary track (moderated by Lee Christian and Jeff McKay), and a video interview (13m10s). Among the tidbits provided, you'll learn that the film was originally shot as a horror spoof but was considerably reworked once it was picked up for distribution (a sense of humor still trickles through at times), a script has been written for Boarding House 2 (the mind boggles, though it would probably come out looking a lot like Ted V. Mikels' last two features), what they've been doing since they finished the film and took off from California, and how much they enjoyed seeing it on a theatrical double bill with Jaws (though given its vintage, it was more likely screening with one of the sequels). Other extras include two suitably ratty TV spots and some more upcoming Code Red release trailers including Nightmare, Can I Do It Till I Need Glass?, The Dead Pit, The Chilling, and Sole Survivor.
After Code Red's license ran out, Slasher Video jumped in with a different special edition on DVD in 2015 highlighted by the usual home video cut and a mysterious "director's cut" clocking in at a jaw-dropping two hours and 37 minutes. Complete with painful new video transitions throughout (a la The Warriors), It's doubtful too many people will make that latter version their default viewing options, but it's worth a look at least once to see what the film feels like when dragged out to Robert Altman-like proportions. The film has also been given a new, clunky "stereo" mix that... doesn't really work. Also included are a new audio commentary (with Wintergate, Kalassu, and Jesus Terán of Slasher Video), a 23m12s Q&A (with John Wintergate, Kalassu, and Jesus Terán), the original film intro, a 6m5s alternate ending, 2008 interview with Wintergate and Kalassu, photo galleries, a magazine interview, a "The Phantom" demo reel, behind the scenes reel, music videos ("Love Starved," "Stop Fooling Around," "The Raven / Break It Off," "Teeth AKA Lightstorm Live In Europe-1981," "Break It Off (Live)"), a "
Terror On Tour Revisited" featurette, and promo material including trailers, TV spots, and voice overs. Unfortunately, jamming that much stuff onto one dual-layered disc results in some obvious compression issues; apparently distributor Olive Films quietly did a second pressing spreading this out onto two discs, though that wasn't available for comparison.
If ever there was a film that epitomized the Bleeding Skull aesthetic, this would be the one -- and they finally got a crack at it in 2021 as a two-disc Blu-ray release with AGFA. Disc one features two viewing options: the 98-minute home video version (still the best option around and looking better than ever here with a scan from the master tape), and the 87-minute theatrical cut finally in circulation for comparison. The latter is taken from a 35mm release print and has its own scruffy charm, with the matting frequently wreaking utter havoc on the compositions throughout. The theatrical cut also comes with a partial 27m40s minute commentary (or self-described "audio essay") with AGFA + Bleeding Skull’s Joseph A. Ziemba, interspersed with audio snippets from other participants including Wintergate and Kalassu themselves. It's mainly Ziemba's show though as he covers the best way to approach this film, the golden age of scouring for VHS tapes at Family Video, the context of overall SOV horror, and the making of the film itself. He also addresses the absent "director's cut" here, which was evidently slapped together in iMovie in 2010 with more of a fanedit approach that wasn't deemed a legit canon version. There's also more detail about the financial shafting on the Paragon VHS release and other bits about the film's weird distribution. Also included is an audio commentary with actress Maryel McKinley chatting with Sean King and Mike Justice. Recorded during the pandemic, it has some bumpy tech issues at the beginning before they finally get into their groove to swap stories about the film's creation as well as McKinley's life outside the film as a casting director. They also go quite a bit into the histories of the many female cast members who appear throughout the film with quite a bit of info never heard before, as well as the logistics of doing the required nude scenes. Finally disc one closes out with the original 35mm trailer and 14m6s of home video trailers and TV spots that could cause permanent psychological damage.
Disc two is highlighted by Psycho Killer (98m8s), a previously unreleased alternate cut of the film transferred from the 1" master. Billed in the opening moments as a "psycho comedy," this is otherwise fairly close to the home video cut; however, as with all existing versions of the film, it shuffles some scenes around for some reason, particularly in the first half hour. Another big bonus is Sally & Jess (94m26s), a 1989 feature from the same filmmakers that never got an official release and was only shown around locally at the time. This one snuck out with no fanfare on YouTube a while ago in a really unimpressive presentation, but it looks great here with a 2K scan from the 16mm answer print. Shot in Idaho and around Los Angeles, it's based on a true story involving a lot of trauma for a supposed family-friendly film including parental loss and a child murderer on the loose. So... if you're expecting Disney, this ain't quite it as we follow two kids into the wilderness after family tragedy strikes and they find themselves in the grip of an ill-equipped child services system. Watch it with Taika Waitit's Hunt for the Wilderpeople for a really weird but appropriate double bill, and don't miss the end credits tipping their hat to the llamas -- "Harrigan, Lackawa, Carmina, and Abe Lincoln" -- and dedicating the film "in memory of Penny, the cow." That one also comes with an audio commentary with Wintergate, Kalassu, and King, who go through the true story, the intended distribution goals, and the small crew that led them to come up with a lot of different names for the credits, among many other topics. Finally you get a 21m15s batch of on-set footage from Sally & Jess and those music videos again, here as one long 25m31s reel.
Updated review on October 30, 2021
Home Video Version (Blu-ray)
Theatrical Version (Blu-ray)
"Psycho Killer" Version (Blu-ray)
Code Red (DVD)
Slasher Video (DVD)
"Sally & Jess" (Blu-ray)