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Mike’s Review: Boarding House (Nightstream Festival, 1982)


★ out of ★★★★★
or
★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by John Wintergate.

A five star film that’s also simultaneously a one star film? A film that occupies an incredibly rare space. It’s loved. It’s hated. It’s revered. It’s reviled. A film that’s poorly shot, conceived, and acted, but its legendarily awful veneer gives way to a blood soaked interior that’s impossible not to LOVE. 

Allegedly the first full length horror film to be shot on video/beta, Boarding House, is a wild trip of a film. It’s not a stretch to say you’ve never seen anything like it before and you’ll never see anything like it again. From the weird opening computer screen sequence to the cosmic heavy metal climax, Boarding House exists in that peculiar bridge between the 1970s and 80s. 

Disco was dead-ish. Rock was evolving. Studios had grown fat and grotesque with overwrought and pompous multi-year productions like the Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. Video was now king and it was time to P-A-R-T-Y in the Valley. Anyone, including director John Wintergate (Terror on Tour), could make a film. All that was required was a house, some pretty girls, a pile of blow, and 10,000 clams. Snap! You’ve got yourself a horror film. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Thank god for telekinesis!

Boarding House uses an interesting device at the top of the film that ultimately serves as the exposition for the entire hour and 40 minute fete (…allegedly there’s a version that’s almost an hour longer). A computer screen clacks out the torrid tale of the Hoffman family and their dalliances with telekinesis and the occult. Safe to say these two are never a good pairing. They certainly weren’t in 1981 and they’re not now. The Hoffman daughter goes crazy and the house gets sold and resold. Each who come in contact with this haunted hospice are cursed.  That is until hunky young Jim Royce (played by director John Wintergate) inherets this spooky abode that things go from the scary to the bawdy. 

Jim has the brilliant idea of turning this massive estate into a party haven for lovely young ladies where he serves as the den mother. The girls are not put off by his leopard thong wearing ways and by all accounts he’s a pretty cool landlord — who just happens to be in to transcendental meditation and telekinesis.

As Jim and the girls swig wine, lay out by the pool, and inadvertently expose themselves to one another, there’s an evil presence lurking on the estate’s grounds. Is it the off-putting Viet Nam vet/groundskeeper? Is it the lingering presence of the Hoffman’s occult practices? Is it an unknown spirit that’s come to prey on the girls? Answer: who knows and who cares.

Jim’s main side-piece a sexy young rock-n’-roller named Victoria (played by his real life wife/parter/co-conspirator/actress Kalassu) is the most touched by the occult Hoffman poltergeist. Problem is she’s trying to get ready to cut her band 33 and a Third’s next album and get prepped for the big house/pool party. 

Along the way there are the aforementioned leopard thongs, wild bikinis, feathered hair, skinny ties, and demons of all shapes, flavors, and levels of malevolence. The end result? A film that looks, acts, and feels like a week-long bender on the set of a vintage porn film. You’d think that’d be a bad thing, but it’s absolutely not. 

Many have spent millions trying to replicate this exact era with its sights, sounds, clothing, and general appetite for cocaine and parties in the Valley. Boogie Nights with a $15 million dollar budget, lavish sets, and stars that actually lived during the era was the closest anyone’s ever been to recreating this period between the 1970s and 80s. Needless to say this film is the pure embodiment of this era and each frame lovingly embraces this place in time and space. 

Riddled with strange edits, lack of proper lighting, actors who can act, and and actual story, Boarding House is never bothered by these cinematic constraints. The film plugs away in a determined way that is equal parts frustrating and inspirational. Replete with a  demon/heavy metal/telekinesis/fog machine showdown.

If you’ve never seen the worst/best or rather best/worst horror film ever — now is your chance! As the tagline reminds us, boarding houses are nice because while the rent won’t kill you, something else assuredly will. 

Boarding House is Rated R and available in the bargain bin of your local Goodwill.

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