Director: Johnn Wintergate
Code Red DVD

In the month of April, Code Red DVD made their long-awaited comeback with two releases, SOLE SURVIVOR and BOARDINGHOUSE. While SOLE SURVIVOR is more in tune with their earlier release of DEVIL TIMES FIVE (both are good films that deserve a wider audience), BOARDING HOUSE stands shamefully alongside DON’T GO IN THE WOODS, THE FOREST, and DOOM ASYLUM as one of the most wasteful and purposeless releases on the digital format. A piece of garbage from start to finish, the entire disc is one giant turd.

A long, cost-effective computerized scroll tells the story of a cursed house where all of its owners have died under mysterious circumstances. Years later, creepy tanned Jim inherits the house and rents out the rooms to nubile young twenty-something gals. Of course the house is still possessed by some kind of horrific powers that begin offing victims. Or is someone more human behind the murders?

Who is the audience for this tripe? While there may be enthusiasts of the film out there, as every film is sure to have some sort of fan base, any love for this film may simply be nostalgia for Mom and Pop stores conned into stocking this on their shelves, or memories of renting any horror film one could get their hands on, including the bottom of the barrel stuff like this. At least some shot-on-video shitfests of the 1980s have some camp appeal, like SPLATTER FARM and VIDEO VIOLENCE, but BOARDINGHOUSE drifts along with seemingly endless “characterization” (i.e., brain dead gals giggling and talking about…well…nothing) and random scenes of characters walking and lounging around topless, and interjects a random subplot about one of the boarders encountering her abusive ex-boyfriend. And this moldy urinal cake runs a mammoth 100 minutes! And you’ll feel every minute of it. Some fans have defended the film’s many, many, many shortcomings because they feel the need to make a case for it being a labor of love by a horror fan with no money and a dream to fulfill. But considering John Wintergate never made another film, let alone a horror film, it should be obvious he wasn’t making a labor of love, he was making product to exploit and pay the bills. Curiously, the film received a brief theatrical run, blown up from video to 35mm and reportedly squeezed into a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and did well on home video, so he succeeded in that respect. But look at this drivel: would you seriously say Wintergate knew one damn thing about the horror genre? Don’t make me laugh! If anything, this film was made by someone who hates the horror genre!

Maybe fans of DIY horror will enjoy the garish gore effects, such as a girl envisioning herself with a giant pig’s head spurting up blood and a dead mouse, or a doctor in a hospital pulling out his own guts (conveniently located inside his tucked-in shirt). But death scenes, the bread and butter of stupid cheap horror films like these, are too few and far between. One guy is electrocuted in a bathtub, keels over dead in the bathroom, and apparently no one finds or misses him (!). Another lengthy “horror” sequence finds Victoria running around screaming at something or other, being grabbed by bloody hands, but it’s all too dark to see; if her non-stop screaming wasn’t enough, she awakens from this apparent nightmare and screams some more. And don’t get me started on the ridiculous “metaphysical” segments, spotlighting Jim’s “amazing” ability to make soap float and plants move; this stupid plot development (ha, that’s a larf!) bleeds into Victoria’s life, finding her ruining a romantic dinner by turning wine glasses over onto Jim’s date and pummeling the date later by beating up a stuffed animal in place of a voodoo doll. And then there’s the cat bludgeoned to death with a hammer, a pie fight in the kitchen, the goofy gardener who resembles Hal Borske as Andy Milligan’s WEIRDO, a rock band musical number, and the psychic powers showdown finale. Now, written down here in a list like this, it all sounds like fun. But Helen Keller could have made a better, more interesting film than Wintergate’s pulsing tumor of a movie.

Writer/director/make-up artist John Wintergate, using the pseudonym of “Hawk Adly”, casts himself in the lead, and there couldn’t be a less appealing “hero” in a horror film. He gives himself random shirtless, speedo, and bathtub scenes so he can flaunt his super-tanned body and naturally his character’s written as some sort of pumpkin-faced sex symbol, so all the girls in his boardinghouse can romp with him topless in his boudoir and rub him down with suntan oil as he lounges by the pool. And speaking of this boardinghouse: it’s clear the entire mess was simply shot at some friend’s house, complete with a spacious pool, adding further to the home movie aesthetics on hand here. Are there seriously this many stupid girls in California who would actually rent a room from a charmless gigolo like Wintergate, who clearly just wants a houseful of jiggly bimbos to stroke his giant ego. And do these girls actually do anything for a living? They don’t work, they don’t go to college, so how do they pay rent except for providing ample T&A for Wintergate’s lecherous eyes?

The only almost notable element is leading lady Kalassu, who only got the role because she was balling the director (they’re married). She resembles a raven-haired Rosanna Arquette in her prime, and actually isn’t a bad actress, coming across rather endearingly as the rock singer Victoria. She’s also credited as a second unit director, though one has to wonder which scenes were hers; they all look uniformly terrible. She also performs with the rock band 33 1/3 at a pool party. Naturally Wintergate writes in a scene of her falling into a pool so the viewers can see her nude form through a wet see-through negligee, and his character indulges in a shower stall love scene with her while a mysterious figure hammers her cat’s head in.

Considering the film was shot on 1982 Betacam equipment, the new transfer, in the film’s original full-frame aspect ratio, looks surprisingly good, at least when the lighting is decent (which is almost never). The stereo sound is very strong, bringing across the not-bad synthesizer score and silly dialogue clearly.

Naturally, being the preservationists of prime grade cheesy trash, Code Red has bedecked this release with lots of pretty bells and whistles. If by pretty you mean superficially interesting, but actually quite dire. Code Red mainstays Lee Christian and Jeff McCay co-moderate an audio commentary with BOARDINGHOUSE mastermind Johnn Wintergate and his leading lady/real-life wife Kalassu (more power to this Hollywood couple for staying together for so long). They are also owned by their daughter Shanti and son-in-law Gregory, who don’t chime in that often (though we are warned they will be the stars of BOARDINGHOUSE 2; God help us!). The Wintergates claim that BOARDINGHOUSE is a spoof of horror films, but this sounds like an attempt to cover up their ineptitude 25 years later. If the 100-minute running time of the movie itself was a chore to sit through, you won’t enjoy the commentary, either, but there are some interesting stories about shooting for no money. A video introduction to the films finds Johnn Wintergate re-enacting his strange heavy breathing from his meditation scene, and Wintergate and wife/co-star Kalassu return for a video interview that basically rehashes everything they said in the commentary. Word of advice to Code Red: drop the video interviews with commentary participants, or drop the commentary and keep the video interview. Please choose one or the other!

The following titles are listed on Code Red’s Coming Soon roster: NIGHT WARNING, featuring Susan Tyrrell’s most manic performance and an ahead-of-its-time homosexual theme; HUMAN EXPERIMENTS, a unique psychological thriller from adult filmmaking couple Edwin and Summer Brown; an authorized version of TERROR CIRCUS, a fascinating low-budget venture directed by Altman protégé Alan Rudolph, culled from the camera negative; SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS, a surprisingly effective exploitation item from Don Jones and Ronald Victor Garcia; and RUNNING HOT, an interesting independent drama starring Eric Stoltz as a teen murderer on the run. So the question remains: why BOARDINGHOUSE? Why release it now, or in fact, ever? As it stands, with 2008 almost over, this is hands-down the worst DVD release of the year, and any other DVD company would have to try very hard to steal that title away.
(Casey Scott)