On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: You’ve Heard of Jump Scares, But Are You Ready for… Reverse Jump Scares?

When Foreman and I launched IndieWire After Dark, a big part of our motivation was the fact that we were burned out on the existing midnight movie canon. No disrespect to “The Room” or “Eraserhead” or “Rocky Horror,” but we had seen them so many times that we felt called to mine other eras of film history for new cinematic oddities.

But while it’s always a thrill to place the midnight movie crown atop the head of a fresh film, sometimes you encounter something so bizarre that it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s not already a well-worn cult classic. Such is the case with “Boardinghouse,” John Wintergate’s incomprehensible 1982 directorial debut.

The film, which comes with the historical footnote of being the first feature-length horror movie shot on VHS, is a fascinatingly incoherent mess of a slasher flick. Taking place almost entirely at a house that has been the site of countless unexplained deaths, it tells the “story” of a group of attractive young women who answer a totally-not-suspicious newspaper ad, offering impossibly cheap rent to any women between the ages of 18-25 who are willing to live with a sleazy landlord named Jim Royce (Wintergate). But things soon go awry at the makeshift boardinghouse, as Jim’s interest in telekinesis begins to rattle his tenants almost as much as the inexplicably gruesome injuries that keep occurring.

“Boardinghouse” alternates between trying to be a generic ’80s slasher movie and a generic ’80s Bunch of Hot People Having Sex Movie, but its inability to be either makes it something that you really must see to believe. The film begins with an announcement that it utilizes HorrorVision, a gimmicky narrative device that gives viewers an advanced warning about scary scenes via an eerie sound effect. A horror film that begins by blatantly announcing that it’s forgoing suspense and the element of surprise is already off to a good start! But at least anyone who complains about jump scares should theoretically be satisfied.

From there, the film contains myriad oddities ranging from a Vietnam veteran “gardener” who appears to be ripped directly from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to a profoundly stupid soap bar telekinesis sequence. Then there’s the dialogue, which often exudes the same energy as a poorly-dubbed foreign film despite being shot entirely in English. My personal favorite moment comes when one of the boarders tells her housemate that their landlord has been listening to some strange tapes. Her friend’s response, in the year of 1982 when rock and roll’s commercial viability had arguably peaked, was “How strange… like rock and roll?”

There’s a million different reasons why films do or don’t become midnight movies, and in another timeline there’s a world where “Boardinghouse” caught on at the right time and became an overplayed classic like “The Room.” But in the world we live in, it’s still an incomparable piece of film history and a fun remnant of an era of low-effort VHS filmmaking that’s mercifully behind us. If you’re craving a cream pie to the face or a conversation with a sentient waterbed this weekend, you could do a lot worse. —CZ

The Aftermath: There’s a Fine Line Between Slasher and Soft Core

You know porn when you see it. But flying in the face of the 1964 Supreme Court bench, films like “Boardinghouse” make an art form out of towing the line between cinema and soft core. They disguise outrageous schlock with a layer of gross-out gore too disgusting for the rest to be too sexy, supposedly. And we let them get away with it because, well, back then why wouldn’t we?

That chunky vibe is an acquired taste oddly fitting for a midnight movie watched the weekend before Thanksgiving. Like an all you can eat gravy buffet exclusive to your local strip club, this dripping monstrosity from 1982 offers a baffling assortment of oddities that will be scrumptious to some and repulsive to others. From good old-fashioned eyeballs and grits to a plethora of soaped-up boobies, there’s a pervy glee to Wintergate’s telekinetic horror show that’s so authentic in its misguidedly male gaze-y massacre you almost have to admire the filmmaker’s horned-up delusion.

Whether it’s a bathtub electrocution or a garbage disposal mangling, the domestic trappings of “Boardinghouse” hold every overly slow moment on the cusp of unsimulated sex. That it trudges on only as a nonsensical slasher and doesn’t see anyone actually “doing it” is hilarious — weaving overt titillation into a world that feels as low-rent as any suburban-set scene Jackie Treehorn might produce. Suffice to say, I wasn’t shocked when I found out Debbie had been boinking her dad; these kinds of things just happen in Not Porn.

That sometimes-accidental seediness adds delightful extra zip to the hot/not hot whiplash of watching a freshly showered woman imagine herself with a goopy rat head, or seeing a party hookup-turned-demonic Madonna music video so liberally tossing around the word “daddy.” Close your eyes: Can you distinguish the screams from the moans at the end?

“Boardinghouse” is a pretty terrible movie, but I’ve got an appreciation for the mysterious Hoffman case being so brazenly into boobs covered in fake blood. I’ve got questions about how they filmed that beach scene (did the seagulls get intimacy coordinators?), and an admiration for such a pointless waste of sexual tension — and pie. —AF

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can rent “Boardinghouse” on Prime Video. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

  • Isabella Rossellini Is a Double-Amputee with Beers for Legs in ‘The Saddest Music in the World’
  • ‘A Town Called Panic’: The Best Stop-Motion Movie About Bulk Brick Sales to Ever Emerge from Belgium
  • Treat Yourself This Halloween Weekend: Bask in the Bro Dude-ness of ‘Dude Bro Party Massacre III’

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