Thirty years ago something horrible happened at the Hoffman house. As we hear from ominous Mr. Narrator police discovered the dismembered bodies of occult researcher Doctor Hoffman and his wife. The couple's only child was incarcerated in an asylum. Yet through the years a string of freak deaths occurred at the house. Now the house belongs to puffy-haired Jim Royce (John Wintergate), whom we first see in his underpants, atop a desk in the lotus position honing his amazing psychic powers. Jim opens a boardinghouse for aspiring actresses, models and sexy starlets including rock singer Victoria (Kalassu), eccentric British bombshell Debbie (Lindsay Freeman) and perky Sandy (Selma Kora).
Between fun and games, pie fights and lounging in bikinis the ladies experience a whole lot of spooky stuff. Bitchy Pam (Cindy Williamson) stabs an ice-pick in her hand then freaks out in the shower where bloody hallucinations make her press her boobs against the glass door. After seducing Jim, a topless Debbie is menaced in the jacuzzi by a chainsaw-wielding goon, scares him away with her spooky eyes then becomes an obsessive gardener. A private detective (Dean Disico) posing as a hitchhiker sneaks into the house long enough to score with Su Lin (Victoria Herron) before getting splattered by a mysterious force. Then Cindy (Mary McKinley), who has problems of her own with a stalker date-rapist James Brolin look-alike boyfriend (Brian Bruderlin), has sex with Jim on the beach before turning into a bloody mess and stumbling into the sea.
Meanwhile Victoria has vivid nightmares where monster hands burst through a hole in her bed or glowing red eyeballs chase her through the woods. Somehow these awakens Victoria's own latent psychic powers which Jim helps her hone by shagging her in the shower (gets around, doesn't he?) Afterwards Victoria practices her powers by making Jim slap himself repeatedly. None of this makes any sense but events come to a head at a party where Victoria performs with her band, Lightstorm, while a cop investigating Cindy's death goes nuts, supernatural forces run amuck and the real culprit stands revealed before an epic psychic showdown.
Although it took The Blair Witch Project (1999) to establish digital video as a commercially viable format paving the way for mainstream works like Paranormal Activity (2007) and its many sequels, Boardinghouse was the first independent horror movie shot on video. Opening with a cod-John Carpenter spooky synth score and credits seemingly typed on a Commodore 64 (ask your parents), what follows is cheesy and amateurish as heck but strangely hard to dislike. For one thing the video format lends a certain immediacy making this a fascinating, even charming time capsule from 1982. What is more the film mounts its unholy fusion of sub-Amityville Horror, girls-gone-wet-and-wild antics, rubber monster masks, primitive video effects, bad punk rock, stage school gore and New Age philosophy with an endearing enthusiasm that makes up for its ineptitude. Inspired by an article about George Lucas experimenting with video producer Elliot Van Koghbe approached actor and singer John Wintergate with the idea of making a low-budget horror film. Having acted in the rock-themed horror effort, Terror on Tour (1980), Wintergate funded and wrote what would be his sole outing as a triple-threat roping his wife Kalassu along for the ride as assistant director and co-star. Van Koghbe, a seasoned casting director experienced in using video equipment handled the chintzy special effects and also appears in the film as a policeman.
Despite the odd unsettling or hallucinatory image, for the most part Boardinghouse is akin to viewing a home movie made by friends, albeit glamorous Californian friends with a love of gory horror films, no inhibitions and a sincere, if vague message on their minds. Husband and wife team Wintergate and Kalassu were devotees of controversial Indian guru Sai Baba and include a few New Age-y ideas about self-actualization and psychic potential that are none to easy to understand but campy fun. What we will laughingly call the plot stumbles from one dumb, nonsensical scene after another. Ample nudity from the Playboy Playmate-type non-actresses and the odd inventively surreal visual sit alongside moments of teeth-grinding tedium, nutty sound effects, and inept editing that attempts some Don't Look Now (1973)-style 'foreshadowing' of grisly events. It is worth watching solely for the epic bad performance delivered by one-time Penthouse Pet Lindsay Freeman who punctuates a nightmarish chase sequence by chirpily offering Victoria a snack ("Come on luv, 'ave some pizza!") and vamps her way through the back-lit fog laden finale like Lita Ford in a glam rock video.