Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Student Bodies (1981)

Directed by Mickey Rose
Starring Kristen Riter, Joe Talarowski, The Stick
Rated R

"Garbage gets me hot."

Right, so "Student Bodies". The name implies, well, naked college girls, doesn't it? Not so, my friend. In this case, it refers to corpses. In 1981, the slasher movie was in full-frenzy, and in grand Hollywood tradition (Scary Movie, anyone?), a parody film was rushed out to cash in. Slasher films are very close to self-parody anyway, so it's not like Student Bodies was making much of a statement, but regardless, it has its oddball charms.

The story takes place on Halloween. And on Friday the 13th. And on Jamie Lee Curtis's birthday (Nov 22nd, by the way, if you want to send her a card). Julie (Angela Bressler, in her only performance) is babysitting. Toby (Kristen Riter, also a one-time actress) calls her to warn her not to do anything wild or crazy, since wild and crazy things might happen as a result. Toby is clearly our designated "final girl'. Julie hears a cat outside, but when she pokes her head out to check, it's actually a fluffy dog. What? Naturally, she leaves the door unlocked (we know this because there's an onscreen graphic that points to the door and reads 'unlocked'.) All of this is shot exactly like a straight-ahead slasher. So much so that the goofy elements seem wildly out of place.

Julie is being stalked by a very annoying, Asthmatic killer called The Breather (voiced, but not acted, by Richard Belzer). 'The Breather' keeps calling her on the phone. At one point, some sort of viscous liquid pours out. Dunno if it's supposed to be spit or semen, but it's pretty gross. Despite being rattled by the obscene caller, Julie decides it's time for a snack, and wanders into the pitch-black kitchen. She opens the fridge and grabs a fried chicken leg when her boyfriend Charlie (Keith Singleton) sneaks up behind her and grabs her.
It's actually a pretty scary moment.
"What's that chickeny taste?" He asks, when she stops screaming, and he kisses her.
"Chicken," she tells him.

They go upstairs to bone while the Breather goes over his weapons, figuring out what to kill them with. He chooses a paperclip, and starts climbing up the stairs. There are a lot of stairs.
"I hope I don't die first," wheezes The Breather.
And then, who knows what happens? It's dark. Julie gets offed, somehow. A naked Charlie finds her on the bed and tries to figure out what's wrong with her.
"Julie, you're not responding to my maleness!"

An hour or so later, Mom and dad come home (from watching a horror movie, naturally), but Julie is nowhere to be found.
"I hope she's not murdered on our bed," says dad.
Unfortunately, sir, that's exactly where she is.

Cut to: a double funeral for Julie and Charlie, held at their school.
Bertha (Anita Taylor) and Jeff get horny at the funeral, you know, like you do at funerals, and decide to fuck in Jeff's car. He runs off to get protection, and Bertha gets her skull bashed in with a wooden horse. And then Jeff gets suffocated with a garbage bag.

Then a blind guy and a crippled guy get into a fight over a parking space.
The guy in the wheelchair says: "I'm more handicapped then you, I can't even make love to a woman."
The blind guy says, "Oh yeah? I can't even find a woman."
He has a point. I'm not sure how he drove to school, though.

So then we meet the woodshop teacher, Mr Dumpkin (Joe Flood, Delta Fever), a maniac who is obsessed with horse-head bookends. That might be a clue. In fact, it almost certainly is, because there's an on-screen graphic that reads "Clue" and points to a box in the woodshop.

And then, there's a locker room scene, but it's from The Breather's point of view. He gets too worked-up and blacks out when the girls start taking their shirts off. By the time he wakes up, they're fully dressed and on their way to the gym already. Stupid Breather.

The virginal Toby is the last one in the locker room. She's startled by The Breather as she's getting dressed, and he chases her through the halls of the school. She never actually puts on her shirt, she just holds it in front of her, which is a nice touch. She ends up in the boiler room, where she's cornered by the creepy janitor, Malvert (The Stick). Luckily, he just wanted help with his crossword puzzle. She escapes, but is now Scooby Doo-ing her way around, intent on cracking the case.

Then there's a parade.
"I'd like to make a special appeal to the killer," says the principal, during his welcome speech, "Hasn't there been enough senseless killing? Let's have a murder that makes sense."
During the parade, another horny young couple, Ralph (Tom Cannon II) and Dagmar (Tammie Tignor...why did no one in this film ever act again? Was there some sort of tragedy on wrap day?) crawl into a bull float to bone, but The Breather kills them with an eggplant. Toby discovers the bodies, and is therefore blamed for 'em.

And then some guy comes on the screen to tell us that we're not getting any tits. And then he says "Fuck You" to secure an R rating. Haha.

They send Toby to see a psychiatrist, Dr Sigmund (Carl Peters, RIP), but being insane himself, he draws no conclusions. Meanwhile, The Breather continues to stalk the student body. There's a football game that features a hilariously belligerent hot dog salesman (if you want mustard, he'll just spray it right into your stupid face!), Malvert and his blow-up fuck doll girlfriend (she's filled with helium, for some reason, and floats away), and yet another couple who sneak off to have sex, and then get moidered by The Breather. Later on, Breather calls the principal and tells him that his next murder spree will take place at the prom. Toby gets wind of the plot (yes, the scene involves fart jokes), and decides to infiltrate the prom in disguise to unmask the killer. She chooses a hooker outfit, which is a little weird for the prom, but her tits looks fantastic in the outfit, so whatever.

The teachers decide that, since all the potential prom queens are dead except for Patti (Sara Eckhardt), they won't name anybody queen this year. In fact, they just give the crown to Principal Peters (Joe Talarowski). Patti does not take the news well.
"I want to slash my face," she snarls. "If I can't be the prettiest girl in school, than I'll be the ugliest!"

She was a safe distance from prettiest anyway, if we're gonna be honest here. Anyway, the resident ROTC nut convinces her that sex will ease her pain, and they bail.
Of course, Patti and war-kid get separated, and she gets murdered. When he comes back, he sees her corpse and tosses his condom.
"Well, guess I won't be needing this," he says, as he unzips his pants.
So, necrophilia is ok, but no naked tits?

Then Toby has a really inappropriate conversation with the principal, who is in his underwear. He also has 'I Love New York' written on his chest. He tells her how difficult it is to keep his clothes on with all these 'naughty' high school girls around. And then he excuses himself to go get a typing trophy. He didn't win it, he just wants to show it to Toby. And then he slips on some marbles (?) and stabs himself in the ass with the trophy. To death. He is not The Breather, however. He is just a weirdo.

Speaking of weird, the final segment is seriously bananas. Toby runs down the hallway while calliope music plays and Mr Dumpkin hurls horse-head bookends at her. Then the vice principal, Miss Mumsley (Mimi Weddell, 94 years old and still acting at the time of this writing) climbs into a trashcan and chases her in it. Plus there's zombies. The Stick's fuckdoll is in there, too. And then there's a shock ending. And then there's a twist.

And then there's another twist!
It is a slasher movie, after all.

One thing you'll notice pretty quickly about Student Bodies is how much of a debt Scream (1996) owes to it. In fact, compare the two, and you'll find all of those accolades Wes Craven received for deconstructing and satirizing the slasher formula ought to be handed right over to our man, writer/director Mickey Rose, because a lot of it was lifted straight from here: the self-aware horror movie stereotypes, the scary opening kill (ok, the farting dog and the paperclips throw it off, but otherwise, it does have some very effective scares), the multiple-killer reveal (not a spoiler; it's just one of many reveals), etc. All of it sprang from the fertile mind of Mr Rose in 1981. Which, if you think about it, is pretty remarkable, since the slasher movie was still in its infancy at that point. Incredibly, Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) were so wildly influential that no one ever strayed much from their blueprint, so the various gags and set-pieces in Student Bodies are still just as recognizable now as they were almost 30 years ago.

You may also notice that Student Bodies is pretty funny. Mr Rose made his bones writing jokes and routines for all the comedy greats, everyone from Sid Caesar to Johnny Carson. He was also Woody Allen's writing partner for many years, and co-wrote several of Allen's films, including Bananas (1971) and What's Up Tiger Lily (1966). Good ol' Mick. That cat was a champ.

That being said, the lack of nudity and gore severely dampens Student Bodies' chances of ever attracting the cult following it should have. Dispensing with the genre's two most important elements is a fatal flaw that the film never really recovers from. That's a shame, because it really is a fun and very witty movie, with an adorable final girl, and perhaps the greatest red herring of all time: Malvert the Janitor. The actor who played Malvert, known simply as "The Stick", was apparently a stand-up comedian at the time. He is one of the oddest looking people I've ever seen. He's got to be nearly seven feet tall, painfully skinny, with no chin, and beady rat-eyes. He's also double-jointed and frequently bends his arms and legs at odd angles, which is more terrifying than it is funny. Unfortunately, like most of the cast, this was The Stick's only film. Lord knows where he is now, but he is surely out there somewhere, probably scaring kids to death.

Coincidentally, another slasher parody, Saturday the 14th, was also released in 1981. That one is pretty good as well, but it has no The Stick, so Student Bodies wins whatever sick game we're playing.

Availability: Student Bodies is available on DVD.

Clip: Student Bodies trailer!

- Ken McIntyre


  1. "The story takes place on Halloween. And on Friday the 13th. And on Jamie Lee Curtis's birthday"

    I think you're missing the "joke" here. It starts, says "Halloween" on screen but nothing happens, fade out. Fade in again on "Friday the 13th" nothing happens on that day either, fade out again. Fade in again on "Jamie Lee Curtis' Birthday" that's when all hell breaks loose!

  2. You forgot about all the Dr Pepper product placement!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails