Wes Craven's SCREAM trilogy was lauded upon its initial release as a fresh take on a familiar and tapped out genre. In fact, 15 years before SCREAM, a duo of spoofs set the stage as the first to turn a comedic eye on the popular slasher pictures of the late 1970s and early 1980s. STUDENT BODIES, released in the summer of '81 and SATURDAY THE 14TH, released in the fall of the same year, both saw the burgeoning stalk and slash genre as a low budget investment that was ripe for parody. While the films themselves vary in quality and originality, they are without question precursors to the SCREAM and SCARY MOVIE franchises that stalked and profited from theatergoers just a few short years ago.
Toby (Kristen Riter), your typical puritanical goodie goodie, tries repeatedly to warn her fellow classmates of the deadly risk of premarital sex, only to find herself the lead suspect in a series of grizzly murders. Interrogated by the school's staff, Toby begins to believe that the killer is in fact one of the school's eccentric faculty members, attempting to use her as a patsy. Under Principal Peters' (Joe Talarowski) suggestion, Toby is sent to the school guidance counselor, Dr. Sigmund (Carl Jacobs), for evaluation, but the doctor's unorthodox methods do little in clearing Toby's name from the list of suspects. As hormones run rampant across campus, so does the body count, as the killer becomes more brazen and vocal in his attacks. Repeated phone calls to the school's personnel threaten the campus with further violence, setting timelines of when bodies will be found. As all signs continue to point to Toby, it quickly becomes apparent that she must take matters into her own hands if the murders are to be stopped. With the help of her best friend Hardy (Matthew Goldsby), Toby disguises herself and sneaks into the prom, where she will attempt to uncover the real killer and thus clear her good name.
The central plot of STUDENT BODIES couldn't be more formulaic. An unseen, gloved killer stalks and kills sexually amorous high school students. You would think that using such a tried and true formula would result in numerous potential comedic sets up, however the producers seemed to have misstepped everyone. Most jokes are dated, juvenile and lifeless. It's as if the writers broke into Mel Brooks’s office and pilfered all the throwaway jokes found crumpled into paper balls on the floor. There are a few moments that induce a chuckle, such as shop teacher Mr. Dumpkin's unhealthy obsession with horse head bookends, but even those gags are run straight into the ground. And while the killer's numerous dreary one liners are forgivable, the ridiculous scenarios in which the students meet their fate, is anything but. Maybe the idea of killing someone with a paperclip read well on paper, but on screen it’s neither horrific nor funny.
After each student is killed, a number flashes on screen to remind the viewer of the rising body count. A gag that was more than likely meant to highlight the growing controversy at the time of violence in horror movies, it quickly becomes irritating and insulting. About 30 minutes in, the film cuts to an older gentleman sitting behind an office desk, whose sole purpose is to help insure that the feature receives an R rating by saying the word “F%#k”. Neither clever nor funny, the producers should have contemplated adding a little gratuitous T&A, a staple of the slasher film, which would have at least broke up the monotony of tireless jokes.
If you haven't heard of any the actors or actresses affiliated with STUDENT BODIES, you’re not alone. Shot during the Screen Actors Guild strike of 1980, the production is over rot with first timers, many of whom would credit STUDENT BODIES as their one and only film role. The only recognizable name anywhere on this picture is comedian Richard Belzer who under the pseudonym Richard Brando, voiced the film's killer, "The Breather". Producer Michael Ritchie, not wanting to burn any bridges in the guild, also used an alias, Allen Smithee, always a good sign. STUDENT BODIES’ most memorable character is without question Malvert the Janitor. Played by a tall gangly actor credited only as The Stick, Malvert is a towering awkward presence that fittingly resembles a stick figure come to life.
A perennial favorite during the early days of HBO and released on DVD a few years ago by Olive Films (who then issued it on Blu-ray as a double feature with JEKYLL AND HYDE TOGETHER AGAIN), STUDENT BODIES is presented here on the second time on Blu-ray in a 1080p HD transfer which delivers the film in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The presentation looks quite nice throughout, with very few flaws to speak of. Colors are brought vividly, and the light sheet of clean gain retains the proper film-like appearance. Clarity and detail are rather good, while skin textures have the appropriate complex (especially in close-ups, though a bit softer in wide shots) while black levels are solid. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono soundtrack gets the job done, and sounds absolutely fine, especially considering that this was obviously a film where there a lot of post-dubbing involved. There are no subtitle options or extras on the Blu-ray. (Jason McElreath)
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