Student Bodies (1981)

APRIL 13, 2010


“Before there was Scream, there was Student Bodies” is printed on the DVD, but the film is much more in line with Scary Movie, in that there are some genuinely biting and smart jokes sprinkled throughout the film, but more often than not it goes for cheap gags, with a lot of groaners (though not too many direct parodies). At times it almost forgets to be a parody - unlike Airplane’s non-stop barrage, Bodies will go a minute or two without any real jokes. And it’s a shame, because had they put a little more effort into the movie, I think it would be a classic like those older ZAZ movies, instead of rather disposable (but not without merit) like the better Scary Movie films.

Some of the best laughs unfortunately come in the opening scene, where after trying “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” as dates, it settles for “Jamie Lee Curtis’ Birthday”. Plus: a meowing cat turns out to be a dog, the Carpenter-y score plays on the other end of a ringing phone, and (my favorite), the boyfriend trying to scare his girlfriend goes way too far. And I loved the random moment where the dad comes home and sees a piece of “broken” fried chicken on the floor and thus re-assembles it with a rubber band and puts it back in the fridge.

But after that the laughs become more infrequent. Most of what works is the really odd stuff, like the teacher who is obsessed with horsehead bookends, or the extended scene where our heroine goes to see the school counselor, who has run out of tissues and thus offers her random objects to wipe away her tears. In other words, stuff that would work in any spoof movie, and has almost zero to do with horror. Maybe the filmmakers didn’t actually SEE any of the slasher films they were more or less spoofing (which might explain the lack of direct parodies, though then again Airplane didn’t really have any either - seems to be more of a 90s thing), but they fail to really milk the films’ easy-mark potential.

For starters, there’s not a single drop of blood in the film. Why not go all out, in the name of humor? There’s a (rather stupid) running gag to all of the kills - the girl gets it first while the guy is out of the room (usually to get a condom), and then the guy is put in a garbage bag while he’s still alive. It would have been hilarious if they had obvious dummies being used for Savini-esque prosthetic work (hell, maybe even show the guy applying the makeup!), but the film makes the original Halloween look hyper-violent in comparison. And there’s a complete lack of nudity too, another potential goldmine for humor. In fact, the movie makes a joke out of this - at one point a guy cuts in and says that people will only go see horror films if they are rated R, and then adds “Fuck you” in order to secure said rating, because nothing else in the film would warrant even a PG-13. Of course, there are multiple ironies here - there WAS no PG-13 back then, but the film as it stands now would easily get one (“Fuck” can be used in a PG-13 as long as it’s not used in a sexual way), and nowadays we have horror movies being edited down to ensure a PG-13 because they make more money. But back on point, there never seems to be any payoff to the lack of R rated material, and the joke certainly isn’t funny enough to warrant it to boot. If it wasn’t for the irony - which obviously wasn’t the intention, unless the filmmakers were psychic - it would actually sort of piss me off.

And whereas the ending of this type of movie should be legendarily funny, it seems to eschew humor altogether in favor of an “it was all a dream” ending. Again, this will probably just annoy most viewers on principle, but the fact that it’s not funny (except for the fact that someone who really DOES die gets a funeral one hour later) makes it all the more frustrating. The final chase scene just seems like something out of an Italian film, with our heroine running around the school being chased by both victims and suspects. If there’s a joke in there, I must have missed it. And the two killer reveal (prior to the ultimate “dream” reveal) isn’t as much as a cheat as it is boring. Now, I know - it’s a spoof movie and I shouldn’t be taking it too seriously, but the problem is that THEY seem to be taking it seriously at times, so I couldn’t help it. You could mute a few of the more ridiculous lines (the principal explaining that the death of the students is probably a real drag for their parents, for example) and the first half hour or so would play like a regular slasher movie. And once it hits the third act it relies almost entirely on the antics of the retarded Janitor (played by former comedian “The Stick”) for humor, instead of going for what I would think would be easy gags - finding the dead friends, the endless chase by the killer that no one ever interrupts, etc. Christ, they even have the finale during a prom and they don’t bother spoofing Prom Night in any way that I could detect!

Yet, it still entertained me. There was something charming about the whole thing, and the idea that the killer actually called himself "The Breather" (and would sometimes turn his heavy, Myer-esque breathing into a melody or words) was inspired. And I liked that he used a bunch of weird elements - a paper clip, an eggplant, and, yes, a horsehead bookend, among other things. When a chainsaw is broken out I almost felt ripped off. But the real draw for me is that it wasn’t being mean-spirited about the movies I love. Even when mocking certain archetypes - the killer specifically goes after fornicating couples, for example - it’s in a loving way, and that’s where the Scream comparison makes sense: in the realm of slashers, Student Bodies is a class clown, not a bully. And any movie that features a football player grabbing the coin out of the air and yelling “Mine!” before kickoff is automatically worth watching (the whole football game sequence is pretty funny, in fact - once again, it’s the non-horror related gags in the movie that work best).

The DVD’s only extra is the (overlong) trailer, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. With the exception of Richard Belzer (billed as Richard Brando) as the killer, none of the cast appears to have had any sort of career (it’s the only billed role for many of the cast members, including cute lead Kristen Riter), and producer Michael Ritchie took his name off the film before it was released, giving it a rare producer credit for Alan Smithee. Writer/director Mickey Rose (who used to work with Woody Allen - he co-wrote What’s Up Tiger Lily!) has apparently retired from show business as well; his last credit is for writing a few episodes of 227. So a big deluxe retrospective and commentary would probably be pretty hard to pull off. And that’s a shame, as I am sort of fascinated by the film’s production - it was obviously produced around the same time as many of the films it would be competing with (it was released in August of 1981, which means Friday the 13th and Halloween had yet to be sequelized when the film was being shot), and for a producer to take his name off means that something obviously went wrong. Come on, someone spill the dirt!

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. One of my all-time favorites...the paperclip gag, the line about the gum, the gag about all the stairs, the chainsaw maintenance, the killer stopping the film to let the audience guess who he is...I loved all of it. But I agree about the ending, the film suddenly became a weird, surreal "trippy" film, which made very little sense. This is one of those cases where I think a movie would benefit from a remake. Oh, and..."Click." Did I hang up? No...I just said "click". LOL

    1. Since it was filmed during a writers strike, Michael Ritchie, the real director, knew ahead of time he would have to use a pseudonym. He was a major director (Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough, Fletch, Golden Child) and had no choice unless he wanted to be fined for a hundred thousand dollars ...

  2. This movie is amazing.
    i own it. I show it to so many people and i hurt laffing while watching it..i think its just the stupid shit in it.

    Malvert sometimes pee red.

    the blood in the punchbowl.thats the only blood..HAHAHAHA

    I like The Stick, when he is dancing, and throws his arm between his legs with keys in his hand.

    im glad you reviewed few people know about this. and Belzer as the breather is crazy. That guy doesnt even seem likely as a character like that.


  3. Great movie! I do agree with you about the entire ending part of the movie, as it seemed much too serious, and it made me like the movie less, but everything else was just so stupid funny that I couldn't help but like it. I really need to buy this on DVD so I can watch it again.

  4. Just watched this on Showtime last night. Hands down one of the funniest movie's I've seen in a long time, and the fact that i've spent the last 30 years not having seen this makes me very sad.

    Personally, I think the ending is great. The Wizard of Oz sequence provides one of the funniest lines ever: "I will always be your French teacher." The two flowers line is great, too.

    Also, I'll disagree with you a little further by saying the opening sequence is one of the weaker moments of the film. IMO.

  5. I love this movie...its just so freaky and I like freaky...

    Malvert the stick really really creeps me out...

    malvert pee red,...

  6. I like your blog & I love this movie.

    Jerry Belson is credited as The Breather on IMDb & from just watching the movie it sounds absolutely nothing like Richard Belzer.

    1. Jerry Belson (actual head writer) does an imitation of Belzer's brief narration from Tommy, the Who's movie musical.

    2. The Breather was Jerry Belson doing a breather imitation of Keith Moon's heavy breathing in Tommy, the musical from The Who.

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  8. Just saw this for the first time, and thought it was absolutely hilarious and very well done as a slasher spoof. I was laughing constantly. And the prolonged finale sending up all the reveals/twists you expect from slasher finales was one of my favorite parts.


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