It’s never a good sign when you’re watching a movie and you see the name Alan Smithee in the credits. Alan is not a real person. I mean, maybe there’s somebody out there with the unfortunate name of Alan Smithee but when seen in the context of film or television, it implies that the person whose name was supposed to appear in that spot found something in the production that made them not want to be associated with it and petitioned the Director’s Guild to have their name removed. Original director/producer, Michael Ritchie, for whatever reason stepped out of the picture and put Alan Smithee in his place.
Among my friends back in high school, this one got a lot of quotation time in our social circle, mostly in reference to horse head bookends. I even knew a guy who made a horsehead bookend out of sheer comic necessity. Often times, we would cap the night with this movie. We’d usually had a lot to drink or had smoked a mountain of weed, most of the time a combination of the both. We’d wandered around town, listened to Kick Out The Jams and hit a couple of parties and somehow we always wound up falling asleep somewhere in the second act of the movie. We’d probably hit play on this baby around five dozen times and I think I’d actually finished it before passing out ten times. How it infiltrated our consciousness is beyond me but then again, we rented a shitload of bad movies back then.
The Wayans Brothers should be ashamed of themselves. Or maybe Scream should. I really can’t say for sure. The movie begins in a very familiar fashion. A babysitter, alone, obscene phone calls. The calls are nothing more than hysterical heavy breathing and that’s either very milky drool or jizz coming out of the phone in this scene. I’ve never been sure and I’m a little worried that I even put that much thought into it. A dog outside meows and then lifts its leg and kicks out a huge fart. This is pretty much setting the tone for the entire movie.
The Breather, our killer, sets his sites on randy teenagers and offs them in often hilarious ways. In spite of his well stocked murder kit containing the usual suspects of slasher murders, he chooses paper clips, eggplants and horse head bookends. Does the scene you’re watching look as though two teens are going to wind up having sex in a really strange place at a very inappropriate time? Chances are, they’re going to wind up getting killed and the scenario ALWAYS winds up with one of them taking off for a couple of minutes so that The Breather can off one and then wait with a trash bag for the other to return. In case you lose track, an on screen body count will help you remember how many people die. Everyone is a potential killer and helpful on screen notes point out clues and people who could be the killer. Is it the principal? Malvert the retarded janitor? The shop teacher with his unhealthy obsession with horse head bookends? Naturally, the heroine of the story, the virgin, is the prime suspect.
I’m just going to come out and say it. Student Bodies is a fucking mess. It plays out almost as if the script were written on the set as the movie was being shot. Nothing really ties together. There’s a common thread about The Breather, the murders and the Nancy Drew style investigation that follows but just about every aspect is this insane vignette that pokes fun at every slasher movie convention ever. Released in 1981, slashers were already getting tired. The movie opens with a title about how 26 horror movies were released in 1980 and that not one of them lost money so you get the picture. If you need an idea of just how big horror movies were at this time, check out Going To Pieces. Horror in 1981 may have been a sure thing, but Student Bodies bombed. Badly.
I’ll flip the coin, now. The story may not make any sense, but it’s a spoof and it’s not necessarily supposed to. Consider these days on the eve of the Disaster Movie release. The Scary Movie spoofs, which are the root of these cheap-ass diarrhea spoofs, moved away from being an actual movie with each sequel. Evolving until there is barely any story at all and more or less a parade of references to movies that you JUST saw the other day. Student Bodies plays out a little like the early Scary Movie entries. There’s just enough story to hang a series of extremely silly jokes on. Unsurprisingly, it plays up the goof factor to an extreme degree in order to cash in on the success of 1980’s Airplane!. Need proof? Many taunting phone calls from The Breather are made through a rubber chicken. Need more? He pretends to end his calls by saying, “click!” How about a little more? You may want to drink some Dr. Pepper and eat FKC when the movie is over. These products are placed so liberally throughout that they occupy nearly every scene in the movie.
But is it funny? Sometimes. Most of the time, actually. Thinking back to when I was addicted to this movie in high school, most of the laughs came from the obscene amounts of alcohol and THC in our systems. It’s quite stupid and most of the laughs I got this time around during my review run came from the shock of just how stupid the jokes are. It’s that kind of down-low retarded humor that carries it through and while it’s not necessarily the laugh factory that I remember it being, the gags are often so dumb that I couldn’t help but laugh at them.
As far as character goes, there’s not much to talk about. The cast is 99% actors you’d never heard of and never heard from again. The only person in the movie you’ll recognize is Richard Belzer as The Breather, though he’s credited as Richard Brando. Nobody else, aside from the horse head bookends obsessed shop teacher is much to talk about. I never get tired of that guy. He makes me want a set of horse head bookends, but I doubt anyone would get the joke. They’d prbably just wonder why I chose some cheap-ass plywood horsehead bookends to cap off my library. Yet, there’s a really strange character featured throughout. Malvert the Janitor is eternally fascinating to me. A check on the IMDB turns up his name as credited in the movie, a comedian named The Stick. If that’s any indication, he either died shortly after the movie was released or was ruined by his portrayal of high school sanitation services. I can’t say but the way he moves is hypnotic. He can bend his arms and legs backwards! In a prom scene this is almost too much to take. As though you’re looking at the center of the universe. Seriously. Watching The Stick, ahem, Malvert, dance is like watching a snake eating itself.
I’ve been looking for a boot of this movie for a very long time since it has been out of print on video since the 80’s and it was a movie that I never thought I’d see on DVD but Legend Films recently brought it to Region 1. The disc is a little stiff on extras and the print isn’t that good but you’re about to watch a movie where the killer takes forever to climb the stairs and steps in gum no less than three times. What do you want? You get a trailer at the very least and it’s a cheap disc.
There’s really no selling point. Student Bodies is just dumb but in a really good way. It’s so dumb that it seems deliberate. It’s a very endearing trait. There had certainly been horror comedies in the past and spoofs that perfected the art of spoofing horror (Young Frankenstein, anyone?) but Student Bodies went where no one had really gone before. It stretches to be schticky to the extreme and falls so flat so many times but there’s enough there that I still think that it’s very stupid and very funny even though I can’t remember the last time I smoked pot.