Student Bodies (1981)

Student Bodies (1981)

13 1/2 Murders + 1423 Laughs = Student Bodies

A murderer known as ‘The Breather’ begins to kill off students at Lamab High School. One of their classmates, Toby, inexplicably finds herself at each of the murder sites and becomes the prime suspect.

 

The recent Blu-ray release proclaims ‘Long before Scream, this was the original movie that asked audiences to tick-off the tributes’ and whilst that isn’t too far from the truth, Student Bodies has less in common with Craven’s seminal classic and far much more in common with the absurdity of the Scary Movie franchise (which in turn took it’s lead from the old Airplane and The Naked Gun style humour). It’s surprising to see that even in 1981, when the slasher flick was in peak form, that Student Bodies has enough wits about it to start to deconstruct the sub-genre, such was the formula that had already been established. Late 80s I could understand, but this came along during the same year as minor classics such as The Burning, The Funhouse and My Bloody Valentine.

Student Bodies tries to do to the slasher genre what Airplane and The Naked Gun did to their respective genres and that’s lampoon them in a million different ways; some funny, some not. This is a genuinely good-natured film which pretty much falls flat on it’s face with the sheer amount of misses in it’s scatter gun approach to comedy. Your enjoyment of Student Bodies will depend on your tolerance for really stupid jokes – silly one-liners, daft sight gags, groan-inducing puns and some utterly maniacal characters. Literally no stone is left unturned to try and elicit a chuckle from the audience. The humour has dated significantly (jokes about Africa for a start) but for every couple of fails, there are a few hits – though not as many as you’d hope for to keep the running time from dragging as badly as it does. Laughs get particularly sparse during the finale where the film opts for a crazier slant than it had been heading along.

On-going jokes involving a blind teenager will make you hate yourself for laughing, there’s a rolling on-screen body count number keeps the viewers up-to-date with the kills, helpful notes pop up to highlight points of interest, and there’s a public service announcement directed at the ratings people (who rated this R despite the fact there’s no explicit sex or violence) which ends in hilarious fashion to warrant the R-rating for profanity. Too many of the jokes go on for longer than they needed to and too many are repeated. Maybe there’s some sort of generational difference that my parents would have find some of the stuff in here funny (with 70s and 80s pop culture knowledge, in much the same way I would get more of the Scary Movie pop culture references that today’s teenagers wouldn’t) but a large chunk of the jokes, and I’m going to say 80%, are just not funny in the slightest. I’m not sure whether this was one person’s sense of humour forced onto the big screen or whether people had different tastes in comedy.

Due to the comedy falling flat on its face, you would hope that the other side of the film, the horror elements, would at least be bearable. Student Bodies’ narrative plays out like a serious slasher but without any of the tension or scares. There’s the opening scene similar to Halloween (and later, Scream), the introduction of the angelic Final Girl, killer’s POV shots, a load of red herrings (the film goes to great lengths to introduce as many potential killers as possible) and a constant flow of deaths without any real sense of atmosphere or suspense keeping everything working. There is little gore as you never get to see anyone killed, only a few bodies tucked away in bin bags. A plot twist at the end comes out of left field and feels like a total cop-out, clearly only being written that way to include a nod to Carrie.

The performances don’t work in conjunction with the material. This group of amateurs have hardly made another film between them since Student Bodies was released and there’s good reason – they’re not very good. Bordering anywhere from wooden to downright over-zealous, the group bumble their way through the script from one lame joke to the next crazy sequence. The deadpan nature of the material needs good, steady hands to deal with it. Look at how Leslie Nielsen, or to a lesser extent Anna Faris, did with their star turns in The Naked Gun and Scary Movie films respectively. That’s how you sell a parody like this to an audience. And yes, there is an actor actually called ‘The Stick’ in this (that is his name), playing Malvert the janitor. He’s an unusual specimen who will either make you laugh or creep you out to no end.

 

The trailer covers all of the best gags in Student Bodies and so you’ll spend most of your time groaning at all of the failed opportunities rather than laughing along. It’s not a horror film, and it’s a stretch to really call it a comedy. Student Bodies is a failed attempt to parody a sub-genre which hadn’t yet worn itself out enough to parody in the first place.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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