Student Bodies

| August 25, 2015

As a horror spoof in the vein of the Zucker brothers, the humor of Student Bodies (1981) remains completely relevant and relatable 34 years after its initial release. This could be seen as either a testament to the strength of writer/director Mickey Rose’s work on the film, or a sign of how developmentally arrested mainstream horror movies have been since the release of Friday the 13th (1980). Of course, it’s probably a bit of both in reality. After all, while we still see movies replicating the Friday the 13th formula ad nauseum to this day, Rose himself had previous written for The Sid Caesar Show and co-wrote a handful of Woody Allen’s earliest pictures, including Bananas (1971). So it’s something of a perfect combination.

The film takes clear inspiration from the major box office successes of the then recent releases of Halloween (1978), When a Stranger Calls (1979), and Friday the 13th. It follows a virginal high school girl named Toby as she attempts to uncover the identity of a serial killer known as The Breather who’s bumping off her sexually active peers. The body count mounts according to the predictable formulas and everybody is a clear suspect along the way, but it’s all of course done with a winking self-awareness. A couple examples of recurring visual gags that directly lampoon horror movie conventions include announcing when there are unlocked doors through which a killer might enter with a flashing subtitle and arrow, and providing viewers with an onscreen body count.

When it comes to horror spoofs of this nature, such as Greydon Clark’s Wacko (1983) or Scary Movie (2000), Student Bodies is as funny as any of them, if not funnier. That it has stood the test of time as well as it has makes it something of a marvel. You certainly can’t say that either Wacko or Scary Movie is as funny today as they were when they came out, but you could safely say as much about Student Bodies. And this is coming from someone who’s still a big fan of Wacko at that!

Unfortunately, while Student Bodies is certainly more consistently funny than Wacko, the repetitive nature of some gags finds the film’s humor losing a bit of steam in ways that Wacko managed to avoid. Wacko did this by becoming ever increasingly more ludicrous and unpredictable throughout its running time, making it a film that escalates him humor as opposed to slowly petering out. Sure, there are some late-game changes of pace in Student Bodies that alleviate the sense of fatigue you’re likely to feel near the end of the movie, but these twists are nowhere as insane as some of the bits near the end of Wacko.

Still, if you’re in the mood for a horror spoof this (or any) Halloween season, I’d say Student Bodies is the safest bet for all audiences. It’s not as obscure or insane as Wacko or as profane as Scary Movie, so it has a nice broad appeal. You can now check the film out on Blu-ray from Olive Films, who have also concurrently re-released the film on DVD. Though the Olive releases boast no special features, the transfer is great, but I should note that the copy I screened for this review did have one slight authoring error that found the disc freezing for about one second before resuming. It was odd but by no means a deal-breaker in my mind.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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