Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Horrors: Student Bodies (#16)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Student Bodies, a very early (the first?) entry in the dubious subgenre of horror spoofs begins with successive establishing shots labelled Halloween night, Friday the 13th, and then Jamie Lee Curtis' birthday. I kinda knew I was going to like this 1981 horror spoof from right then. If the rest of this brief 86-minute film from 1981 don't quite live up to the hilarious opening ten minutes, then that's hardly surprising. Throwing so many jokes at the audience in rapid succession, I'd be willing to bed that this is some of the hardest I've laughed in, well, ever. My flatmate can attest to that. I was in hysterics. It's the old "I was laughing so hard I missed the jokes" story and boy is it relevant with Student Bodies.

An obvious precursor to Scary Movie - there are even jokes from this film that the Wayans brothers appear to have copied nearly 20 years later, which is saying something - Student Bodies came on the heels of the Zucker, Abraham, Zucker masterpiece, Flying High (or Airplane if you're not Australian). It's easy to see the inspiration and while the ratio of jokes that work to those that don't is obviously higher (people remember Flying High for a reason, although I'd say Student Bodies should at least have a fond reputation amongst the horror community), it works spectacularly well more often than not. 86 minutes is, apparently, too long - especially during the elongated prom investigation scenes towards the end that act as little more than reasons for characters to do jokes that the writers couldn't shoehorn in elsewhere - but, if nothing else, the opening thirty minutes allow for enough good will for that to not matter quite as much.

Most curious of all is that the film appears to spoof horror movies that hadn't even been invented yet. One could easily for forgiven for thinking several gags are aimed at Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, when in actual fact that dreamtime slasher wasn't released until three years later. Furthermore, the horror conventions that we now all see as cliche and easy to ridicule surely weren't that entrenched in cinema by 1981, were they? Friday the 13th is the most obvious influence, what with its "sex = death" mantra and the unseen killer revealed in the closing segments gambit, but the film's other influences, like When a Stranger Calls (1979), Halloween (1978), Prom Night (1980), and even Carrie (1976) and Carnival of Souls (1962) from which the film heavily borrows some specific sequences, work in entirely different ways to the Friday blueprint that became rather standard throughout the decade. "Ahead of its time" is a term that could probably apply here, wouldn't you think?

Perhaps Student Bodies' most odd element is The Stick, an actor (of sorts) whose skinny frame gave him his nickname. He never acted again outside of the TV series Out of Control in 1984, but he remains a mystery. In fact, many of the actors featured either never worked again (such as the "final girl" or sorts, Kristen Riter) or not much. I think this has to do with a strike that was going on at the time, an event that lead to the director, Michael Ritchie, being credited as Allan Smithee. I'd assumed that name appearing in the opening credits was just a joke, but further research informs me that's not quite the case.

I really enjoyed Student Bodies, and it's certainly a stronger horror spoof comedy than any of the Scary Movie films (albeit, lacking a go hard or go home performance like that of Anna Faris). Even though it diminishes in value over the run time, that opening scene will certainly be something I'll be giggling about for quite some time. B

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