Originally released 7 Aug 1981
Written by Mickey Rose
Directed by Michael Ritchie (Because of the writers’ strike, Ritchie had his name removed from the film. Screenwriter Mickey Rose received the directorial credit instead.)
Starring Kristen Riter, Matthew Goldsby (as Matt Goldsby), Jerry Belson (as Richard Brando)
My rating: ★★ stars
“Sex Kills! Sex Kills!”
The students of Labamb High School are being picked off in pairs by the sex-obsessed killer dubbed “The Breather.” Will students Toby Badger (Kristen Riter) and her best friend Hardy (Matt Goldsby) be able to catch the killer in time, or will they become victims themselves?
Student Bodies is a spoof of the horror movie genre, specifically the rising star that was the slasher flick. It was filmed in 1981 during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and the studio wanted a non-union film to release during that time period. They got Student Bodies, and in many ways it shows. Acting is—let’s be charitable and call it “amateur.” For many of the actors involved, Student Bodies was their only film—and it’s not hard to see why that is. The biggest name attached to this project was writer/director Mickey Rose, who had co-written several Woody Allen films but had no experience in directing himself. Quite frankly, this has all the hallmarks of a forgettable film at best. And yet, it has achieved a certain cult status on its own.
The movie manages some funny and, dare I say, genuinely clever moments. It has some solid material particularly with the horror spoofs. These spoofs mainly focus on the sexual aspects of the typical slasher film. Toby, the ingénue heroine, wears a button proclaiming “No” because, of course, she’s the good girl who’s going to survive. And you’ll never see a Horsehead Bookend again without thinking “sexual sublimation.” Even the killer’s voice and heavy breathing sound like an obscene phone call, earning him the moniker “The Breather.” The actor playing the killer (Jerry Belson, appearing as Richard Brando likely to avoid union issues) sounds like he’s having fun with this role.
There’s some improbable weapon use in the kills. Also, the film features some absurd setup; for example, the second pair of victims rush off during the funeral of the first two victims to have sex, and another pair decide to have sex right in the middle of a parade. The movie likes to point gleefully to the little stupid things the victims do (and I do mean literally point out, with flashing arrows and everything.) And of course, there’s a kill counter.
Where the movie frequently fails is when it tries to cram in as many gags as possible regardless of the scene. I’ve found that parody movies are best served when the humor is focused on the subject at hand, and often times this movie goes off the rails with just pure silliness that left me cold. The football game is a major culprit in this respect, with gags that just go on too long and aren’t very funny. And the scenes with two handicapped teens are obnoxious at best.
Every little bit of the high school murder spree leads up to what I feel to be the best part of the movie. Our heroine is on the run, chased by the killer through the school, and the chase takes on a nightmarish quality that was rather effective. I’d hesitate to call it great, but I’m okay with calling it pretty good.
Still, the spoof of horror isn’t complete with the *drum roll* obligatory plot twist at the end: *SPOILER* The chase is nightmarish because it is a nightmare. Yes, the whole film was a dream, a plot twist that was tired well before this movie came out. *SPOILER* As weak as the twist is, it allows for an ending that also falls into the category of not great, but pretty good. So I’m willing to excuse it a little.
I wanted Student Bodies to be a really good movie. I grew up watching it with my dad, my sister, and my uncles. I also knew approaching viewing it for this review that it was probably a terrible film and that nostalgia was distorting my judgment. Watching it now, I have to say that it wasn’t even close to as good as I had hoped. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been afraid of. I’d say there was half of a good movie in here, and, if the filmmakers had kept the focus on what they were spoofing, it could have been a success. I’m still probably being generous with giving it two stars, but maybe it’s okay to let nostalgia have a vote once in a while.