Student Bodies (1981)

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Although this film bills itself as the first ever comedy-horror, the genre has been around as long as either comedy or horror. It’s the world’s first comedy slasher film, probably, although it came out the same year as “Saturday the 14th” so it might not even be that. In the interests of full accuracy, I propose they change the poster to “one of the world’s first comedy slasher movies”. Done!

It’s very much in the “Airplane” mold, as well, where jokes are thrown at the wall almost continuously to see what sticks. “The Breather” is upset at kids at Lamab High School having sex, and luckily for him every single trysting couple behaves in exactly the same way – they find a secluded spot, then the boy realises he has to go and get something, the killer kills the girl and waits for the boy to get back before killing him too. Every damn time.

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After a beginning which borrows music and visual aesthetics from “Halloween”, it apparently works its way through the gamut of horror films of the time, much like the “Scary Movie” franchise would do years later. “Carnival of Souls”, “Black Christmas”, “Carrie”, “When a Stranger Calls”, “The Shining”, “Friday the 13th”, and “Prom Night” all get mocked, apparently (I didn’t notice them all). Oh, and “The Wizard of Oz”, I suppose.

Although I can find no online information, it would appear the Dr Pepper corporation paid for this film to be made- it’s not quite blatant enough to be a joke, but that stuff is everywhere. “The first film to feature product placement as a joke!” – sorry, “Student Bodies”, wrong again.

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The film itself…is okay. There are some good jokes and lots of rotten ones; the shop teacher, Mr Dumpkin (Joe Flood) is hilarious. But, the circumstances of the film’s production are more interesting, to be honest. Made during a strike in Hollywood, the producer / director went by the Allen Smithee pseudonym, and the vast majority of the film’s cast (including both stars, who were actually pretty good) have this as their one and only film credit. The most amazing performance goes to janitor Malvert, played by someone listed only as “The Stick”. He’s an extremely tall, extremely thin, extremely odd-looking chap, double-jointed, who was apparently a standup comedian and about whom very little is known.

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It’s a strange film, is “Student Bodies”. No sex, gore or nudity, and they got the R-rating they wanted by having the film stop at around the half-hour mark and cutting to a man at a desk who discusses this problem before doing a very bad swear. The body count is displayed at the bottom of the screen, as well as the occasional helpful comment like “Suspect”. I just wish a good comedy writer had been given a few more runs at the script, or something.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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