Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Student Bodies Movie Review

This was a seminal and important film for my childhood where the horror genre is concerned. I always remembered most of the movie distinctly. Watching it again I pretty much knew exactly what was coming at every moment even though it had probably been twenty years or more since I'd seen it last. This was a movie that my older sister and brother used to watch on TV and laugh through. I found a lot of it quite funny and I'd like to think that wasn't just because I was laughing along with them. Oddly enough, I probably learned about the conventions of the genre mostly from this film and as a result found scary movies more ridiculous after.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

"You Mrs. Malvert."
Before there was the horror spoof Scary Movie and long before the self-referential and convention-skewering Scream, there was Student Bodies, a little known cult favorite that should have been made on a shoestring budget by amateurs and then wasted away in a dustbin. It would have but for a stroke of luck in the form of a Writer’s Guild strike which meant Paramount was willing to bankroll non-union projects. So a ridiculous satire written and directed by Mickey Rose (a collaborator on some early Woody Allen films) with a cast of nobodies, most of whom were making their first movie and never went on to any kind of film career after, got a sizable budget to work with. It didn’t do very well at the box office, but later built a small following on cable, where I used to encounter it as a child.

Like many things in those early stages of my life, I enjoyed it because my older brother and sister did. To me it was silly, but I didn’t get all the adult jokes and the conventions it was satirizing. It takes on the obvious things like teens getting killed before they’re about to have sex. That’s one of the biggest running gags in the film is that couples keep sneaking off to “do it” and then get killed. And the boys are always really clamoring for it, saying absurdly hilarious things like, “Garbage gets me hot,” which is itself a comment on the penchant male horror movie characters have for encouraging girls to have sex under any and all circumstances.

The whole thing is also a mystery, playing up the idea that every teacher and administrator in the high school is a potential suspect with mountains of evidence pointing to each one. Could it be the principal? His elderly assistant? What about the school nurse or the wood shop teacher? Or it could be the mildly retarded janitor Malvert, who goes around wearing the same rubber gloves as the killer and is even caught with blood on them: “Malvert sometimes pee read,” is his defense. And we believe him. The killer is seen only below the knees and elbows. He wears oversized green rubber gloves and galoshes even though it isn’t raining, a fact he wonders about out loud during his occasional narration that interrupts his heavy breathing.

Though it’s obviously satirizing the slasher film sub-genre that was popular in the late 70s and early 80s, it doesn’t ever go in for the direct scene parodies of more recent spoofs. It’s a style parody. It has some clever moments and remains amusing through most of its running time, although it does start to run out of steam toward the end. All in all it was fun to revisit the film after all these years and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys horror films and wants to see an old school take on how to make fun of the genre.

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