Before horror spoofs like Scary Movie and I Know What You Did Last Friday the 13th, there was Mickey Rose’s 1981 slasher comedy Student Bodies. Utilizing the generic qualities of slasher films propagating around the same time, this horror parody was a deceptively serious-looking film in the vein of goofy teen comedies; it was the first to take the popular slasher film and turn it on its head with metacriticism, and though it’s not as funny or raunchy as later movies covering similar themes, it is an important moment in horror movie history.
The film stars Kristen Riter as the Final Girl Toby, a shy, reserved virgin who, throughout most of the film, becomes the school’s prime suspect because she happens to be at every murder scene. Rose and his uncredited writing partner Jerry Belson immediately hit upon the primary theme for every slasher film – that sexual encounters lead to death at the hands of a killer – and Toby as a character is meant to epitomize the classic Virgin that also happens to be something of an airhead.
Student Bodies has a surprising number of poignant things to point out about the slasher genre, which only serves to highlight Rose and Belson’s understanding of horror. While the film’s comedy is mostly off-beat and disarmingly odd, it utilizes a number of slasher tropes to its advantage by exaggerating those aspects. There’s an on-screen death tally that notifies the viewer whenever someone dies, or if they’re still alive, and often these graphics serve to highlight the most ridiculous moments in slasher film; teens leave the door unlocked, or they choose to have sex at the most inopportune times, and Student Bodies mocks these elements by continually pointing them out to the viewer.
Much of the film, however, is quite heavy-handed; the laughs are often forced on the viewer rather than implied, and Rose is quick to point out the obvious in-jokes instead of leaving them open for the horror fans to discover. Student Bodies, as the first slasher comedy, had a lot to prove with its metacommentary, and one can’t help but feel that its humor is dampened by its constant self-gratification of how humorous it is.
But there are sporadic moments of greatness, too, and that usually comes from the oddball antics of the cast. Joe Talarowski excels as the overexcited Principal Peters, an older gentleman who wants to be prom queen and kill nubile young teenagers because of sex is yucky. The same is true of Jerry Belson’s (in the film, Richard Brando) voice-over work as The Breather, giving voice to a role that is primarily silent and grim.
And Rose and Belson work in a number of truly head-scratching scenes. Nearly a half hour in, during the middle of a scene, the film cuts away to a man behind a desk discussing the lack of nudity and cursing in Student Bodies only to drop an F-bomb because he can. Later on, when Toby and her friend/boyfriend Hardy (Matthew Goldsby) are searching the school for clues about the murderer’s identity, a small second screen appears in a pop-up as the killer apparently provides sign language for the scene.
There are quite a few references to specific slasher films of the era as well, something that will appeal to fans of the genre. An opening moment depicts a house with a creepy synth score, and text indentifies holidays such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ birthday with nothing significant occurring. Certain scene setups, like carnival music playing while Toby encounters all of her dead classmates, invoke the memory of film’s from which they’re derived. While Student Bodies often goes for the jugular with its comedy, Rose does leave a few Easter eggs for the astute fan.
Though Student Bodies elicits quite a few chuckles, it’s an uneven comedy. Much of the laughs come from its frankness about sexual mores and the increasingly-inane weapons the killer utilizes, and those who don’t enjoy juvenile comedy will want to skip this parody because it revels in its dumbed-down humor. But genre fans will want to revisit Student Bodies if only to see the carcass from where horror humor once began; it helps that it’s often so stupid it’s funny. See it once to decide for yourself if this is a keeper or another one for the body bag.
Olive Films’ Blu-Ray contains no special features, as usual for the company. Their HD transfer also looks relatively untouched, also not surprising. Olive Films generally allows the transfer to look as good – or as poor – as the original film, and for the most part Student Bodies looks very good despite some textural grain in darker scenes and minimal film damage here and there. The audio track sounds good as well. The disc does not come with subtitles.