The time has come to once again pull open the heavy iron doors of the NOFS Video Vault and gaze upon the gory goodness of our VHS collection. We offer the beastly best and the wickedly worst of the VHS era and we stand proudly behind that mantra that one needs both yin and yang to achieve true personal horror harmony.
This month we have a little something to lighten the mood. In fact, it is the very first horror/comedy ever made… or so the producers claim. You have likely seen the poster in your video store travels in the past and you’re probably thinking, why haven’t I ever checked out Student Bodies (1981)?
Back of The Box Review
Touted as the seminal horror-comedy, a killer known, for obvious reasons, as the Breather stalks the teenagers of Lamab High, slaughtering each one that engages in sex. As the list of suspects grows to include the school’s psychoanalyst, the nurse, the principal, and, even innocent virgin Toby, who keeps showing up at the scene of each murder, the body count climbs and the laughs mount in this slap-stick slasher.
Meet Lamab High School’s Class of 1981. Up first we have Most Likely to go to Convent School; the overly nerdy Toby Badger played by Kristen Riter in her only feature film appearance. Next, Most Likely to go Postal at His Summer Job, is her male counterpart Hardy, played by Matt Goldsby in his only feature film appearance. Meanwhile, blind student Charles Ray played by Cullen Chambers (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, 1988) is Lamab High’s Most Likely to Be Conned by fellow student Wheels who is Most Likely to be played by Brian Batytis in his only screen appearance. African exchange student Mawamba, played by Dario Jones in his only film appearance, is Most Likely to Not Join the Student Exchange next year while the stereotypical horny couple, Most Likely to be Killed by a Psycho in Galoshes goes to Angela Bressler, in her only screen appearance, as the “staple” promiscuous teenager, Julie. Her, ill-fated boyfriend, Charlie is played by Keith Singleton (The Dummy, 2000) who is Most Likely to Never Win a Televised Singing Contest.
Our staff, headed by perpetually in denial principal Harlow Hebrew Peters played by Joe Talarowski in his only screen appearance, consists of only the best Lamab High School could afford including Vice Principal Miss. Mumsley played by the late Mini Weddell (Messenger, 2004), school psychologist Dr. Sigmond played by the late Carl Jacobs in his only screen appearance, School Nurse Krud played by Janice E. O’Malley (The Last Picture Show, 1971), the Football Coach, who remains nameless, played by Oscar James (Hardware, 1990), Malvert the janitor played by the late and extremely gangly Patrick “The Stick” Boone Varnell (Out of Control, 1984) and, of course, the late Jerry Belson (Jekyll and Hyde… Together Again, 1982) as the murdering Breather who also happened to be executive producer of this film.
They Came From The Great Unknown
In case you hadn’t noticed, Student Bodies is a film featuring a true cast of unknowns with most never making another feature film again. We’re talking seventy-five percent of the picture’s cast are actual nobodies, including both leads, Riter and Goldsby. Cullen Chambers went on to do several bigger projects but only as a stand-in for the likes of Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Forest Whittaker. In fact, the biggest talent was the late Mimi Wedell who went on the perform in Law & Order (1997), Sex and the City (1998), and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).
During the making of Student Bodies, there was a writers strike in Hollywood. Paramount Pictures, the producer and distributor of many horror films of the 80s such as My Bloody Valentine (1981), Friday the 13th parts 1-8 (1980-89), Night School (1981), April Fool’s Day (1986), and The Fan (1981), wanted to release as many non-union films as possible and Student Bodies fell into that niche. This would explain the largely unknown cast, the low budget quality, and obscure nature the film took on after its release.
Malvert and The Punch Bowl of Pee
Perhaps the oddest casting in Student Bodies was that of the creepy janitor, Malvert. Played by the late Patrick Boone Varnell, who was a double-jointed extreme ectomorph standing at 6′ 3″ and only weighing in at slightly over 100 lbs. He nicknamed himself The Stick because of this condition and found physical comedy to be his calling.
Varnell’s antics were front and center as the goofy Malvert who pretty much steals the show, sometimes simply by doing nothing and sometimes by claiming the prom night punch is spiked with pee. The zany actor’s career was sadly cut short when he passed away in 1989 at age 43. His body was donated to science following his death.
The Quest For an R-Rating
For a slasher, even a slasher spoof, Student Bodies is virtually bloodless. The film actually contains none of the criteria that would call for the MPAA to slap an R-rating on it, but this being a parody, reportedly the first of it’s kind, the producers came up with a completely random way to obtain their elusive rating.
About halfway through the film, we cut away from the action to see a man in a suit sitting behind a desk explaining that the producers of the film wish to achieve the “very popular” r-rating that other slasher films carry but since their picture does not contain full-frontal nudity, graphic violence, or an explicit reference to sex, the staple MPAA r-rating criteria, the man finishes his explanation with a simple eff you. A title card flashes on the screen stating that the MPAA has rated the film as R for restricted and we cut back to the movie. Well played zany film producers, well played.
The Cult of Perilous Parodies
With a sea of late 70s/early 80s horror flicks to choose from, Student Bodies narrowed its sights to the slasher flicks of the time period. They poked fun at flicks such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), Prom Night (1980), Black Christmas (1974), and When a Stranger Calls (1979) to name a few. There are several silly nods and hilarious homages to each spread throughout the 86-minute runtime.
The film was a failure upon release with most critics claiming that the funniest parts were shown in the film’s trailer. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote the film was “a real disappointment,” as it “just slowly topples over as you watch it, like a stand-up comedian in the act of failing.” But despite its abject box office failure, Student Bodies became somewhat of a cult classic thanks to its subsequent airings on television. The fact that the film featured little profanity, zero blood and guts, and nada nudity made it a TV broadcast favorite.
From the cheesy slapstick gags to the corny one-liners, Student Bodies is a time capsule in that it captures a moment in American cinema where a dawning of a golden age was upon the world. Horror films, up until that point, hadn’t peaked yet and in a few short months, the genre was primed to explode into the stratosphere and Student Bodies fit right into that mold.
While it is neither scary nor hilarious, it walks a line where there are certainly elements of both genres present that makes for an entertaining watch. Let’s face it, you’ve most certainly passed that cover box in the video store or that poster at the review theater, or even scrolled past that streaming service avatar and thought one day I’ll give that a watch. Well, my fiend, now is that someday and Student Bodies is calling your name… albeit in a heavy breathing, murderer kind of voice.
That’s it for this month. Time to close the Video Vault doors so I can brush up on my horror knowledge. You know, there’s a great place I go too for all of my horror needs and that’s the NOFS Twitter, Subreddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. There you’ll find everything horror from A to World War Z (2013)… I know, I know, it worked with the sentence flow. Don’t @ me! Until next time, fellow fiends, stay creepy!