Tuesday, April 10, 2007

STUDENT BODIES


TYPICAL REVIEW

"As if the plethora of mindless slasher films weren't enough, they were followed by a flood of mindless slasher film parodies, including STUDENT BODIES." - TVGuide.Com

THE PLOT

The idea of sex is so yucky to high-schooler Toby that she wears a "Sex Is Bad" button on her sweater.... AND another one under it. This might turn out to be a prudent stance, however, as a mad-killer known as The Breather is stalking every teen who gets the slightest bit turned on. And they're ALL getting turned on except for Toby. In fact, she is so vocal in her opposition to pre-marital sex, that both the police and the school administration suspect Toby might just be the killer herself. Can The Breather be caught before the entire student body ends up in green plastic trash bags? Naturally, it all leads to a showdown at the big school dance.

THE POINT

"This motion picture is based on an actual incident. Last year 26 horror films were released...None of them lost money."

So begins Student Bodies, which I'm fairly certain is the first ever slasher movie parody. Made in 1981, only one year after Friday The 13th hit the screen, it was more proof that the slasher genre and all of it's perceived cliches were already becoming ingrained in the public conscious. In fact, slasher movies were so omnipresent in the early 80s, I find it a little hard to believe there were only 26 of them released in 1980. But regardless of the actual number, there was more than enough slashers to establish recognizable scenes and situations ripe for parody. And, if you have a high tolerance for silliness, Student Bodies does the job nicely. But, be warned, you do need a very high tolerance. How high, you ask? Well....

Like any good slasher, Student Bodies begins on a holiday, but with all the good ones already taken, it settles for the best it can find; Jamie Lee Curtis' birthday. All slashers need their unique murder weapon, and The Breather is no exception, brandishing such deadly objects as an unfolded paper clip, a garbage bag, an eggplant, and a horse head bookend. (Don't even get this movie started on horse head bookends.) Once the victims begin to pile up, a big flashing number appears on screen to tally the body count, eventually reaching the grand total of 13... and 1/2. As the investigation flounders, The Breather calls to taunt the authorities, disguising his voice by talking through a rubber chicken. Unperplexed, one administrator responds, "I thought it sounded like you were speaking through a rubber chicken."

Goofy dialog like that is one of the things that makes Student Bodies so enjoyable. It's just one ridiculous line after another. "Julie, you're not responding to my maleness." "Great physical beauty can be a handicap, too." "Hasn't there been enough senseless killing? Let's have a murder that makes sense!" "Horse head bookends make me hot!" (Again with the horse head bookends.) And it's all delivered in perfect deadpan by a likable cast who all but disappeared after making this movie. I'd really like to know where these folks went to, especially the actor who played Malvert The Custodian, a double-jointed human oddity listed in the credits only as "The Stick".

It's all such dumb fun that I've become really fond of this movie, liking it much better than the unfunny and crude Scary Movie franchise. I'll concede, though, that your enjoyment of Student Bodies will likely depend on your familiarity with the genre's cliches. Unlike the aforementioned Scary Movie, which parrots and skewers widely recognizable scenes from hit films, Student Bodies rolls along on its own course, expecting you to recognize the motifs as they appear while rarely pointing them out. (Well, unless pointing them out is part of the joke like, say, flashing the word "Suspect" on the screen any time a new character is introduced.) Outside of some slow parts, this reliance on fan boy in-jokes is probably the greatest weakness of the film for the casual viewer.

Thanks in large part to the Scream franchise, however, even the infrequent horror viewer is probably familiar with the primary slasher movie cliches. And Student Bodies relies heavily on the grandaddy of them all, the notion of the slasher movie as Morality Play. Popular in the 15th & 16th centuries, Moralities were a form of secular theater in which allegorical characters representing vices and virtues faced a number of perils, with only the ones who stuck to the moral path left standing in the end. While the sheer number of slasher movies released in the early 80s guaranteed exceptions, it's probably safe to say that the majority of them fit comfortably into the Morality Play mold. Generic young adult stereotypes like the jock, the geek, the slut, the stoner, etc. give into vice and are systematically slaughtered. By the end of the movie only the virgin (or at the very least, the sober monogamist) is left to overcome the embodiment of evil. Student Bodies embraces this concept whole heartedly, especially with its truly bizarre and rather serious ending. Toby wakes up Wizard Of Oz style and realizes the whole movie was nothing but a bad dream brought on by her sexual repression. To cure her "condition", Toby decides to finally offer herself to her boyfriend, at which point he promptly murders her. All sinners must die. The End.

In his book "Decade of Nightmares", Professor Philip Jenkins implies that this kind of movie arose out of some irrational collective fear religious conservatives were feeling over the emerging cults, serial killers, and general permissiveness of youth culture in the 1970s. Professor Tony Williams goes as far as to suggest that the killers in slasher movies were "patriarchal avengers" for the Reagan era religious right. In contrast, many of the filmmakers themselves denied this religious/political subtext, with Halloween's director John Carpenter flat out declaring that critics missed the point entirely. Be that as it may, the critics won out and their views have become the generally accepted theories. Which brings up the question; If these films do represent some kind of Christian death wish for the transgressors of the world, do we really have the right to make that kind of wish in the first place?

It sure would be easy to quote "vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord", declare the case closed, and move on to the next subject. Unfortunately, there's that pesky Bible to deal with. There's more than enough instances in both the Old and New Testaments where someone seemingly calls down the wrath of God on an enemy. Some of the Old Testament scripture comes across so harsh that a 2nd century sect known as the Marcionites actually demanded the entirety of the Jewish texts be removed from Christian canon. But we kept them, (the Scriptures, not the Marcionites) and so, must deal with them.

But how, especially when you have infamous passages like 2 Kings 2:23-24? This is the story where the prophet Elisha is verbally abused by a gang of young children because of his bald head. Elisha curses them in the name of the Lord, at which point two she-bears amble out of the woods and maul 42 of the kids to death. Woo-hoo! Tell me, is there a single anti-Christian website in all of cyberspace that doesn't drag out this story as proof that God is nothing but a cruel sadistic jerk? Can there be a rational Christian response to this story?

Thank God (seriously), Catholicism does not require us to be literalists in the same sense that some Protestant faiths do. The Catechism states that "In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words. In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."

So, taking all that into account, what might be happening in this story? One possible explanation is that what we have here is not meant to be taken as historical reporting, but as more of a parable told in a style not dissimilar to Grimm's Fairy Tales. You see, it turns out that calling someone "bald" was sometimes meant as an insult to there authority and power, not necessarily their hairlessness. And as for all those children, well, the number 42 might be important. Like many ancient societies, the Jews had a complex and meaningful numerology. If you wanted to imply something immeasurable, one way was to multiply it by 7. (Forgive your brother 7 x 70 times, remember?) And the number 6 often represented evil. So if you've got 7 x 6 "children", you've actually got ultimate evil. In other words, regardless of whether or not the event happened as described, the story is told in such a way which the audience at that time would have recognized as an allegorical tale of a just God exercising his power and triumphing over the evils of the world. Like I said, it's one possible explanation. Take that, internet!

So really, the answer actually was "vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord" all the time, it just required a little clarification in this instance to prove it. "Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity." states the Catechism. "Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." So, while the general public has accepted the critics' assertion that slasher movies represent some type of Christian revenge fantasy against individual sinners, we, as Christians, cannot. Which just about wraps up a particularly long review. Now, if only I could come up with one more clever thing to say about horse head bookends...

THE STINGER

I'm not ordained and I've had no schooling in religious studies. I'm just one of those church geeks who likes studying this stuff. With no credentials of my own and not having discussed this yet with anyone with some authority, I really have no way of knowing how much credibility my solution to the Elisha story has. But it is at least more consistent with the overall attributes of God taught by the Church than the idea that God is some vindictive child killer. The nice part is that it only took about two hours of internet research to come up with. (And at least an hour of that was sifting through websites using the story as part of anti-Christian diatribes.) 120 minutes in exchange for a possible answer I didn't really have before seems a fair trade. "The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

8 comments:

Histor the Wise said...

I've never watched any slasher movies. I had the impression they were just a lot of violent scenes strung together for the delight of voyeurs. So it's interesting to hear about slasher movies without seeing them.

But even if they are morality plays, I think I'll still pass. You see, this house is clear out of horse head bookends :)

Histor

EegahInc said...

What a movie is, and what the critics and film professors can turn them into can be two vastly different things, especially if they have an agenda. Like I said, the filmmakers themselves never bought into the idea they were making revenge films for Christians.

The old slasher movies are very linked to the time they were made (early 80s), which coincides with my teenage years, and so they hold some interest for me. I don't touch the new ones.

As for Student Bodies, one of the big jokes comes in the middle of the movie when the producers realize their movie has zero nudity and not a single drop of blood. In order to secure an R rating (which wasn't enforced back then, so every 13 year old I knew flocked to R rated movies) they stop the movie and have an announcer utter a single profanity, at which point they proudly display their MPAA "R" rating. Ticket sales ensured, the movie restarts.

Histor the Wise said...

It's amusing to think that when film directors and film critics tangle over what a movie is *meant* to mean, the film critics win.

My dad said he watched "Student Bodies" as well - and he didn't get kicked out for being underage.

Histor

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Great review. I've wondered myself sometimes about the cliches of slashers; even though I'm not a watcher of the genre, I know some of the cliches: the first to die are a couple having sex in their car, and the second to die are a couple skinny-dipping....

Anyway, I have heard another explanation of the Elisha story, and I don't know if it's a good explanation or not, but I offer it anyhow: they may not have been "little children" at all, but youths--older children, teenagers, possibly street thugs, who were seriously threatening the prophet.

Also, speaking of slasher parodies, I saw one many, many years ago and don't know the title and maybe you can help: it involved a villain who existed only as a disembodied arm holding a drill, and he always killed air-headed cheerleaders, and the man hunting him down was a mountie who never got off his horse. That's what I remember, anyway. I also remember it being a really funny movie. The title Dead Cheerleaders' Society comes to mind, but I'm not sure that's it.

EegahInc said...

Pandemonium from 1982! Another classic, like Student Bodies, which is criminally unavailable on DVD. It stars Tom Smothers as the mountie, Carol Kane as the final girl, and a pre-PeeWee Paul Reubens as Tom's deputy. It's probably sillier than Student Bodies, if that's possible.

Your guess is as good as mine on Elisha. Some of those OT stories can be tough. I used to wonder how people could still be arguing over them centuries later until I actually sat down and read the Bible.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

You truly are amazing. You really reeled that right off. Any chance of a review of Pandemonium in the future? Even without a DVD?

EegahInc said...

Definitely, although I might want to wait 3 or 4 reviews down the line or else I'll have to change my name to the Slasher Catechism :)

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Whoa, The Slasher Catechism. That is definitely an offshoot blog worth thinking about.