You know how in slasher movies, sexually active teenagers are killed? Congratulations, you have all the information you need in order to have written Student Bodies, a slasher movie parody from 1981, the earliest year in which "slasher parody" is something we could even conceivably talk about (added bonus points for being released by Paramount, the studio responsible for Friday the 13th itself). The explosion of the subgenre had only started a year prior, after all, and wouldn't start to enter its ridiculous, decadent phase for a couple of years more. But it was apparently enough time for the unyielding formula of the genre to make itself sufficiently widely known that a comedy could be made where the main thrust of the jokes were making fun of that formula, fifteen years before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson got all the credit for doing the same thing in Scream.

Scream, though, is a slasher film that is aware of itself; Student Bodies is no more a slasher than Airplane! is a disaster movie. It's a straight-up comedy using the form of another genre as a joke in and of itself, as though merely pointing out that slashers do this or that hackneyed thing is itself funny. Which translates into a number of dully literal jokes, like when a soon-to-be victim leaves the front door unlocked, only for the film to cut to a close-up of the doorknob with the word "UNLOCKED" superimposed, with an arrow pointing to the knob. Or one of the film's most famous tricks, which is flashing the running tally of dead bodies every time a new victim is killed. Because, you see, pointing out that people are murdered in a slasher movie is funny, n'est-ce pas? When Hot Shots! Part Deux pulled out the same kind of general idea in 1993, it was at least in a gag that had a shape, momentum, and payoff. Other than flashing when a fly gets smacked, Student Bodies never can be bothered to make its body counter do anything besides exist.

That's true of a discouraging amount of humor in the film: point out that slasher films do something, punch it up with a bit of cartoony exaggeration, and settle down to let the laffs roll in. It's hardly as bitterly dispiriting as the Friedberg & Seltzer school of parody-making, in which the jokes are variations on, "Do you recognise this piece of pop cultural ephemera? Well here is for your recognition!" At least everything that happens in Student Bodies is germane to the slasher film genre, which notoriously isn't true of any of the Scary Movie films. Still, jokes take work, they must be built and drawn out of scenarios and characters, or at least have enough absurd incongruity that they take you by surprise. It's not inherently funny to just go "THIS THING. HA HA, AMIRIGHT?", and that's where Student Bodies spends a lot of its time.

The film tells of a murder spree that befalls the senior class at Lamab High shortly before prom: a peeping tom and prank caller identified as the Breather (Jerry Belson, one of the few cast members to have any kind of acting career outside of this one movie) is stalking and killing several of the hottest, most sexually active young woman in school, killing them and their boyfriends immediately after or immediately before they have sex. Suspicion immediately fall on the androgynously-named Toby (Kristen Riter), the most aggressively virginal girl in school (she wears a pin flatly stating "No"), but nobody in the community or the school takes a serious enough view of the murders to do much to stop it. Leaving Toby alone to actively investigate what the hell is going on in her weird little world of disturbed teachers and horrible students. And what the hell is going on descends into muddled surrealism during a sloppy, anything-goes final act: more, one suspects, because the movie was a jerry-rigged non-union project crapped out during a writer's strike (producer-directed Michael Ritchie had to hide behind the pseudonym "Allen Smithee", Belson took the name "Richard Brando" and received no credit for co-writing the script; co-writer Mickey Rose is credited as both sole writer and director), that needed to be resolved in a hurry, than because anybody involved in the making of it though that free-flowing Lynchian surrealism - not that "Lynchian" was a word yet - was clearly the way to go.

The casual incoherence and lack of stakes with which the story is presented is obviously the point; the filmmakers' way of poking fun at the paint-by-numbers slasher formula by depriving it of any actual content beyond scenes of people dying intercut with scenes of people waiting to die. What they choose to fill all that deadspace is where the problems and occasional triumphs occur: as a series of sarcastic jokes at the expense of a hackneyed genre, Student Bodies lives and dies on the strength of whether those jokes are funny. Frequently, as I've suggested, I find that they're not; and that's without pausing to mention the amount of basement-level scatological humor that crops up, a strange and unmotivated introduction into what claims to be a slasher parody. Certainly, a scene in which a corpse's farts propel its gurney out of a room like a rocket sled is not what any of us would naturally expect from a movie satirising the predictibility of Friday the 13th and its copycats. Almost as bad is the Breather: the slobbering, cartoon panting noises that give him his name are amusing enough in small doses, but then he has to open his mouth and start rattling off an ironic commentary on what's happening to him, in the shticky tones of a flailing Borscht Belt comic. It's irritating as hell, and not funny in the least, and the scenes that focus on the Breather tend to crush the fragile momentum of a film with far too indulgent, lanky pacing. And far too many random stop-offs for product placement, above and beyond anything that makes a micron of sense for a low-budget niche parody of a niche genre.

The film is far better off when it abandons parody, or even straightforward comedy, to go for full-throated absurdity; the best joke by far is a weird non-diegetic scene in which the bloodless, fully-clothed movie realises that nobody will see it if it's not rated R, and earns itself that rating. Most of the best peaks amidst the general mediocrity are similarly divorced from anything besides the impulse to be silly and strange: Toby's non-sequitur driven conversation with the school psychiatrist (Carl Jacobs), the scene that most feels like something out of the Airplane! school of ridiculous straight-faced nonsense, or almost anything to do with the rubber-limbed janitor Malvert, the most cultishly adored of all this cult movie's individual elements, mostly because of the irresistible mystery surrounding the identity of the actor playing him (he's credited as "The Stick", appeared in no other movies, and has been provisionally identified as the late Patrick Boone Varnell, who passed away in May, 1989). But there's such a disorienting sense of the completely otherworldly about Malvert, and the way that he's performed as a kind of hybrid of Charlie Chaplin and Jack Skellington, it's incredibly easy to find him fascinating, even if very little about him is "funny" funny. (The film's cult also adores the shop teacher, played by Joe Flood, and his obsession with horse head bookends, but I couldn't follow the cult anywhere near that running gag).

The bulk of the film, though, is a slog through broad potty and sex jokes, surface-level satire, and the misplaced conviction that being loud is the same as being funny. I am aware that Student Bodies has its enthusiastic fans, and I am happy for them, but for all the historical value of a parody that came out so early in the cycle of slasher films, helping us to identify exactly what was already being discussed around the genre in its earliest years, it's just not very enjoyable or funny. And those things are fairly vital for comedies.

Body Count: 13, and thanks to the movie for taking all the fun out of it for me. Also one fly, and one horse head bookend.

Conspicuously Placed Products: 7, with some of them - Dr. Pepper in particular - getting placed multiple times.