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Horror Parodies

Scary Movie poster art

I have to admit the trailer and TV spots for Dimension Films' "Scary Movie" have left me laughing. The filmmakers have wisely cast aimed their comedic sites far and wide to spoof not only the "Scream" and "Last Summer" teen chillers, but also recent genre hits like "The Sixth Sense", "The Blair Witch Project", and even "The Matrix" (although let's hope the jokes are better sustained here than those in Keenan Ivory Wayan's uneven parody of blaxploitation films, "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka", which earned a passing grade from yours truly for the goldfish in Antonio Fargas' platform shoes alone).

Of course, should "Scary Movie" prove to be another of those throwaway duds that feature all of the best gags in the trailer (National Lampoon's "Loaded Weapon", anyone?), it'll find itself in some mighty dubious company. As long as horror films have ruled the box office, there have been those eager to ride the wave by replacing the "yechs" of the day with "yucks" (sorry....too many issues of "Famous Monsters" as a kid <g>).

Of course, the Age Of Williamson is hardly the first time the "slasher" genre has reared its controversial head....and neither are attempts to take it down a peg. Here are some of the more notorious, and in many cases best-forgotten, examples:

"Student Bodies":

Student Bodies

1981, a full year after Paramount unleashed its inaugural "Friday The 13th" installment, and already, the genre was being primed for parody. Maybe writer/director Mickey Rose (who'd help pen Woody Allen's hilarious "What's Up Tiger Lily", "Take The Money And Run", and "Bananas") should've waited until Jason had killed a few more teenagers and offered up some more material for satire, because the gags here were (and remain) pretty thin. An inept psycho known as "The Breather" stalks the local teenage population (on that rare date when Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Jamie Lee Curtis' birthday all coincide), armed with paper clips, chalk board erasers, bookends...well, you can see where this is going. The modern miracle of the fast-forward button will help you get to the best jokes and have it back to the "return bin" in time for a full refund (note: MovieForum.com does not endorse such a practice, nor possesses any evidence that said practice will remotely work).

"Wacko"

Wacko

The year 1998 showcased two asteroid films in one year, and 2000 brings us rival "Mars" adventures, so is it any surprise that 1981 gave us warring slasher spoofs? Directed by Greydon Clark of "Satan's School For Girls" and "Without Warning" infamy, "Wacko" is a cheap-looking, leaden comedy that pits detective Joe Don Baker against 'the Lawnmower Killer". Notable only for one of the earliest appearances of Andrew "Dice" Clay and Letterman-semi-regular Jeff Altman, in addition to slumming vets George Kennedy, Charles Napier, and Stella Stevens. Few moviebuffs rejoiced a year later when Clark and Baker re-teamed for the "Porky's-in-a-video arcade" comedy "Joysticks". Yes, it's worse.

"Pandemonium":

A year later, in 1982, Alfred Sole decided to spoof a genre he'd help to inspire earlier with his indie classic "Alice Sweet Alice". Opening with a shishkabob murder at "It Had To Be U-niversity", "Pandemonium" shifts to present day when ambitious Bambi reopens the school as a cheerleader training camp. When the murders resume, Sgt. Reginald Cooper of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Tommy Smothers!), aided by his trusty talking horse, shows up to investigate, and of course, everyone is a suspect. As an added bonus, Cooper sings "Indian Love Call". This superior spoof is notable for early appearances by several comedians who would later go on to nab the spotlight in wildly varied careers. Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens (as Coopers' sidekick), the late Phil "Saturday Night Live" Hartman, Carol Kane (as a telekinetic teen ala "Carrie"), and Judge "Beverly Hills Cop" Reinhold all put in memorable turns, in addition to veterans Tab Hunter, Eve Arden (as a prison warden), Donald O'Connor (!), and Eileen Brennan. For trivia buffs only: the original title was "Thursday the 12th", but changed when the producers of "Saturday The 14th", a haunted house comedy starring Richard Benjamin, complained. Believe it or not, I found a copy of the out-of-print "Pandemonium" at my local neighborhood video store, where it's probably sat on the bottom of the "comedy" shelf since the early 1980s. Skip "Runaway Bride" to probe the lower depths and you too might come up lucky.

"National Lampoon's Class Reunion":

Same year, same subject, weaker jokes, despite the fact that it was written by THAT John Hughes, then one of the finest National Lampoon staff writers. This one features familiar faces Gerrit Graham ("Phantom Of The Paradise") and Stephen Furst ("Animal House") as ill-fated graduates of Lizzie Borden High, who reunite with their classmates of 1972 on the very night that Walter Baylor escapes from the local asylum bent--and I mean BENT--on revenge. Best remembered for a cameo by Michael Lerner as the resident psychologist/know-it-all, and a performance of "My Ding-a-ling" by Chuck Berry. Otherwise, best forgotten. I doubt you'll find this title on many resumes.

"Return to Horror High"

Return to Horror High

(1987) Yes, you asked the right question: "You mean, they were still MAKING slasher-films in 1987?". Well, no...not really, so you can imagine how resonant the jokes are here. An early attempt to mine the same serious/comedic horror terrain that "Scream" would do so much better years later, "Return to Horror High" is a light-hearted "whodunit" told in flashbacks, set on a location shoot for a low-budget horror potboiler inspired by a series of real-life local murders. Look out for TV vets Maureen McCormack of the original "Brady Bunch", Phil McKeon from "Alice", Alex Rocco (too many to mention), Vince Edwards from "Ben Casey", and none other than George Clooney, later of "The Facts Of Life" and some doctor program. McKeon and Clooney would later re-team for "Red Surf". Writer/director Bill Froehlich would never make another comedy. Now, you'll know why.

"Unmasked Part 25"

(1988) See above. Essentially a one-joke idea: what if Jason was a wimp full of self-doubt and fell in love. Wait a minute...wasn't Jason a wimp full of self-doubt to begin with, expressed through the business end of a hatchet, machete, spear gun, etc.? Surprisingly gory, this one may satisfy the Fango crowd but leave those seeking a few good laughs in the cold. Nothing here is as remotely funny as the climactic revelation that diminutive senior Betsy Palmer was the killer in the original "Friday The 13th", hauling the bodies of fully grown men into trees and hiding under creaky bedsprings to stick an arrow through Kevin Bacon's throat.

Of course, I'm forgetting "April Fool's Day", "There's Nothing Out There", "The Silence Of The Hams", even "Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff"-- if you REALLY want to broaden the definition of "slasher spoof". "Scary Movie" certainly has its job cut out for it (ouch!)--after all, how do you parody a film already as ridiculous as "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer"? Maybe remake it as a musical?...

- Robert L

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