Saturday, January 24, 2015

Census Bloodbath: Back To Back To Skull - Day 5

Year: 1984
Director: Richard W. Haines
Cast: Forbes Riley, Rick Randig, Dick Biel
Run Time: 1 hour 18 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Splatter University, one of the most enticingly-named college slashers thus far, had the misfortune of coming out during the subgenre's first tragic death. It's not like the film was ever going to be any good (especially being distributed by Troma, the patron saint of intentionally bad filmmaking), but a straightforward campus slashfest was exactly what the market had far too much of by this point in the decade.

The MPAA and angry parent organizations had been making overtures at shutting down the slashers for years and their great victory seemingly came when Paramount decided to (very temporarily) lay to rest their biggest cash cow with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter in April. The format was quickly rejuvenated in November with the cinderblock-smashing hit A Nightmare on Elm Street, but a film waving its flag for the splatter genre during those few months was pretty much guaranteed to be DOA.

It also doesn't help that the movie's crap, but that's irrelevant.

Splatter University details the exploits of Julie Parker (Forbes Riley), a new professor at St. Trinian's University. Although her cheerful demeanor seems unimpeachable, her resilience is challenged by a loudly disinterested sociology class, headmaster (? I don't know, it's a Catholic college) Father Janson's (Dick Biel) resistance against her discussion of controversial topics, and - oh - an escaped lunatic mowing down sexually promiscuous women on campus. As she and her coworker Cynthia (Laura Gold) investigate the identity of the culprit, she begins to suspect that her new boyfriend Mark (Ric Randig) may be behind the serial murders.

Also, because adults aren't nubile enough to keep your typical slasher fan invested (especially during the genre's autumnal decline), there's a heaping helping of useless teen Meat generously dumped across the film. Many of these scenes were filmed a year after initial production to pad out the run time, which was barely over an hour in the original cut. That should tell you all you need to know about Splatter University, which feels lopsided thanks to having another, entirely separate, teen film roughly wedged between its frames.

Far too many of these unnecessary teens fail to die, but the important ones include Doreen (Joanna Mihalakis), an unpleasant girl who's always running off to do homework; Tony (George Seminara), Doreen's boyfriend and a business major getting his start early by selling prescription drugs; Wolf (Sal Lumetta), a horny bastard who got his nickname from his penchant for howling or maybe vice versa; Kathy (Kathy LaCommare - and we're at the point where the screenwriters were so lazy they didn't even think of new names), an edgy girl with a mullet on her head and a bun in the oven; and Denise (Denise Texeira), this film's designated 80's Ambassador with studded fingerless gloves and hair that increases in diameter with every scene she's in.

After she dies, the hair subsumes her body and skitters away into the sewers.

Several storylines are relatively unique to the slasher genre, like the pregnant quasi-heroine (used rather infrequently, though notably in several early efforts) or the exploration of the ins and outs of campus politics. I'd shudder at the thought that you might infer that Splatter University has anything valuable to say about these topics (other than the fact that pretty much all extremist conservatives are one R-rated movie away from becoming knife-wielding psychopaths), but their presence is valuable nonetheless.

This is comforting because the plot at large is perfunctory and extremely disjointed, to the point where half of the deaths are never even mentioned again after they occur. And the central mystery is a dry little crackerjack, wetted only by some of the kills, which are of a piece ineptly executed but gooey enough to provide some of the charnel house thrills that slasher films thrive on. But there's no point beating around the bush, most of Splatter University is just plain bad.

Between ceaseless, bleating repetitions of the one surf rock song the filmmakers could afford to include on the soundtrack, there are frequent and irksomely lengthy fades to black that feel like they belong to a TV movie. This at least matches the tone of the performances, which are sub-informercial quality. Unfortunately there are no truly memorable bad line readings like in yesterday's Pieces, but Forbes Riley's insistent refusal to pronounce "Mark" any way other than "Mork" does cheer one up.

Cut her some slack. She teaches sociology, not English.

Also, random extras linger in the background just watching the actors as they "perform." It's by far the creepiest part of the film.

So. Splatter University's deficiencies are impossible to overlook. And with any other film displaying similarly dismaying construction, I might suggest just chucking your Netflix DVD in the garbage and telling them you never received it in order to save future customers the pain of queueing it out of morbid curiosity. But Troma chose to distribute the film for a reason and it has one saving grace. The notoriously zany tone of the company's productions isn't present here in spades, but Splatter University is so brief that it's kind of pleasantly daffy and has some moments of genuine, sparkling humor.

Some moments are just quietly strange, like the title card of the post-prologue scene which reads "the next semester yesterday..." But a surprising many of the film's nutty idiosyncrasies cause legitimate, unironic laughter. Moments like the morbid landlady Mrs. Bloom (Mary Ellen David) telling the story of a previous tenant's poisoning, or a handful of the teens' one-liners ("Did you hear Cathy was killed at the drive-in?" "No sh*t! What was playing?") are authentically delightful.

Of course, a couple grim-faced japes aren't enough to recommend a movie as thoroughly shoddy as Splatter University, but at least it tries. And - most importantly - it's short. It's hard to hate a movie that's already over. So with that scant praise, I leave Splatter University and wish you a happy tomorrow. Send me good wishes over my last first weekend of homework!

Killer: [Father Janson (Dick Biel)]
Final Girl: Julie Parker (Forbes Riley)
Best Kill: Doreen is sliced across the forehead, which is certainly creative and evidently very effective.

Sign of the Times: When Tony asks John if he could borrow an exam he's copying he says he would never give one away for free because he's not a Communist.
Scariest Moment: Julie helps students open a locked closet, only to discover the corpse of her best friend inside.
Weirdest Moment: The most famous person in the film is the girl on the poster (Elizabeth Kaitan of Friday the 13th Part VII and Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2), who doesn't appear in a single frame.
Champion Dialogue: "My stupid teacher got killed. What a pain in the ass."
Body Count: 8; although it feels like much, much less.
  1. Doctor McDouchebag is stabbed in the crotch.
  2. Janet Phillips is stabbed in the boob.
  3. Doreen is sliced on the forehead.
  4. Cathy has her throat slit.
  5. Cynthia is generically killed offscreen.
  6. Margaret is stabbed in the gut.
  7. Denise is stabbed in the mouth.
  8. [Julie is stabbed in the back and filleted.
TL;DR: Splatter University is a terrible slasher movie, but is slightly redeemed by a genuine sense of humor.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1223

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