Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Census Bloodbath: Animal House Of Death

Year: 1982
Director: Michael Miller
Cast: Gerrit Graham, Michael Lerner, Fred McCarren
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Historically, slasher parodies haven't exactly been great. Student Bodies and Pandemonium have their moments, but they're too close to the material, having come out smack dab in the middle of the slasher golden age. It took a more delicate satirical bent and years of distance for anything successful to come from the genre, in the form of 1996's Scream and 2006's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Nevertheless, I was still hopeful when I threw on National Lampoon's Class Reunion. National Lampoon movies aren't always gems in the cinema firmament, but it's at least at trusted comedy brand reasonably fresh off their mega-hit Animal House. And hey, the script was an early entry by none other than John Hughes, King of the 80's Teen!

Yeah, this seems... squarely in his wheelhouse.

There's such a thin wisp of a plot here, it would take an expert paleontologist to excavate it, so let's just Meet the Meat, the attendees of Lizzie Borden High's ten-year reunion of the Class of 1972: Bob Spinnaker (cult fave Gerrit Graham of Phantom of the Paradise and Child's Play 2), the organizer of the event and a spineless coward who wants to seem completely cool, collected, and elegant; Gary Nash (Fred McCarren), a kind but bland man who absolutely nobody remembers; Bunny Packard (Miriam Flynn, who held a recurring role in the Vacation movies, but most importantly played Maa the sheep in Babe), the poisonously chipper Nametag Chairperson; the lecherous boor Hubert Downs (Stephen Furst); the shrill blind girl Iris Augen (Mews Small), and her name is possibly the subtlest joke in the movie - Augen is German for "eyes"; and Delores Salk (Zane Buzby), who sold her soul to the devil to cure a physical disability.

This class is sporadically hunted by the crazed killer Walter Baylor (Blackie Dammett), who was the victim of a cruel prank back in high school that led him to be institutionalized. He dresses in a paper bag and schoolgirl outfit and kills very few of them, mostly offscreen, in uncreative ways.

You know, like how slasher movies do.

There are a lot of comedy movies out there that are just a loose string of sketches helps together by frayed scraps of plot. And those movies can be successful, if those sketches are funny. But Class Reunion is not only not funny, it even lacks the structure to maintain a joke for more than thirty seconds. Rather than sketches, it's composed of shards of comedy shrapnel that clatter onto the ground, spraying in all directions. These bits can be loosely categorized into a couple underwhelming categories. 

First, there's the gags that have aged impossibly harshly, like a trans joke that thinks it's high-larious to put a man with a mustache in a wig. End of joke. (I wouldn't go so far as to say a trans joke wouldn't happen today, because I'm not that optimistic about the state of things at the moment, but we certainly have enough of a baseline understanding in 2018 that it at least wouldn't happen in the same way.)

Second, we have the random detours into scenes that just shouldn't take place in a slasher movie, ha ha! Isn't it inherently funny that three women randomly start singing a full production number of "Stop in the Name of Love" for two full minutes? Prepare your knees for the slapping of a lifetime when a dime store Cheech and Chong wander their way through every other scene in a stoney baloney haze! These scenes sure are random, but they forgot to actually put any jokes in them.

Third and finally (well not quite final, but I'm tired of thinking too hard about these gags), we have the random horror tropes that have been thrown into a bag and dumped across the screen. Now this isn't exactly unfamiliar territory, because I've seen more than my fair share of _____ Movie entries in the mid-2000's. But I will always maintain that a parody is keener and sharper if you dig deep into traps and clich√©s of the specific subgenre your story is rooted in. The virginal Final Girl in Student Bodies wearing a button on her bra that says "No!" will always be funnier than the characters here who can breathe fire because of the Devil (?) and the one who's just a vampire for no particular reason. It's too unfocused, and its inconsistencies make every aspect of its attempted parody fall flat.

Not that this film also needed a Comic Relief Blind Person, but we can't go around expecting TOO much from National Lampoon.

Before we go further, I should admit that I did laugh a couple of times. No parody this chronologically close to Airplane! could fail to have at least one bizarre linguistic misunderstanding ("I'm really wet!" "Where?"), which always get me. Plus, there's one (and only one) line that seems aware of what a slasher movie actually is: "You can't go out there! You're a girl! You'll twist your ankles!" 

There's also no arguing against the fact that Miriam Flynn as Bunny Packard is singularly terrific. She plays what is essentially the peppy Camryn Manheim character from Romy and Michele, only with a strong undercurrent of insincere, passive-aggressive snarkiness that she wields like a charming dagger. She's the only character with more than one layer, and each of them is an amazing bit of comic performance that this movie doesn't deserve one bit.

But here's the fact I keep being forced to reckon with. National Lampoon's Class Reunion doesn't seem to have seen any slasher movies or have any particular desire to be one. It pulls its punches every chance it gets, only show one of its paltry four deaths onscreen, and patiently refusing to kill characters that directly wander into stalk-'n-slash setups, like the blind girl who follows her seeing-eye dog into the school's dark hallways, wanders around for an excruciatingly long time, at one point even encounters the killer, and then returns to the rest of the movie unharmed. It's not like this shrill, insensitive character was so necessary to the comic material that we couldn't get rid of her!

These things just keep happening. Time dilates excruciatingly slowly for an 80 minute movie, returning again and again to subplots that go nowhere and kills that don't turn out to be kills. It skips from scene to scene with alacrity, rushing as if it has somewhere to go, which it patently does not. It's a scatterbrained wreck of a movie, and is by far the worst slasher spoof I've ever seen, which is saying something because I've sat through a lot of the godforsaken things.

Killer: Walter Baylor (Blackie Dammett)
Final Girl: N/A - the movie doesn't even get this right
Best Kill: Not F**king Applicable
Sign of the Times: The word "feminist" is understood to be an insult.
Scariest Moment: The annoying Hubert reveals that he wasn't actually killed when he was hit in the head with a hammer, and continues to be in the rest of the movie.
Weirdest Moment: When the vampire character talks, he flexes his entire scalp.
Champion Dialogue: "My father didn't spend all that money to keep me out of Vietnam so I could die here in my own high school!"
Body Count: 4
  1. Milt is garroted.
  2. Mrs. Tabazooski is killed offscreen, presumably with a chainsaw.
  3. Jeff and
  4. Cindy are killed so far offscreen it's not even implied what weapon was used. 
TL;DR: National Lampoon's Class Reunion is an execrable example of post-Airplane parody doldrums.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1283

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