Review Date: January 10, 2005
Released by: Elite
Release date: 10/9/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
By 1984, the slasher genre had reached a point of saturation and age where people were unsure of how to approach the genre. Was it time to start laughing at the conventions that everyone knew so well, or should the films still be approached seriously? Although the parody Student Bodies
came out in 1981 exposing all the conventions, filmgoers were still not ready to part with the ever prominent genre. Student Bodies
made 5 million dollars, and Halloween II
, also 1981, made 26 million. In 1981, even after the conventions had been exposed, fans still wanted their slashers serious and unaware. By 1984 though, with the market slowly drying up (despite the continued success of the established franchises like Friday the 13th
) filmmakers began to waveringly test the waters of self-mocking humor. Among the first was the early Troma effort, Splatter University
. How does the combination of comedy and horror pan out in this one? Let’s slash our way through Elite’s disc and find out.
The film begins in a mental institution, where a couple of clueless workers break all the rules of safety and logic. When the nurse goes unattended with a bunch of crazies, and the guard goes to check a bump in the closet, you just know bad things will happen. The guard gets his, and the patient escapes in his clothes. Cue credits and grating synthesizer music. The movie then picks up a few years later at St. Trinians College, where a professor works diligently at marking. She hears a noise, goes to investigate, and returns with about a quart less blood. Yes, she too has fallen victim to this concealed slasher…who will be next?
Back at St. Trinians, this time during “The Next Semester…Yesterday” as the mocking title card reads, enters the replacement teacher, Ms. Julie Parker (Francine Forbes
). She remains unaware of the incident until Father Janson (Dick Biel
) informs her of superstition and the murder. Parker is scared, but there would be no story if she didn’t stick in there long enough for the climactic face-off with the killer during the final reel. So she hangs around teaching sociology to a bunch of nitwits without any respect for social issues, teachers, or anything but themselves. When asked by a friend to share a cheat sheet for a test, one of the students responds “I’m not giving it away. What do you think I am, a communist?” Everyone is so self-obsessed and careless that they go on as if nothing happened when female bodies start showing up everywhere.
Meanwhile, Ms. Parker gets in a relationship with Mr. Hammond (Ric Randig
), unbeknownst that he may be a possible suspect in the murders. When one of Ms. Parker’s best students, Cathy (Kathy LaCommare
) winds up dead along with her stillborn child, Parker decides it is time to get out of there before she is next. She speaks to Father Janson, but quickly finds out that the killer is closer to her than she imagined. She tries to escape, but as with all slashers, the final girl must save the last dance for the killer, where the two engage in a tango of blood, where only one person comes out alive.
is surprisingly competent for a Troma film, although it is still no doubt hampered by a low budget. The writing, while many times stupid, is at times clever, and the film manages to push some of the slasher conventions to new limits. The way it sets up the Cathy character, with her long subplot about accidentally getting pregnant and considering abortion, is particularly effective. The Final Girl is usually characterized by her masculine attributes – her denial of sex, conservative dress, and androgynous facial features – and the way the film portrays Cathy, with her refusal to have sex after discovering her pregnancy, it makes her seem very much the Final Girl. Yet in a Psycho
inspired twist, she is killed midway through the film rather unexpectedly. The homage to Psycho
is completed by naming one of the priests Father (Anthony) Perkins. It manages to subvert convention and actually surprise.
Another strong facet of the writing is how the film uses slasher conventions to mock the church. Although Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil
would do a better job of infusing the slasher genre with a religious slant, Splatter University
still has some valid things to say. Its main point seems to be in the hypocrisy of the religious right, and how they speak out against sex and drugs, two slasher stalwarts, yet themselves indulge in them. One priest is renowned for having sex with his students late at night in class, while another secretly reads pornographic magazines. The elemental message of the slasher film is that no matter what kind of repressive measures society hands down, ultimately the beast in everyone will eventually come to surface. The repressed can only last so long before the paradigm collapses. So in combining the repressive tendency of the church with the sex and drugs punishment of the killer, the film manages to comment cleverly both on the church and the makings of the slasher genre itself.
Yet, despite the occasional bursts of cleverness, the film is ultimately marred down by Troma’s trademark self-mocking. The parts that are played seriously work well, but as soon as the film tries to give the wink or the nudge, it flounders. Initially, the inmates of the institution appear quite creepy, muttering to themselves and banging on dolls. Yet, the whole mood is disrupted when one picks his nose and eats it (Splatter First Grade
?) and while another pokes himself in the eye. The childish humor is painfully unfunny, and the aforementioned title cards are just as groan inducing. Half the actors take it serious, while the other half joke around, creating a very uncomfortable aura. The film never really commits to one side, straddling both comedy and horror, and ultimately succeeds at being little of either.
The ending is also a let down, as some key sequences have been neglected, leaving the story somewhat unanswered and the payoffs unpaid. The kills, while at times pretty gory, end up boringly repetitive, with the killer slashing the torso in a straight line almost every single murder. For a company that can think up a love story about a guy who falls in toxic, you’d think they could devise a few interesting kills. The fact that every victim is a woman, and that none of the characters seem to care, also gives this film an uncomfortable misogynistic slant. There is even a scene where, not so subtly, a woman literally becomes a piece of garbage. Even still, the film isn’t a complete bust – the writing is at times clever, and Francine Forbes gives a respectable performance – it kind of just languishes in mediocrity. Slasher fans will come out feeling indifferent, while those expecting the trademark Troma humor will come out likewise. It’s short running time, 79 minutes, makes it easy to take, but The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
is 71, so watch that instead, and use the extra eight minutes at your discretion.
Being a Troma film, Splatter University
bares the company’s distinctive look: it looks like shit. The film is overwhelmingly grainy, the only film with a constant snow in New Jersey. Not only is this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer ridden in grain, but it is also full of blemishes and other print imperfections. There is significant black out that happens throughout the film on the right side of the frame, and scratch lines are nearly as prevalent. The color balance is nearly as bad, as a few scenes suddenly acquire an orange tint for seconds at a time. This is most noticeable at the 1:01:45 mark. The film quite often also looks blurry, which can at time be a distraction. In short, this is like every other Troma film: atrocious to look at, but it still has its audience.
It’s mono, it’s Troma.
Given that this is an Elite disc, there are no elaborate DVD tours of Troma studios included. Instead, all we get are a couple of decent trailers.
Made at a time when the slasher genre was unsure of what direction it would take, Splatter University
wavers uncomfortably between seriousness and comedy, and ends up moderately entertaining at best. The video and audio are pretty poor, but no different than most of the stuff to come out of Troma. Extras are thin, so unless you gotta have all things Troma or slasher, pass on this for something better.
Movie - C
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C
Supplements - D
- Running Time - 1 hour 29 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono