Judge Christopher Kulik is more of a knuckleballer.
The nuts who always score…
Recently there's been a renaissance of sorts for early-1980s, teen sex comedies, with uncalled for DVD releases of Hardbodies and Spring Break. All of these films were produced for one reason: cash in on a little Canadian flick called Porky's, an unlikely monster hit back in 1982. Before the late John Hughes stepped in to put an end to the madness, it seemed like another one of these time-killers was entering theaters virtually every week. Of course, an occasionally mature effort like The Last American Virgin or Secret Admirer would pop up from time to time, but the primary goal of this genre was to show as much boobage as possible.
None of those films sunk lower than Screwballs, a flagrantly absurd movie produced by schlock-meister Roger Corman. This is a film which almost defies serious criticism, as it's about as subtle as a rainfall of billiard balls. It has all the elements of the genre you'd expect, such as horny teenagers, busty cheerleaders, phallic imagery, sexual hijinx, and a complete lack of skill and sagacity. Naturally, it made a decent profit at the box office, particularly in Europe, and it's now labeled as the sleaziest teen sex comedy of them all. Well, I can't disagree with that, as it makes American Pie look like Rain Man.
Facts of the Case
Stop me if you've heard this one before. The film is set at Taft & Adams (T&A for short) High school in the 1950s. Five guys (a nerd, a jock, a richie, a newcomer, and an a fat guy) have all been sent to detention for doing such things as a moderating a breast exam for freshman girls and masturbating in the meat freezer. All are now facing a week in detention, thanks to being set up (more or less) by the virginal Purity Busch (Linda Speciale, Breaking Bad), who has a penchant for humiliating her male peers. As revenge, the guys wager to see who will be the first see Purity's hallowed breasts.
Screwballs is beyond bad. It's an unapologetically over-the-top, fiercely cartoonish farce with some of the most ludicrous scenarios ever put on celluloid. Take the scene where the nerd uses hypnotism to unveil Purity, by means of a gigantic rubber hot dog which he ties to the diving board in the school pool. Unfortunately, he misses his target and ends up being caught by an entire gym class full of girls, who proceed to put him in his place. Then there is the moment where the richie drives the newcomer to Purity's house to get her while sleeping, but ends up humping her horny mother after walking into the wrong bedroom. The boys force the fat guy to bury himself in the sand and try to get a look at Purity by means of a straw acting as a periscope. Oh, yes, the boys actually take a break to play "strip bowling" with some of the cheerleaders, leading to a bowling ball getting stuck on the nerd's anatomy. Don't even ask me how he manages to get it off.
Filmed on the cheap in Toronto, and directed by a Polish filmmaker who applied a Eastern European flavor to the interminable gags, Screwballs actually stands out from the teen-sex genre. Running at a mere 78 minutes, the film has no time for sentiment or poignancy. Plus, even though the film is set in the 1950s, it would be impossible for anybody to find it nostalgic because of its overly raunchy, 1980s sensibilities. Without question, the film exists in some kind of time warp. There's old time rock 'n roll songs, vintage songs, and somewhat authentic clothing mixed in with pornography, strip shows, nudie magazines, sex shops, and cheerleaders more than willing to shed their tops. Indeed, the film is utterly incomprehensible from beginning to end, only determined to figure out as many ways as possible to show boobs. And, yes, there are a lot of boobs, making Screwballs a personal favorite of Mr. Skin, who calls it the "essential epic of horny high school kids."
The film was written by Jim Wynorski—an exploitation vet whose brought us such erotic fare as The Witches Of Breastwick—and Linda Shayne, who has a pivotal role in the movie as Bootsie Goodhead. Basically, Corman recruited them to study Porky's and make a variation for the same market. What they delivered was a teen sex comedy with an outrageously spoofy attitude, making this more of a send-up than a typical genre effort. They incorporate some truly off-the-wall one-liners, many of them included in the drive-in sequence. For example, two couples are out on a double date, and one girl tells the other, "Don't look now, but I think John is masturbating!" The other girl is disgusted and demands her to tell him to stop. The girl then says, "I can't…he's using my hand!" If you find this funny, then chances are you'll enjoy the whole movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's easy to trash Screwballs for everything it shows and represents. Yet, the truth is it's actually one of the better Porky's rip-offs, if only for its sheer audacity and "do-anything-for-a-laugh" vibe. I would be lying if I didn't say I emitted a few chuckles, mostly at the aforementioned drive-in sequence and a completely preposterous moment when the jock dresses up like the home economics teacher to measure the girls for their homecoming dresses. The cast is joyful and game throughout, and I must credit Shayne for her delightful willingness to do anything and everything. She's easily the best thing the movie, both in her chirpy nature and, um, other attributes. Russ Meyer fans will also get a kick out of seeing Raven De La Croix (Up!) do a striptease for the leads.
I must take my hat off to Severin for going all out with this DVD release. Well, almost. The 1.66:1 anamorphic print sports dull colors, lots of dirt and grain, and a fuzziness which reveals its low-budget in every aspect. The all-important flesh tones are not bad, but some scenes suffer from skin redness. Black levels are decent, but nothing to shout about. I'm sure Severin did all they could with the print, considering the poor source, but it's still a decidedly mediocre image. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with the Bop songs given enough attention and dialogue is discernable more often than not. The numerous sound effects, including the library erections (don't ask), come through just fine. There are no subtitles (except for the deleted scenes), and the disc is region-free, just in case you want to ship it to Abu Dhabi once you're done with it.
However, a wealth of bonus features makes one forget about the tepid A/V details. As David Knell, star of Spring Break, told me in response to my review, "it's a crime when a film—no matter what quality—is released without extras." Severin has elevated Screwballs to special edition status, and even gave the film a Blu-ray treatment (more on this later). First, we have a commentary with director Rafal Zielinski, who is joined by Severin masterminds David Gregory and John Cregan. In a word, it's hilarious, full of jokes, production info, and enthusiasm. Zielinski doesn't remember a lot from the production, but he does cover the shoot and locations to the best of his knowledge. The director also gives a separate interview which runs about 11 minutes. Next up is a selection of deleted and extended scenes which were only available via a low resolution capture of the original Spanish VHS release. Separate disclaimers cite the god-awful quality of these scenes, yet Severin decided to add them for the "high historical value." They have also thankfully included English subtitles so we could understand the dialogue.
The rest of the extras are comprised of interviews, and all are worth jumping into. The best one is provided by Wynorski & Shayne, as they have nothing but fond memories of the experience and were pleased with the film's reception. Their interview is also the longest, at 18 minutes. We also get to hear comments from star Kent Deuters (who plays the richie Brent), and special FX artist Gerald Lukaniuk, as well as Canuxsploitation expert and retired DVD Verdict Judge Paul Corupe. Finally, we have Mr. Skin himself (yes, he actually shows his face!), along with his head writer "McBeardo," talking about the film and other sex comedies of the '80s. Both obviously have a lot of affection for the genre, especially since they spent a lot of hours "fast forwarding" to the money shots back in the good 'ol days of VHS. They also amusingly joke about the uneven period detail of Screwballs, and how much they love the names of the characters.
Originally, Severin was to release Screwballs on DVD and Blu-ray. However, the latter has been delayed indefinitely. I know this because I ordered a copy to put out in the movie/music stores I work at. So, just to give all the fans a heads up, they may want to wait a little longer to get the film in high-def.
Guilty of being monumentally stupid.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.