Screwballs (1983)

A daftly enjoyable high school comedy from director Rafal Zielinski. Severin US R1 DVD.

The Film

At Taft & Adams highschool in the 1950s, five students get sent to detention for posing as a doctor for breast exams, flirting in French class, pointing mirrors up girl's skirts, masturbating in a meat locker and getting tricked into walking in on the girl's locker room. They are set up by the school's prom queen, the chaiste Purity Busch and receive even more detention so they make it their mission that one of them will 'get with her' before the prom. Their elaborate plans from hypnosis to posing as a female dress maker are ultimately doomed to failure, so they plan an even more elaborate scheme that will expose Purity to the whole school...

One of the many film-makers who made his start with Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Jim Wynorski who had been working in marketing for Corman was assigned one of his first writing tasks here with the instruction to create an exploitation teen comedy to cash in on the impending release of Porky's (1982). Taking Corman at his word, Wynorski (co-writing along with actress Linda Shayne who also appeared in the film) stripped down this already rather loosely plotted genre into a simple succession of purile, sex related gags with nothing more than the most basic narrative and characterisation to string them together.

The sketches are pretty episodic and could easily work as a series of running gags on a TV sketch show - indeed this might have worked better as they do threaten to become somewhat episodic in places. Fortunately the film never outstays its welcome and manages to keep things interesting with a surprising amount of variation in the gags, even if some like the school secretary's stutter, become old very fast. Despite the almost continual focus of the storyline on sex and the presence of a lot of attractive women, it is far more tease than show and there are only a few brief topless shots - a scene where the characters visit a strip-club seems to be present in the film for nothing more than an excuse to increase the breast-count.

Director Rafal Zielinski does very good work and approaches the film from an appropriately cartoonish point of view, using sped-up footage and even on-screen text in places as well as some wonderfully over the top special effects to enhance the utter daftness of the script. Although hardly authentic, the 1950s setting looks as good as it needs to, as does the well populated high school. The soundtrack is fitting for the era, even if it does seem suspiciously like a Grease sound-a-like much of the time.

Although few of the cast seem to have many credits beyond this film, the acting is generally fine and certainly no-one stands out as bringing the quality down. Actor Peter Keleghan (Ginger Snaps (2000)) is probably the only recognisable face, while co-writer Linda Shayne gets some credit for writing herself some of the daftest scenes in the film.

Screwballs is a sex mad comedy with only glimpses of nudity and with episodic gags that only just stay above toilet level - but it is always daftly enjoyable and the completely stripped down storyline means we are never waylaid with gratuitous attempts at serious drama or politics. Fans of the 1980s teen comedies will certainly find plenty to enjoy here, although the sequel which copies most of the ideas from this film is preferable to anyone wanting more sexiness and nudity.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one well known.
Directed by anyone interesting? Rafal Zielinski - a Canadian director who worked on a number of budget comedies, including Police Academy rip-off Recruits (1986) but also directed some more serious works, including art-house film Fun (1994)
Anyone else involved? Jim Wynorski - script writer, later became a director with Chopping Mall (1986) and Storm Trooper (1998)
Roger Corman - the legendary producer and director behind hundreds of low budget exploitation films.
Any gore or violence? None
Any sex or nudity? A few, female topless shots although usually very brief.
Who is it for? Fans of the 1980s high school/college comedies will certainly enjoy this.

See Also:
Loose Screws: Screwballs II (1985) Director Rafal Zielinski returns to all but remake the original film but with a contemporary setting. With some surprisingly more effective gags and a lot more nudity, there is plenty to enjoy in this sequel.
Once Upon a Girl (1976) Screwballs is readily remniscent of this raunchy cartoon sex comedy.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print was transfered from a 16mm original and so is not the best quality with a general lack of detail and grain, but it is always watchable.
Audio English mono - some hiss but generally sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Rafal Zielinski along with moderators David Gregory and John Creegan - a light hearted discussion of the film and its making.
  • A series of very interesting interviews with:
    • Director Rafal Zielinski - 10 minutes
    • Co-writers Jim Wynorski and Linda Shane (who also starred) - 18 minutes
    • Actor Kent Deuters - 8 minutes
    • Gerald Lukaniuk who developed the film's special effects - 6 minutes
    • Film scholar Paul Corupe discussing Canadian exploitation films of the era - 7 minutes
    • Website writer Mr Skin discussing the 1980s sex comedies - 8 minutes
  • Deleted scenes - 12 additional scenes that were present on a Spanish VHS print of the film. These are mostly just unnecessary extra lines of dialogue trimmed from the original film for pacing and used here as padding to bring the film up to an acceptable c.90 minute length for overseas sales. Only one scene, 'Private Conference', adds anything to the film - a new scene between the Principal and Purity. There is also a slightly different version of the ending, without the on-screen credits or the close-up shots. There is no additional nudity in the deleted scenes which are in very low quality and with Spanish audio - optional English subtitles are provided for the lines of dialogue not present in the English language print. It is a pity that no commentary was recorded for the longer scenes to discuss why they were not retained in the final film.
  • Original theatrical trailer - in better quality than the film (probably from a 35mm print). Interestingly it includes a number of scenes in full colour that were night tinted in the final film.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Released in Germany by Marketing Film with German and English audio, but only a fullscreen print.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the American release, although some padding additional scenes were present on European versions (clips of these are included as a special feature, see notes above). The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 6th December 2010.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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