Screwballs

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Screwballs

Interviewed for the features-loaded new DVD of the post-Porky’s hit Screwballs,  “Canuxsploitation” scholar Paul Corupe refers to the film as “the Third Man of ’80s sex comedies”—an assertion that isn’t as outrageous as it sounds. Just as audiences spent a good part of The Third Man waiting for Harry Lime, Corupe reasons, drive-in horndogs also fervently awaited the comeuppance of campus tease Purity Busch (Linda Speciale), who lives to drive the boys crazy while flaunting her moral rectitude. Lime’s first appearance is one of the great entrances in movie history, yet in its own ultra-crude way, Screwballs’ big payoff is equally majestic. It’s also the perfect capper to a movie about high-school boys who go to extraordinary lengths to ogle, caress, and generally worship the ample boobage on view at T&A (that’s Taft & Adams) High. And as is standard in ’80s sex comedies of this stripe, they’re willing to endure no end of sexual humiliation to do it.

Produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures as a quick cash-in on the Porky’s phenomenon, Screwballs has a strange innocence that sets it apart from other after-hours cable fodder of its ilk. Some of it comes from Canadians trying to recreate American high-school life in the ’50s and getting every last detail wrong, from minor period slip-ups like a small-town sex shop to an open, cavalier sexuality that’s 30 years and a cultural revolution away. (Unless our parents failed to tell us about bikini cheerleading and “strip bowling.”) But Screwballs’ main appeal comes from its often hilariously Byzantine pranks and schemes: A network of surveillance mirrors to catch a brief under-the-stairs view, a combination pulley/PA system that draws scantily clad cheerleaders into a state of mass hypnosis, a fake bomb scare that allows a cross-dressing guy to take a nurse’s place on “freshmen breast-exam day.” And that’s all mere throat-clearing compared to the Purity Busch defrocking.

Director Rafal Zielinski claims to have modeled Screwballs after Archie comics, and that cartoonish naïveté makes his film fun where the vast majority of ’80s sex comedies look smug and leering. There certainly are labored stretches and groan-inducing gags, but between the suggestive names (Melvin Jerkovski, Bootsie Goodhead, Principal Stuckoff), the deliberately broad characterizations (the Richie Rich type carries his tennis racket everywhere he goes), and the air of unbridled permissiveness, the film feels about as wholesome as a T&A-fest could possibly be. It makes a strong case for being the definitive work of a disreputable subgenre.

Key features: Severin Films calls itself “the Criterion of smut,” and it proves the point by giving this film the Criterion treatment, with new interviews with the cast, crew, the aforementioned Canuxsploitation expert, and the founder of Mr. Skin; a commentary track with Zielinski and two Severin moderators; and a wealth of deleted scenes.