SCREWBALLS: How The Quest For Breasts Leads To Social/Sexual Liberation

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Dec

If cinema ever had a masculine answer to the femme-oriented romantic comedy genre, it’s the teen sex comedy. They are almost always written and directed from a male perspective, offering a rowdy style of humor and catering to red-blooded hetero lust fantasies via their rotating collection of seduction-ready virgin queens, hot-to-trot bad girls and secretly sexy MILFs and teachers. More often than not, the horny young man is the center of the teen sex comedy universe and all its elements are geared to work in his favor – and by extension, that of its horny male audience.

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Most of the best teen sex comedies came out during the first half of the ’80s. American society was getting conservative in a variety of these ways during this era but the American film world was still enjoying a hangover of 1970’s style promiscuity. Political correctness was not a concern when it came to humor and nudity wasn’t a big deal. It was the kind of era when a viewer could rest assured that the female leads in a film would pop their tops before the end credits rolled.

The aforementioned conditions made the early ’80s the perfect time for the teen sex comedy. Filmmakers responded to this glorious permissiveness by unleashing an endless tide of jiggle & jokes that flowed freely at movie theaters and on pay cable t.v. stations. Everyone fond of this genre has their own list of personal favorites and a recurring item on virtually all those lists is Screwballs. This ’83 lust & laughs opus remains a go-for-broke smut classic that is renowned amongst genre fans as one of the wackiest and fleshiest teen sex comedies ever committed to celluloid.

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The script, penned by future straight-to-video kingpin Jim Wynorski and star Linda Shayne, takes place at Taft & Adams High (that’s right, T&A High). It’s interesting to note that the story exists in some sort of phantom nostalgic era where different decades cross paths: the clothes and cars says ’50s or early ’80s but the hairstyles lapse into the ’80s and a drive-in scene features a ’70s movie. This split-the-difference approach might be explained by the fact that producer Maurice Smith envisioned the film as a Porky’s ripoff but he and co-producer Roger Corman were only willing to offer up a b-movie budget. Thankfully, the blurred-eras nature of the film works in its favor, enhancing its carnal-fantasy aspects (and honestly reflecting its mix of influences).

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Screwballs also has a unique plot hook: simply, it’s a quest to see a pair of breasts. The breasts in question belong to Purity Busch (Linda Speciale), the school’s resident virginal teen-dream. She also happens to be a mean-spirited goody two-shoes who is out to make trouble for the film’s heroes: handsome hornballs Rick (Peter Kelghan) and Brent (Kent Deuters), nerd Howie Bates (Alan Daveau), portly masturbation obsessive Melvin Jerkovski (Jason Warren) and hapless new kid Tim (Jim Stevenson). Purity gets our heroic fivesome railroaded into detention during the opening reel and they vow revenge, making a bet to see who can either score with Purity first or at least see her naked.

What follows is a machine-gun barrage of lowbrow gags and bare breasts as the heroes stumble through an endless array of scams – hypnosis, special hiding places, impersonating female teachers, you name it. Some gags work better than others (the hypnotism scene doesn’t work well enough to justify the amount of time it gets) but the film’s sense of narrative drive ensures that it never lingers on any one moment long enough to get boring. Purity nimbly sidesteps each attempt but her luck can’t hold out forever, leading to an unforgettable finale set during a pep rally.

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The finished film takes its cues from Porky’s, Airplane! and old Archie comics as it tears through its storyline at blitzkrieg speed. Director Rafal Zielinski hits the ground running and never allows the pace to flag – even the end credits sequence roars past at breakneck speed. He digs into the slapstick and bawdiness with the kind of single-minded fervor usually associated with Benny Hill Show skits but pumps it up to an over-the-top level that is often overpowering. The sheer glee that the film takes in its sleaze-fantasy scenario is contagious and is likely to leave genre fans smiling.

It also helps that the script packs every corner of every frame with outrageous sight-gags and endless opportunities for the female cast members to drop their tops. Wynorski and Shayne throw everything they’ve got at the audience, keeping their plotting episodic enough to work in additional highlights like a visit to a drive-in and a strip club that features a dance routine by former Russ Meyer starlet Raven De La Croix. However, the piece de resistance may be a session of “strip bowling” that includes the film’s most insane sight gag (it’s too good to spoil, you gotta see it for yourself).

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Finally, it’s worth noting the presence of some socially progressive elements amidst all the smut. For starters, the film features a major female character – Bootsie Goodhead, endearingly essayed by co-writer Shayne – who is sexually liberated and is never portrayed as a dumb slut. She does what (and who) she wants on her own terms and is probably the happiest and most confident character in the whole movie. It’s also worth noting that the group of heroes is a likeably egalitarian crew: the handsome guys work on equal-rights basis with the nerd, the fat guy and the new kid… and they all get to romp with the ladies.

In short, Screwballs delivers boobs & gags a-plenty for smut-craving schlock fiends – but it also creates a perfect fantasy world that any heterosexual male’s inner 13 year-old would want to live in for all of eternity. You really can’t ask for more from a teen sex comedy – and if you’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying its tawdry charms, Severin has served up a new edition that reinforces their rep as the Criterion of carnality. The disc has received a crisp new anamorphic transfer that shows off the primary color scheme (and all the lovely, non-silicone breasts that it harbors) in high style.

However, the real draw here is a fine set of supplements that put this jigglefest into context for the inquiring exploitation fiend. For starters, there is a fun commentary track by director Rafal Zielinski (with Severin honcho David Gregory and John Cregan moderating). Zielinski reveals how he was a gun for hire from the indie-film world but threw himself into making the film as wild and cartoon-like as possible. The chatter mainly focuses on his approach to the material but it also includes the occasional nugget of trivia, like the revelation that actor Alan Daveau was actually gay despite his onscreen hetero-horniness. There’s even an intriguing story about the finale that will turn your perception of this hallowed sex-comedy moment on its ear.

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There’s also a wealth of interview segments. Zielinski is included but there are also chats with screenwriters Wynorski and Shayne, star Kent Deuters and FX man Gerald Lukaniuk. They’re all fun to listen to but Wynorski and Shayne take top honors: their comments on the scripting process are interesting and their repartee – a mixture of mutual respect and good-natured barbs – is downright endearing.

The cast and crew interviews are supplemented with input from students of exploitation cinema: Mr. Skin pays tribute to the film’s flesh quotient in the context of an ’80s teen sex comedy discussion and Canuxploitation’s Paul Corupe offers a scholarly yet witty breakdown of the film and its importance in Canadian exploitation-flick history. Overall, these supplements prove that even smut can have historical importance.

In short, if you want to explore the teen sex comedy genre, Screwballs is one of the necessary stops on that journey – and the Severin disc is a great way to get there.

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