Unlike some of the other films I've reviewed on this blog, "The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse" (1977) is easy to find (released on DVD by cult video label Shriek Show a few years ago). I've read it did decent business for an independent feature when it was initially released in theatres, and it has built up a bit of a cult following in recent years. One of the aspects that is often commented on is how it shifts gears several times, starting as a frat boy comedy (hitting theatres one year before "Animal House", and subsequently re-released to capitalize on National Lampoon's success), then switching to drama and suspense further in. I think this is not something the filmmakers were able to pull off skillfully or convincingly.
I imagine this refusal to stick to one genre made it a hard film to market, seeing as it was released under at least 3 different titles (the other two being "The Hazing" and "Here Come the Delts"). In the poster, we see an illustration of the another aspect of the movie that I had a problem with.
Like I did last entry, I want to point out the name CMS is credited under: this will be the last time you see Charles credited as "Charlie". I'm guessing this was filmed before the "Grizzly Adams" episode where the switch occurred from using Charlie to the more mature-sounding Charles (UPDATE: I was mistaken here. Charles is credited as Charlie one more time. See 11/10/12's entry). In this screencap just above the "Smith", you can see the main character of our story, newly arrived college freshman Craig Lewis (East), running a quick lap around the track. From the bleachers, 3 other students watch him intently: Rod (Brad David) and Phil (Jim Boelsen) and an additional fratboy who is never named.
After the coach informs Craig that he's been awarded a scholarship, the 3 fratguys approach him when he's alone. They express interest in having him join their fraternity (The Delts), and they hand him an invite to their first pledge party. As the frat fellas walk away, Phil turns to Rod. "I forgot they built them that straight," he quips. "Just have to live with it," Rod replies knowingly. "He's even better than we hoped for." Between the sassy chatter and the bitchy cackle the three of them share, the whole thing starts to take on a decidedly gay tone (one student flat-out calls them fags later in the film). What could they possibly have in mind?
Craig shows up at the party. He avoids the crowd of cool kids on the dancefloor and the couches crammed with close-to-copulating couples and heads straight for the food table. As he load up his plate with chow, a handsome young guy (CMS) shows up at his shoulder. "You're Lewis the jock," he says as he offers his hand for a shake. "I'm Barney Askin the brain." What are you Askin' for, I wonder to myself. 'Cuz I know what I'd like to give you. "Actually I'd prefer to be known as the stud," Barney adds. "But unfortunately all my talent's in the wrong end." As he continues his self-deprecating chat, I find it surprising that we're supposed to believe Barney is failing in his search for sex when he's actually the cutest guy in the whole damn movie!
Just as Barney asks Craig if he is seriously considering joining the Delts, Rod strolls up and joins the conversation. Barney plays hard to get and acts unimpressed by the party, causing Rod to make an offer to him and Craig: give the Delts a week to show what their fraternity can offer that the other ones can't. "Go ahead," Barney grins. "Woo us!"
After helping Craig skip to the head of the long line of students waiting to buy textbooks, the next display of the helpful hand of the Delts involves taking Craig and Barney down into the bowels of the campus: the computer room! There they are introduced to JoJo Gellar (Gordon Metcalfe), who runs the university computers and was also the House Treasurer at the Delts in '72. Rod hands him the schedules of the classes that his two accompanying pledges wanted to have this semester. "Give me approximately 96 seconds," Gellar replies smugly as he slowly saunters over to an old dot matrix printer and stares at printouts for about 30 seconds. Hurry up dude, you've wasted a 1/3 of your time and now you've only got a minute to do this!
Somehow this intense computer work must look impressive to the pledges, who seem ready to give up the other potentials and go with the Delts. As Gellar finally makes a move (he hits a button and shuts off the printer), Rod turns to them with a satisfied smirk. Meanwhile, I'm a little disappointed to see CMS had his glasses on (I'm always a sucker for the sight of that), only to take them off after just a moment or two. Awww...
Craig starts to have second thoughts when he talks to his brother Carl (David Hayward) over the phone. It ends up that in the Vietnam protests on campus back in 1970, a Delt threw a bag of piss at a protest march that Carl was in. An ugly brawl broke out, resulting in Carl getting kicked out of school and the Delts loosing their charter for a year. Carl offers a word of warning to his younger brother, hoping that the Delts don't know of their relation or there could be big trouble ahead.
Craig is sitting under a tree, studying a textbook and munchling on an apple, when Barney plops down next to him. He reaches over and plucks the apple from Craig's hand. "Do you mind?" he asks. Before he can answer, Barney interjects: "If you say yes, you're in deep trouble. In the face of rejection, I cry." Aw, no! We can't have that! So Barney starts munching on the partially eaten apple, while making jokes about being available for "supplemental stud service" and "giving free samples on weekends." How exciting! Almost as exciting as seeing CMS start the scene in glasses again, but once again they come off almost immediately. Damn, what a tease...
Gosh, even if they're supposed to be talking about "chicks", the movie's feeling a bit gay again, what with Craig sitting there with his legs all spread open wide, seeming to express no interest in meeting any girls while Barney chews on his fruit. But the tone gets a bit serious when the upcoming fraternity initiation is mentioned. "It can't be that bad," Craig says. "Can't it?" Barney asks ominously before abruptly getting up and leaving. At least he's nice enough to give the half-eaten apple back.
Woo hoo! It's frat pledge initiation time! Rod and Phil have gathered a group of hopefuls in their van and taken them up into the mountains. As they near their first stop, Phil reaches into a paper bag and pulls out their pledge uniform: a handful of jock straps! "Strip!" Rod orders them, as Phil prepares to hand out the athletic supporters. Did I already point out how gay this movie sometimes seems?
Here it is even more blatant: "Small, medium, or large?" Phil asks with a sassy lisp and a slightly seductive smile. When Barney asks the mountaintop temperature, he is told it's close to freezing. "Better make it a small," Barney responds sheepishly. Unfortunately we don't get to see the pledges get changed into their "uniforms". Soon, the van comes to a stop and Barney and Craig are ordered to climb out the back door.
Charles Martin Smith in a jockstrap! Woo hoo! How awesome is that? Unfortunately the cinematographer keeps arranging the shot with nerdy boy Barney off to very edge of the frame, while supposed-to-be sexy Craig takes position closer to the center of the image. So awesomeness gives way to my frustration. I guess someone behind the scenes thought no one would be wanting to get a good look at goofy-guy Charlie and the audience would much rather be oggling pretty-boy Jeff East. Well, they thought wrong. So I've cropped the other actors out of this particular sequence so your attention can be brought to what the filmmakers would not acknowledge: Charles Martin Smith is the sexiest man alive. For starters, we get a peek from the side of CMS's beautiful behind. His nicely muscled legs are looking pretty darn sexy too!
Down in the valley at the base of the mountain is the lodge the Delts have rented for the weekend. All they have to do is run 5 miles down the slope to it's safety and warmth, wearing nothing but their jocks and shoes. And they'd better hurry and get there before the sun goes down and it gets REALLY chilly.
"I don't think I can do it," Barney stammers nervously. "You will if you want to be a Delt," Rod counters coldly and walks away, leaving the two shivering students to themselves. I'm stopping for a moment to notice how tasty shirtless Charlie looks here. That patch of fur on his belly is particularly pleasing, I must say. MUCH more impressive to me than smooth & hairless Jeff East.
The two of them debate whether to take the highway back to the lodge instead, but that would be a significantly lengthier trip. "I'll never last 9 miles," Charlie protests through chattering teeth. "Let's try it down the mountain. It looks easy enough," he suggests as he warms his benumbed buttcheeks by rubbing his hands over them again. Sadly, I'm not able to see it since this action happens to be cut off by the bottom of the frame. What a lovely sight that would have been...
Rod breaks their indecisive hesitation by shouting at them to get a move on. With that, Barney takes off running, Craig following close behind. The film cuts to a long shot of them running down the mountain, too far away to make out any details (like how nice someone's ass looks when he's running). I should point out here that I've read a post on IMDb by someone who says he was attending the college while this was being filmed, and he claims that students from Northern Arizona University's drama department were recruited to be body double/stand ins for CMS and Jeff East (who presumably didn't want to be seen nude in the film). I find some aspects of this claim to be questionable.
I would agree the long-shots taken from a distance are very likely to be body doubles. However, there are no less than 6 separate shots where you see Jeff East's exposed ass, almost all of them involve his turning around and showing his face. The first one is when Craig trips and falls, taking a tumble and showing his behind as he flips over. Nope, definitely not a body double there. Barney turns to see if his friend is alright and we get a split-second glimpse of his gorgeous gluteus, once again only from a side view. Unfortunately brief, but I'll take what I can get.
"What happened?" Barney asks him when he catches up. "Tripped over something," Craig replies, looking like he's really in pain as he rubs the wrist he landed on (in the DVD commentary, East says he really did hurt his hand when they filmed this scene). "Probably my wang. It froze and fell off," Barney laughs, and takes off running down the slope again.
The pair stop when they hit a dirt road, which Craig thinks he recognizes from the van ride up. I'm noticing that although the 2 actors don't seem to be using stand-ins, they do seem to alternate between far away camera placements for the full-body shots and close-ups that stop at the waist. So perhaps either the actors or the filmmakers really didn't want to shoot a scene that was too revealing. So much for the "adult entertainment" the poster promised, huh? What we're left with is still pretty hot, in my opinion.
Craig thinks they should try taking the road back to the highway and get to the lodge that way, but Barney disagrees and insists they keep heading straight down the mountainside, and he runs off again before Craig has a chance to reply. At least I had another chance to momentarily admire Charlie's finely furred torso.
Although the audience sees Jeff East's butt half a dozen times, there is only one shot of Charles Martin Smith's tush that is not a side-view. Barney starts to pick up speed and shout out, "I'm losing my brakes!" and he begins to flail his arms and panic, making it hard to get a good screen cap that isn't all fuzzy with motion-blur. There is one single shot following him as he runs by, but it is only from the waist down. Careful freeze-framing reveals a few tantalizing glimpses of his perfect posterior. That is... IF it actually is his perfect posterior. I haven't failed to notice that while East isn't afraid to turn around in a shot and show the camera what he's got going on in the back, Charlie seems a bit reluctant to do the same. Nowhere in this particular shot do you also see Charlie's face. Reading that IMDb post planted a small seed of doubt and made me wonder if perhaps a body double WAS used at some point. I don't know... I am more inclined to think that the beautiful bubble butt you see above does indeed belong to CMS, since it does strongly resemble the one on display in his controversial nude scene in "Never Cry Wolf" several years later.
Craig can't keep up and lags way behind. He shouts out to Barney to fall down and grab a bush, but then hears a loud scream. He runs over to a small cliff, looks down and sees his fellow pledge splayed out at the bottom 20 feet below, moaning in pain. Barney urges him to go for help, but Craig wants to crawl down first and take a look.
Barney tells Craig he thinks his leg is broken, but when he tries to take a closer look Barney pushes his hands away. "Look, I don't play doctor with boys," he cries. "Leave me alone, you'll just make it worse." Craig starts to look around for something to cover him up with to keep him warm. "What are you gonna use?" Barney jokes. "Your jock strap?"
We're only about 25 minutes into the movie, but I'll stop here and not spoil how things turn out in the rest of it, on the off-chance you actually want to watch for yourself. If you don't care about ruining the ending, you can click here for my assessment of the rest of the film. "The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse" was one of the first DVDs I rented when I began digging deeper into Mr. Smith's work a few years back. Actually, I had even seen the film over 2 decades ago on TV (of course I vividly remembered the 2 guys running through the woods in their jocks). Like I said at the start, ultimately I think "Campus Corpse" is a let-down: not funny enough to be a good comedy and not suspenseful enough to be an engaging thriller. But the jock strap scene is still worth a look if you think of CMS or Jeff East as hotties. I was very excited to get another look at a nearly-naked Charlie, who has been looking sexier and sexier the further along in his filmography I get. Admittedly, the scene is actually pretty tame... but it still offers some very tasty eye candy for fans of the actors involved, as you can see from the plentiful screen caps posted here.