In Canada, the early 1980s saw a run of juvenile comedies, influenced indirectly by the more political “maple porn films” made in Quebec. The maple porn movies filled a niche, delivering naughty comedy films that Quebec audiences had not been able to see due to censorship for so many years. The “screwball” comedies also filled a niche they were geared towards teenagers, another audience who were ostensibly forbidden to see the nudity which these films promised to deliver.
With the advent of pay-per-view and the VCR, teenagers were able to bypass the ratings which restricted them from seeing these films in the theatres. This is especially important for Canadian teens. Whereas the American “R” let a minor in if accompanied by an adult, An “R” rating in most provinces was the same as an American “X” no one under 18 admitted.
Bob Clark must have known this when he made Porky’s (1980), a coming-of-age story with enough nudity to excite the younger generation while paying lip service to an adult audience of baby boomers by being set in the 1950s. Clark’s film was a smash hit, and even today holds the domestic box office record for a Canadian film. And thus was born the “screwball comedy,” a new genre which can be summed up in one phrase: boys trying to catch glimpses of nude women.
Once this idea was combined with the “zany” comedy of previous films like Caddyshack, Meatballs and Animal House, video store shelves were suddenly crammed with a slew of imitators and eventual sequels. These were comfortably indicated to naive 1980s video store patrons by titles which made frequent use of the word “balls.” After directing Screwballs, Rafal Zielinski captured the market on Canadian sex comedy knock-offs with Screwballs 2 (1985, takes place in a high school), Recruits (1986, police station) and State Park (1990, heavy metal concert). Rounding out the other non-Zielinski entries in this esteemed Canadian subgenre are Oddballs (1984, summer camp), Goofballs (1987, golf resort), Charlie Wiener’s Fireballs (1987, fire station), and of course Ski School (1991, ski resort) and Ski School 2 (1993, ski resort).
However, it all began with the first Canadian riff on Porky’s, Screwballs. The video box art is reminiscent of Porky’s famous poster right down to the choice of font, and the plot description on the back takes great pains to further link the two films. We are informed that Screwballs was written by the team behind Porky’s script, and that “Screwballs wins the prize for the most totally awesome, raucously raunchy comedy of the year!” Roger Corman’s name is also repeatedly dropped, but it is unclear exactly what his connection to the film is.
During detention one fine day, five male students at T & A High School (the rich jock, the ladies man, the naive transfer student, the fat guy and the nerd) make a pact to see the last virgin in their class (Purity Busch) naked by the homecoming dance. Oddly enough, their increasingly bizarre schemes involve seeing the breasts of just about every other girl in the class except for Purity’s. The nerd tries to hypnotize her, the fat guy hides beneath her in the sand while she sunbathes and the jock dumps a batch of Spanish Fly in the school punch bowl. The ladies man poses as a breast inspector and as a home economics teacher taking measurements for homecoming dresses. The comedy apparently plateaus during a game of strip bowling when the nerd gets stuck in a bowling ball. And I’m not talking about his finger.
Finally, the five guys team up and put together a plan which involves sewing metal bars in Purity’s dress and rigging the gym with giant magnets. As Purity rises to the top of the homecoming stage to sing the national anthem (and I’m not talking about “O Canada”), the nerd throws the switch. Hilarity ensues.
Screwballs comes off like a bunch of disjointed comedy segments structured loosely around the theme of breasts. The main difference between Porky’s and Screwballs is that Porky’s was filmed mostly in Florida, while Screwballs was done in Ontario, as revealed by a scene which takes place at Pickering, Ontario’s Te-Pee Indoor Outdoor Drive-In (which closed in 1997).
Like Porky’s, Screwballs takes place in the 1950s, but it matters even less this time. Classic automobiles are about the only thing that will gently remind you of this, but other elements, such as the clothing, skin mags, and the Pam Grier movie showing at the drive-in (The Arena, 1970) give this movie a timeless quality. Timeless as in, “What decade is this again?”
Is it a good film? No, of course not. Is it fun to watch? As far as these movies go, yes. At the very least, the cheesy “lewd” teenage humour of Screwballs is funnier than American knock-offs like Police Academy, and less mean-spirited than the current gross-out frat comedies like American Pie.