Color, 1977, 90m. / Directed by Douglas Curtis / Starring Jeff East, Kelly Moran, Charles Martin Smith, Sandra Vacey, David Hayward / Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A movie marketing team's worst nightmare, the oddball late-'70s film The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse popped up over and over for about five years under a number of different titles (most famously The Hazing), trying to lure viewers in with either the promise of a college slasher film or a fraternity slob comedy. Actually it's neither, basically a ghoulish, mild-mannered look at malicious campus antics with the feel of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode spun out to feature length -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

When young Craig Lewis (East) gets an athletic scholarship to a very sunny Midwestern university, he decides to pledge with the Delts, the biggest fraternity on campus. Along with milquetoast Barney (a pre-Hollywood Charles Martin Smith), he's sent out on an afternoon hazing ritual involving the two of them left in the woods in their jockstraps. Unfortunately when Craig goes to get help, he returns to find Barney dead -- and the frat brothers aren't too happy about it. Together they hatch an elaborate scheme to avoid trouble by postponing Barney's death for a week and staging an accident that will absolve them from blame, but a few more twists still lie in store for our hero.

The basic plot of Campus Corpse had already been run through pretty thoroughly by '77; in fact, the basic set-up is swiped almost wholesale from Patricia Highsmith's classic mystery novel, Ripley Under Ground. Where the film manages to coast along on the charm of its performances and the sincerity of its execution, which puts it miles ahead of more recent, dispiriting attempts at the same mixture like The Curve and the abysmal Cry_Wolf. Not surprisingly, Smith gets most of the acting honors here with his limited screen time, and it's fun seeing The Candy Snatchers' Brad David popping up as the thuggish frat king. The easygoing '70s vibe is an asset as well, though the soft-vocal music score might send some unprepared viewers lurching for their fast-forward buttons.

Campus Corpse has been MIA on video for a long time since its early days on VHS from Vestron (simply called The Campus Corpse with a misleading skull-faced cover), and Media Blasters' release looks considerably better. The feature kicks off with a disclaimer about the print quality, but it's perfectly fine with accurate widescreen framing and just enough natural film grain to avoid any charges of overzealous digital scrubbing. You'll spot some scuffs here and there if you look carefully, but it's nothing a seasoned trash DVD collector won't cherish. Despite the modest nature of the film, this release definitely goes the extra mile in the extras department. This originated as a Code Red release, so you'll find regular commentator Lee Christian helming the fine, informative commentary track with director Douglas Curtis, as well as actors East, Hayward and Jim Boelsen. Not surprisingly, it's very chipper in tone (just like the movie) and a good primer on how to mount a low budget production when you're not even sure what genre the finished product will fall into. The foursome pop up again for "Dissecting the Campus Corpse: A Look Back at The Hazing," which covers some of the some material but also injects a bit more anecdotal material about the rest of their careers, while "Campus Corpse: Alive & Well at the Beverly Cinema" spotlights the crew doing a Q&A after a screening at the venerable L.A. revival theater. Other extras include the alternate The Hazing credit sequence (why it wasn't released on DVD under that more saleable title is anyone's guess), the theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and promos for other Shriek Show releases. Well worth picking up for the bounty of extras alone, this is another example of a marginally-known title getting a deluxe treatment that puts most studio catalog releases to shame.

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