Appellate Judge Tom Becker wonders, if instead of Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino had named his movie Morose Swede, would we be seeing a glut of Bergman films on the market?
Dennis the Menace or pale hippie stud: Who gets hotter chicks?
Eighteen-year-old Sean (Jay North, Dennis the Menace) finds his summer vacation getting off to a bad and good start. The bad: Sean and his friend Lou climb to the top of an old warehouse to spy on a hot chick who is sunbathing on a boat. Unfortunately, Lou's crazy vet brother Ralph (Anthony James, Blue Thunder) catches them, and Lou falls to his death. Ralph blames Sean for the mishap and tries to kill him, but Sean gets away and runs home. On the plus side, the brazen babe they were spying on is Sean's teacher and neighbor, Diane (Angel Tompkins, The Bees), and she thinks cutie-pie Sean is the cure for her summertime blues. But rock-headed Ralph also has a thing for the luscious lesson planner, making things even more difficult for the student and The Teacher.
While Chuck (Alan Long) urinates on the side of a mobile home/bus, he is aware he is being watched by a couple of hot hippie chicks. These golden girls are Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood). We know that Carol is a childlike free spirit, because she is playing with a plush toy, and Maureen is mystical: When Chuck shakes off and introduces himself, she stares straight ahead and says, "You're an Aries," clearly seeing the connection between fire signs and rain. Chuck's job is driving the mobile home from one end of Florida to the other, and Carol asks if they can hitch a ride. He agrees to the Pick-up, and the adventure begins. But when they get caught in a storm and the bus gets stuck in a swamp, things get…weird.
It's hard to put into words just how tawdry an experience The Teacher is. The film has two assets, and they are both located just north of Miss Tompkins's belly button. Yep, Angel's bodacious, but we never figure out what she sees in Master North. With his large head, sunken chest, and farmer's tan, he's more Don Knotts than Don Juan. Didn't this school have any football players she could have despoiled? She goes to great lengths to seduce Sean, inviting him into her home and promising not to "rape him," giving him beer, and demanding that he kiss her to prove he's not afraid of her. According to the poster on the cover of the DVD, "She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school!" Well, unless this was a one-student Montessori school, this would be a tad misleading. Diane's home has a fully stocked bar and an Olympic-size swimming pool, she drives a Jag, and she owns a boat. I'd like to see a movie about the union that negotiated her teacher's salary. At one point, Sean's mother, Alice (looking creepily hot in a red bikini), invites "the girls" over for a luncheon by the pool: Diane, who is seducing Alice's son; Bonnie, a Swedish bombshell; and Margaret, who is Bonnie's hot live-in "gal pal." All three of these babes are teachers! (Who heads up the PTA, Russ Meyer?) And they all live on the same block. What a swingin' suburb! The film also has songs by Oscar winner Sammy Fain, who'd won a nomination the year before for a song from The Stepmother, another atrocious offering from the team that made The Teacher. (Fain's Oscar was for the song "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing"; good luck getting that one out of your head.) There is even a cameo by Cassavetes and Rowlands! Well, Katherine Cassavetes and Lady Rowlands (spelled "Roland" here), John and Gena's mothers. If you find yourself in an intense Six Degrees game trying to link Joseph Kearns (Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace) to Seymour Cassel (Faces), you'll be thankful that this movie exists.
Pick-up is something else again. At first glance, it seems like trippy, hippie porn, with gentle souls copulating in every location the limited budget allows. But the director (listed as "Bernie" Hirschenson on the film and "Bennie" Hirschenson on IMDb) seems to have studied at the Dennis Hopper Mushroom School of cinema, giving us flashbacks, flash-forwards, hallucinations, tarot, paganism, mysticism, child abuse, rednecks, ditzy camera angles, and a whole barrel of stuff that was popular in post-Easy Rider "youth" cinema. Much of it is awfully silly, such as an extended sex sequence on a huge outdoor swing (I understand the Everglades are famous for having playground equipment randomly scattered about) or a character offering herself to Apollo by writhing around naked on a conveniently placed altar. But there is something endearing about the film's no-budget pretensions, particularly when compared to an overstuffed studio product like Zabriskie Point, which was aimed at the same audience, and the child sexual abuse aspect (at the hands of a priest!), while not particularly well-executed, adds an interesting level to the proceedings. Pick-up's poster (reprinted on the box) is also misleading, painting this as a comely hitchhiker vs. horny rednecks flick.
For a low-budget film that's over 30 years old, the print for Pick-Up is in surprisingly good shape. A bit faded and soft in spots, it doesn't hurt that this film was very well-shot. Director Hirschenson might have had too many balls in the air, but cinematographer Hirschenson did himself proud. The Teacher has that flat, TV-from-the-'70s look, but it's a decent print with the expected fading and occasional scratches. Both have unexceptional mono tracks, though Pick-up is uneven and over-modulates at times.
We have the opportunity to "relive the grindhouse experience" with an option that gives us trailers for movies like Van Nuys Blvd. and The Pom Pom Girls and the main features played all the way through. (Something Weird was doing this sort of thing long ago, and better, with their "Let's Go to the Drive-in" interactive features. See Judge Bill Gibron's review of Bad Girls Go to Hell/Another Day, Another Man and Bloodsuckers/Blood Thirst for examples.) Those of us who enjoy living the DVD experience are shortchanged, however: This is the third grindhouse-related release in a row that I've seen that had no chapter stops or set-up options. If this is a trend, it's not a good one. Since the posters reprinted on the box are so at odds with what happens on-screen, it would have been nice to have included larger versions of them as extras.
Much as I enjoy these kinds of movies, could we put a moratorium on using grindhouse as an all-inclusive descriptor for cheap movies? By the mid-1970s, when these films were released, films like Deep Throat and the works of the Mitchell brothers had already changed the landscape as to what could be shown commercially, and grindhouses that specialized in "erotic" fare were, for the most part, showing multi-X movies. Audiences expecting sexual gymnastics would have torn down the screen if they were given the soft-R rated sensibilities of The Teacher and Pick-up. Most likely, these Crown International releases would have played drive-ins and second-run neighborhood theaters like films from American International and other low-tier studios.
Deimos Entertainment is guilty of trying to cash in on a trend. I'm letting them walk, though. In some weird way, rescuing these movies from oblivion and making them available at a competitive price is almost a community service.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Deimos Entertainment
• Relive the Grindhouse Experience
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