Tough teens in tons of trouble
Marvin "Marv" Grant is the High School Big Shot—or at least he wants to be, the minute he lays eyes on the voluptuous vixen of vice, bad girl brunette Betty Alexander. However, the only thing he can offer this bobby socks babe is abject poverty, since his pop is a boozehound with a weak employment record and even frailer liver. Marv so wants to impress Betty that he cooks up a crime and enlists some shady sidemen to help the heist. When she learns of the buck bonanza potentially heading his way, she's suddenly sweet on the sour dork. But the best laid plans of mice and Marv oft go astray and his chance to erase those pesky pecuniary problems implodes, along with this self-esteem.
Matt Stevens is the High School Caesar—or at least he thinks he is, in part because the entire student body of Imaginary Vo-Tech fears him. They dislike his "beat first, rob later" policy. He charges way too much for biology tests, but he owns the cheat sheet monopoly. His faux forced sincerity makes everyone nauseous and he's been known to bamboozle the broad, pie faced Lita into purloining top-secret info. But when Lita can't get new girl Wanda to date Matt's miscreant manservant Cricket, the mutiny mechanism clicks over. Then ABMOC (almost big man on campus) Kelly is found dead in his hotrod. All eyes turn to Matt and it appears this emperor's reign is about to get a cruel coup.
Sue Randall is Date Bait, or at least she was for her ex-acquaintance, the now heroin addicted Brad. Suzy presently swings it with Danny Logan. Her father finds Dan repulsive in his wrong-side-of-the tracks tendency to take a beating. Incredibly delusional, Brad thinks Sue is his lifelong soul mate. And this after buying her a Nehi at the soda shop once. He'll do anything to win her back, including asking his drug dealing brother Nico for a little hired goon handout. So as Logan continually gets his hinder waxed and Sue sobs about her parents' lack of puppy love sympathy, Brad shoots H and does his best "reefer madness" moves. When our high school sweethearts become man/boy and wife/girl, Dad explodes, Nico knocks heads and Brad brandishes a weapon. Standoffs ensue.
High School Big Shot probably encapsulates the emotional meltdown of life in the educational system better than most juvenile delinquency delights. Marv is that kind of sensitive, Shakespeare reading resident of Geekville who would never catch the eye of a girl—period—let alone a driven doll like Betty Alexander. This young lass out arachnids the black widow spider with her "love 'em, then drain 'em" interpersonal relationship style. She only snogs Marv for his term paper expertise. She'd rather dry hump the lunk-headed Vince because he's got peg pants with pleats in all the right places. When our money hungry hero hits upon the idea of stealing smack funds from his unethical smuggler boss, Betty boosts her backseat boyfriend for a little Marv manipulation. It's not long before she's got the guy jerry-rigged around her pinky and is digging into that imaginary gold like every day's payday. Money dominates High School Big Shot, just like it does in real life and the Oscars. Indeed, the times for most of the characters are so dire that the notion of pocketing three dollars for a hot date sends several of them into a tizzy. High School Big Shot (most know it from its MST3K incarnation) is drenched in desperation and hopelessness, from Papa Grant's rafter and rope repast to the multiple murders at the end. Yet there is an honest Hispanic Al Pacino philosophy to the movie's moral. The film makes it very clear that, without some scratch, there is no influence and very little indiscriminant sex. Thankfully, there is a great deal of daffiness in watching Marv crawl for the currency, and that cash craving makes High School Big Shot a respectable ride to reform school.
High School Caesar, on the other hand, focuses on another aspect of the Tony Montana rules for achieving success. Unlike Big Shot which is all about the Bens, and Date Bait, which concentrates on…umm…kitty cat, Caesar takes a page out of an ancient Latin textbook and highlights the power mad maneuvers of spoiled rotten rich rat Matt Stevens. This guy's got his finger in so many pies that said digit should be permanently blueberried. He runs a test/quiz racket. He beats up fellow classmates for protection money. He's just fixed the student counsel election so that he and his half-human, half-monkey sidekick Cricket become the duly balloted officers of the school's coffers. He's also initiated a dance scam so that he can pilfer even more. Add on top his connection to Lita, a student secretary who passes along "sensitive" school information and sets up his buddies on forced dates, and Matt is a total matriculation manipulation machine. But just like the brooding Cuban with a nose for snow, what Matt wants most is his absent family. He weeps on his 400-count percale sheets and cradles a gold coin his invisible pop passed along in lieu of fatherly love and support. Thanks to his gang's inherent illiteracy, Matt takes that fateful leap that all tragic figures face near the end of the epic poem. The big tumble comes soon enough (thanks to running a peon off the road and into Death's ditch) and with a wounded "Et Tu, Cricket?" our Roman retard finds himself floating in a pool of his own self-righteous flop sweat. The rise and fall of this faux enforcer makes for delinquent cinema at its very best.
Which brings us to Date Bait, or as it should be called, The Premarital Sex School for Scandal. Moving away, if only slightly, from the crime and syndicate shenanigans of its fellow antisocial offerings, it's more a story of young love threatened by assault and battery than pseudo cool kids gone nutzoid. Danny Logan is the unlucky lout who can't catch a break, unless it's at the ham fists of local underworld mob boss Nico, who tries to resolve his kid brother's love life, gangland style. But our dim Don is not the real unglued individual in this tragedy (even if he pleases the crowds with his "beat up teenagers" dogma). And it's not the drugged out Brad, who is hooked so hard on Chinese rock that Mongolians couldn't break the Mao monkey on his back. No, the most abhorrent arsehole in this film is Sue's dad, a local car salesman with the empathy of a fluffy bunny beheader. He finds Logan beneath his daughter (no, not literally—that comes later—and so does Logan…sorry) and finds it perfectly acceptable to loudly berate him for his lack of class. As we work our way to the end and find Brad packing heat, we hope he has a leaden "Dear Dad" letter for Sue's old man. But no such luck. Even with some evocative camera work (the opening car chase is cool in a monochrome workout of shadows and car lights) and manipulative maneuvers, the kitchen sink dramatics of Date Bait just can't work up a decent delinquent dilemma. There is too much nuptial and not enough knife fight in this film.
Something Weird previously released other wonderful kid crime titles like Teenage Gang Debs, Jacktown, and Lost, Lonely and Vicious. This package matches those movies for misguided teen troublemaking blow for blow. Presented in 1.33:1 full screen black and white transfers, each movie has its major rough spots (scratches, bad edit spots, jumps) but when they settle down, they positively glow with a dark and light sharpness. Date Bait is a little more faded than the rest, and High School Caesar seems to have scenes that are out of focus (especially during the final cat and mouse chase in the dark), but overall these transfers are fairly good. The extras are limited to some nifty trailers and another excellent gallery of exploitation art, all of which celebrates this lost form of moviemaking.
There is something very iconoclastic about the juvenile delinquency film, a strange high school as sin palace personality that touches every one of us in out alma mater mindset. Probably no one, from the prom queen to the detention denizens, felt like they got a fair shake in the instructive pecking order known as secondary education, and these cinematic time capsules magnify every facet of fear and self-loathing found in the horror of the homeroom. Thankfully, we can experience a kind of commencement compensation in the crime sprees of the errant undergraduates here. These slick chicks and their way-out Daddy-O's make crimes and misdemeanors seem like a regular right of passage and this DVD from SWV has got all the action, Jackson.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Gallery of Juvenile Delinquency Exploitation Movies
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.