Grindhouse Classics : “Trip With The Teacher”

Posted: March 6, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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You gotta hand it to Crown International — they knew how to market their merchandise. Even when their promo campaigns had little if anything to do with the actual goings-on in a particular film itself — as was the case with Best Friends, a flick we took a look at around these parts a couple days back — they could still find a lurid, sleazy peg around somewhere to hang their metaphorical coat on. It didn’t always take that much effort and creativity, though, when the movie they were pimping was generally scummy enough on its own merits.

One-and-done writer/director Earl Barton’s 1975 rape-revenge mini-thriller Trip With The Teacher is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I don’t know about you, but when I see a poster as shamelessly exploitative (a compliment around these parts, I assure you) as the one reproduced above, my first thought is “come on — this thing can’t possibly be as bad as all that.” And then, of course. I sit down and watch it to find out whether my cynicism is justified or not.

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In this case, I’m happy to report that Barton definitely delivers the goods. On paper, the story actually seems pretty tame in comparison to the plethora of similar fare out there for the discerning viewer — pretty high school teacher Miss Tenny (Brenda Fogarty) is taking a mini-bus with four of her youthful charges and a typically useless driver  out to spend a day exploring some Navajo ruins in, I’m assuming, California someplace. The bus breaks down, and the nubile young flesh is quickly set upon by a gang of three horny bikers (well, in fairness one guy’s not too bad and hardly knows the other two, who are brothers) led by the always-dripping-with-menace Zalman King , who plays a hard-core psycho with the disarmingly blase name of Al.

Everything you’d pretty much expect to happen from this point on does, with Miss Tenny “giving” herself over to Al’s lustful tendencies if he promises, just promises, to please leave her students alone. Do I even need to tell you whether or not he keeps his word?

Speaking of words (every writer does), I dropped the word “tame” a moment ago, and it actually does apply here, after a fashion : the body count here is pretty low, with only one of the girls and the driver not making it out alive, and the rape stuff is certainly not I Spit On Your Grave-level material, by any stretch. Yeah, it’s unpleasant enough in its own right, but you’ve seen worse (although hopefully only in the movies). It’s almost as if Barton, after “dreaming” the whole plot up in the first place, decides he really doesn’t wanna go there and tries to put the brakes on things a bit.

Funny thing is — Zalman King just won’t let him. Behind those bug-eyed sunglasses and that blank facial expression lurks a very palpable and genuine menace. This dude is just plain bad fucking news. He may not speak much, but he doesn’t need to — evil is just radiating from him like stench from a three-day-old burrito left out in the sun. Ladies, this definitely isn’t someone you want to bring home to meet your mother. Ore even your least-favorite sister or aunt.

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Honestly, if you want a textbook example of how one performance can elevate a flick weighed down with a mediocre script and a director who apparently only knows two words (those being “point’ and “shoot”), Trip With The Teacher is it. King doesn’t go the over-the-top route of, say, a Wings Hauser in Vice Squad, but damn if he doesn’t seem almost as dangerous. This guy’s just straight-up unhinged, and you know it before he even proves it (not that he doesn’t prove it — on multiple occasions, no less). His work alone makes this a memorably unpleasant affair, and for that we thank and congratulate the late Mr. King.

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Now, this being the movies and all, it goes without saying that Al’s gonna get his comeuppance, and unfortunately that’s where Barton’s lack of imagination really hampers things. King’s made such a thoroughly reprehensible bastard  of him that you really want him to meet a spectacular, up-in-flames finish. I won’t give away how he does finally meet his maker, but be prepared for a disappointment. It’s not pretty, I suppose, but it could — and should — have been both much more clever and much more ugly.

Still, every time I see Trip With The Teacher (which is, by the way, available on about a half-dozen different DVD packages, all bare-bones with no extras whatsoever — your humble host recommends Mill Creek’s “Drive-in Cult Classics” 12, disc, 32-movie box set since you get great value for ten bucks and the occasionally-blemished-and-choppy widescreen transfer looks pretty solid all told while the mono sound is likewise perfectly adequate) I find myself appreciating it a little bit more, and honestly not just for King’s amazing performance or composer Igo Kantor’s awesome beyond words theme tune. Not quite rough enough to be a “roughie,” but certainly not watered-down enough to appeal to those with sensitive stomachs or strong consciences, this is a movie that’s sort of out there on its own, carving out space no other films either could, or cared to, occupy. Its subject matter is hardly unique, but it remains a singular work nevertheless.

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Not that singular necessarily translates as good to any and all parties, mind you. Those looking for balls-out graphic nastiness, for instance, are probably going to find this to be a bit disappointing and maybe even dull. We’re not talking about a Harry Novak production here or anything. But if you’re the sort of person who gets a bigger case of the heebie-jeebies from Hal’s voice in 2001 than you do from Darth Vader’s costume in Star Wars, or if Michael Myers’  blank mask creeps you out more than Freddy Krueger’s burned-up remnant of a face, then I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by Trip With The Teacher. It may not spoon-feed it to you as blatantly and obviously as some, but it definitely serves up everything you’re expecting and then some, and leaves a mighty unpleasant aftertaste.

Comments
  1. I miss the exploitation film. Too bad this style is dead. The closest we have now is Rob Zombie

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Some Rob Zombie. “The Devil’s Rejects” had a definite exploitation sensibility to it, his other stuff — not so much.

      • Halloween II did as well. Shot on 16MM, which was common in an exploitation. The look of the film very much was in tune with that style.

        Even Halloween (not as much as his other work) but there are some elements.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        Hmmm — Halloween II had something of a David Lynch influence to it, I’ve always thought —

      • Perhaps a little. But the look of the film in terms of location is very TCM like with everything in the middle of nowhere.

        Watch H2 again. It very much has that exploit feel with the graphic deaths, location, 16MM. Remember the exploi film is dead so you need to adjust. Even Eli Roth with Hostel and Hostel II.

        Many scenes in Hostel II are inspired by Pieces, Night Train Murders and Torso. You can’t make them the way they once were.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        Very true, Tarantino gets credit for being the modern director most heavily influenced by exploitation, but guys like Roth and Zombie aren’t too far behind.

      • Big fan of Tarantino. But while he’s clearly inspired by exploitation films I wouldn’t label him one either. Though I guess Kill Bill can sort of be seen as one.

        But I,still go with Roth and Zombie as modern day exploitation filmmakers. Roth is ok, but I like Zombie. But like I said yesterday you can see the influence on all of Zombie’s films thus far, from the look and feel. But times have changed and you can’t make them like that anymore. But if you go back and view Halloween & Halloween II (more so H2) you’ll see the exploit style.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        I think I’ll give H2 another look tonight on your recommendation!

      • Like I said. Its the look, location and visual style. There could be a Lynch influence as well. But perhaps you’ll see what I mean.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        I’m sure I will!

  2. JefferyXMartin says:

    Zalman never really reached this kind of Threat Level: Midnight from another performance. He’s so out there, he can’t find in anymore. Doesn’t want to. He’s the best reason to watch this movie; that and to see where Bono got his look for the Nineties.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Agreed, there’s no way Bono didn’t see this movie — and King never topped this performance in his entire career.

  3. While this might sound like me being sarcastic or attempting to damn this movie with false praise, I have to say that I love the end credits of this one, especially the contrast between the insanely peppy theme music and the sordid scenes that are included in the cast recap. I’ve only sat through this film three times but I’ve watched those end credits a few dozen times.

    One thing I found interesting about Trip With The Teacher is that most of the mayhem was not the result of the villain being all that clever as much as it was the result of the film’s heroes being idiotic. I hope that, at the very least, both the teacher and the entire school district got sued by the dead girl’s parents.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Good point, King’s Al character wasn’t all that bright — he was just incredibly, amazingly, almost inhumanly mean. I really do think it might be my third favorte “movie psycho” performance of all time, trailing only Wings Hauser’s Ramrod and Joe Spinell’s Maniac. And all three are so different, ya know? It’s nice to have such a wide variety of sociopaths to choose from! That theme tune is impossible to get out of your head once it’s in there. Obviously, they juxtapose it with the montage scenesa t the end more out of necessity than choide. They probably only paid the composer for about 30 minutes’ worth of soundtrack music, I’m thinking. The theme plays damn near incessantly at times — net time I watch this flick I’ll try to tally up the total amount of time the same theme’s playing, I’ll bet it’s at least 20 minutes, if not more.

  4. mitermiser says:

    My father and some other guys from Vegas financed this very low budget b -movie. My dad was there for the shoot…I think one week…. outside Palmdale/ Pear blossom … CA. Our family (mom and us kids) visited the set for a day. This was all a Mr.Burton vision. .. all the guys (working casino dealers)That invested in the film … never was a dime and had to write it off as a loss ” everyone gets boned on there first film” is what we heard from insider’s in Hollywood ! (I know.. Big surprise). The deal with ***** Distribution. “50 percent of (Profits)?”…. WINK WINK. Yet… No profits????
    This film made lots of money$$$
    When asked to do another film my father (Dewain Stein) replied ” even sharks don’t swim with Piranha”.

  5. stevenmillan says:

    Zalman King really gives David Hess a run for his money with the vile villain he portrays here(which strongly helps really make this film).

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      I agree with that, this is one of the great exploitation movie villain roles of all time, right up there with David Hess at his best or Wings Hauser from “Vice Squad.” King just oozes sleazy menace.

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