Posts Tagged ‘Drive-In Cult Classics’


Given that it’s been — what, a few weeks? — since we dipped into the Crown International Pictures vault around here, I figured I’d fix that situation for you, dear reader, by taking a look at what is, as near as I can determine at any rate, the closest thing to an absolutely plotless film that CIP ever tossed up onto our nation’s late, lamented drive-in screens, namely director Robert J. Rosenthal’s 1978 teen sexploitationer Malibu Beach.

I can’t kid you — it would be dishonest to say that there’s no story here whatsoever, but you do have to dig awfully hard to find it. Here’s what I was able to unearth : young, beautiful, and reasonably smart Malibu beach (hence the title) lifeguard Dina (Kim Lankford)  finds romance with dashing blonde hunk (and, apparently, full-time beach bum) Bobby (James Daughton) while her best friend from high school, bubbly and somewhat-less-bright Sally (Susan Player) stirs up sparks with Bobby’s pal Paul (Michael Luther). Meanwhile, that hapless, thinks-he’s-cooler-than-he-actually-is lunkhead, Dugan , who appears in another Crown feature — the admittedly more-successful and better-remembered The Van — turns up again here, played by the same guy (Steve Oliver), and up to the same shit : trying to do anything he can to impress Dina and lure her affections away from Bobby and in his direction. Nothing’s really gonna work, though, ‘cuz he’s Dugan, and in between all the various beach hijinks that consume roughly 95% of the film, Dina decides that Bobby’s the guy for her and their love, and their mutual friendship with Sally and and Paul, will last forever. Why, even Bobby’s occasionally-meddling ex (played by the fetching Tara Strokmeier) can’t mess things up for this blissfully happy young couple.


So, anyway, there’s yer plot — but as mentioned at the outset, that’s not really what Malibu Beach is about. It’s about everything that happens in between the threadbare “progression” of its “story.” It’s about topless hotties running around on the beach. It’s about midnight skinny-dipping. It’s about teenagers having a good time and two stereotypically incompetent cops out to train on everyone’s parade and having ,as you’d expect, zero success. It’s about a nerd who cruises the beach in a souped-up piece-of-shit-car that he thinks is “cool.” It’s about a sexy female teacher who lets out her “wild side” over summer break. It’s about Bobby and Dugan racing their cars and out-swimming a shark to try and impress Dina. It’s about the same three fucking songs playing over and over again throughout the movie. It’s about a bratty pre-teen who gets his kicks pouring out the suntan lotion bottle of sleeping beach beauties, and a dog trained to steal their untied bikini tops.

In other words, it’s not about jack shit, but it sure is kinda stupid fun.


Scratch that — make that really stupid fun. I don’t know about you, but I miss the days when movies didn’t always feel like they needed to have a “point.” Points are expected. Points are predictable. Points are boring. Points are pointless. The only “point” on offer here is to show as much young, fresh flesh parading around in as little as possible (or, occasionally, less than that). The actual sex on offer here is pretty sparse — they save it up for Dina and Bobby’s typically-wooden-and-passionless “love-making” scene at the end — but there’s plenty of nudity and even more near-nudity along the way, and the whole thing feels a lot more free-form than constructed, resulting in a lazy, decidedly unambitious film that nevertheless will have you smiling in spite of yourself most of the way through.


I guess it’s probably fair to say that the appeal of Malibu Beach — limited as it is, probably stems entirely from its nostalgia value, a feeling that they “just don’t make ’em like this anymore” coupled with the more — yawn! — “mature” realization that the reason they don’t is because this sort of thing was never that great to begin with, but weird as it sounds for a movie that exists pretty much to show off a set of naked boobs every 5 or 10 minutes, there’s an innocence to Malibu Beach that today’s rowdier and more raucous teenage T&A flicks just can’t capture, and I’d rather watch a dog make off with some shocked beach bimbo’s string bikini than listen to some idiot like American Pie‘s Stiffler talk about shaving his balls and his master plan to seduce his best friend’s mom, videotape the whole thing, and upload it onto the internet (or whatever other supposedly “edgy, shocking, but still funny” thing he’s up to) any day of the week.


So, yeah — if an absurd-on-its-face slice of southern California summers as, let’s face it, they probably never really were is what you’re in the mood for, you’ll be glad to know that Mill Creek has seen fit to include this flick as part of its 32-film. 12-disc “Drive-In Cult Classics” DVD box set. It’s presented in a widescreen transfer that’s surprisingly crisp and clean, the sound is mono, and there are,  of course,  no extras. The entire set retails for less than ten bucks from most online retailers, and even if you watch most (or, hell, all) of the movies only once, you can’t really bitch about not getting your money’s worth. A very solid purchase all the way around.


All in all, Malibu Beach is as listless, lazy, and ultimately meaningless as a summer day after your senior year of high school. It’s also every bit as much fun. And even if your teenage years weren’t filled with nearly this much carefree naked frolicking — whose were? — seeing how cool  a low-rent production outfit like Crown International thinks they could have been is always a good time.



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.



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.



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.


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.



We’ve all got ’em — friends we used to be pretty tight with, even inseparable from, that we just sort of part company with over the years. Sometimes it’s a long, slow, drawn-out process that we don’t even really notice taking place. Other times, there’s some definitive breaking point of sorts after which, as the saying goes, “nothing will ever be the same.” Whatever the case, life moves on and most of us make new friends to serve as de facto “replacements” for out former best buds or gal pals. At times, though, old friends can find it hard to let go, or to  accept that things are changing —

One of the things I love most about the heyday of exploitation cinema is that even a flick with a title as innocuous as director Noel Nesseck’s 1975 Crown International release Best Friends can actually prove to be a treasure trove of fucked-up psychodrama of the highest order. Hustled off on the public as something of a race-hate film (see the poster above) on the basis of a brief scene in which one of the female leads does an an impromptu strip-tease at a bar on an Indian reservation that leads to a fight between the movie’s two male stars and a bevy of Native American locals, it’s really, of course, nothing of the sort. Don’t blame Crown for playing the cheap and easy angle, though — I know that if I were a studio executive,  I’d be at a complete loss as to how best to market this flick, since it many ways it quite literally defies any sort of categorization. Read on and see if you agree , won’t you?



Best friends (hence the name an’ all) since childhood Jesse (a usually shirtless Richard Hatch, three short years from hitting it semi-big as Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica) and Pat (Doug Chapin, who actually enjoys an “additional dialogue” credit vis-a-vis this film’s Arnold Somkin-penned screenplay) are just back from ‘Nam , where they were “Airbone, airborne all the way!” Pat’s sustained something of a gruesome hand injury and it’s obliquely hinted that he had a rougher time of it over there than Jesse in general, but never mind all that — the two lifelong pals are back in the States now and, together with their fiancees Kathy (Jesse’s gal, played by Susanne Benton) and Jo Ella (Pat’s lady, the one who drops her top on the rez, portrayed by Ann Noland) they’ve rented a Winnebago for one last cross-country road trip before they all settle down into married life.

There’s just one problem, though — Pat’s decided he doesn’t want to tie the not with Jo Ella, so that double wedding thing ain’t gonna happen. Furthermore, it’s pretty obvious that Pat’s resentful as hell of Kathy and wants Jesse all to himself. He dreams of him and his (purely platonic, apparently, but ya gotta wonder) buddy spending their army savings on a couple of bikes and hitting the open road a la Hopper and Fonda in Easy Rider (at one point they even go to the famous Sacred Mountain gas station/tourist trap depicted in that seminal film). Jesse, though, is having none of that. He’s played the field plenty and he’s finally found the girl of his dreams and is downright eager to settle down.



Pat lowers the boom on Jo Ella pretty early on in the proceedings, but the suddenly-uncomfortable foursome vow to “make the best of it” and enjoy the trip as much as they can anyway. Pat buys himself a 450cc (or thereabouts) dirtbike and is spending less time inside the camper anyway, riding alongside it “on his own,” so to speak, so who knows — maybe that will lessen the tension and things’ll work out, right?

Of course not. The real friction here comes in the form of Pat’s increasingly unsubtle attempts to bust up Jesse and Kathy. He engineers a set-up whereby he knows Jesse won’t be able to keep his hands off Jo Ella, and when Kathy gets wind of it she freaks as you’d expect — but only for a moment, By the end of the night she’s — here we go again — determined to “make the best of it” and plans on going ahead and marrying Jesse anyway. Undaunted, pat then tries to lure Kathy into the path of a rattlesnake so he can take credit for “saving her life” and get her to do him a favor — drop Jesse.  Still no luck. Then he tries to rape her so Jesse won’t want her anymore. That doesn’t work, either. There’s just no breaking up this hoping-to-be-happy couple. Jesse’s got a truck-driving gig waiting for him back home. It’s gonna pay him six or seven bucks an hour. Enough to put some money down on a house. Save up a little to have a kid in a couple years. Pat’s fantasy of a never-ending summer just can’t compete with that, it seems.

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The weirdest thing about Pat’s whole Kathy obsession, though, is how disarmingly impersonal it all seems, even when he’s ripping her shirt off. She’s just an obstacle to him, something that’s getting in the way of what he really wants — Jesse, And him. Together. Forever. And yeah, okay, Nosseck never plays up any sort of explicit unrequited homo-lust angle here, but come on — does he really need to? Lines like “you always get the good ones, and I take the dogs — that’s how it’s always gonna be with me an’ you, an’ I’m okay with that,” really don’t require Chapin to stare at Hatch’s shirt-free torso to get their point across. “The love that dare not speak its name” isn’t spoken of here, but it’s the undercurrent that’s whisking all our young protagonists toward, wouldn’t ya know it, tragedy.

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When Jesse does finally decide he’s had enough and boots Pat out of  the Winnebago for good, we’re headed for a shockingly downbeat finale that in no way plays out how you expect it to. Yeah, okay, Pat can’t stay away and comes back to get revenge for his banishment, but beyond that, who ends up dead — and who does the killing — really will surprise you. I’ll just say that somebody here wins by losing and that the “happiness” of one of the central characters is tinged with a hollow, soul-shattering defeat (and surrender) on the part of the other. It’s actually a pretty harrowing little way to wrap things up, and has something of the weight of inevitablity more commonly found in a naturalist novel than a ’70s exploitation flick.

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So yeah. This one’s a tough beast to pin down. Part road movie, part homoerotic love story, part coming-of-age struggle, part returning-vets-are-scarred-physically-as-well-as-psychologically “message” film, part pre-Fatal Attraction cautionary tale about lusting after someone you can’t have — all in all, you can see why Crown just stuck with the easy — if tenuous — play and tried to plant butts in the seats by convincing the masses they were in for a rape-revenge story with red, rather than the customary black, tones. It does the film itself a disservice, sure, because this is actually a rather complex, generally-well-acted (Chapin in particular being terrific, Hatch’s quasi-pompous shtick, which grates after awhile, being the weak link), beautifully-shot (cinematographer Stepehn M. Katz is no Laszlo Kovacs, but he does his best to ape him) piece of work that frankly probably confounded the drive-in stoner crowd more than anything, but hey — I ask, again, what would you have done with it? Cannes was probably out of the question, but fuck it. Their loss. Best Friends is, dare I say it, an actual quality piece of cinema, no matter how hard it pretends to be otherwise.



Now that you (hopefully) want to see this, go buy it. You can get it cheaply in a number of different DVD iterations, but I’d suggest your best bang for the buck is with Mill Creek’s “Drive-In Cult Classics” 32-movie, 12-disc set. These are all directly repackaged BCI Navarre discs, as Mill Creek picked up rights to the entire Crown catalog for a song when BCI folded up shop. There are no extras on any of the discs, but the quality of both picture and sound on all the films is surprisingly fantastic. In the case of Best Friends, sure there’s some artefacting and splotchiness here and there, but on the whole the remastered widescreen picture looks great and the mono sound is good, too. You don’t even have to go out of your way to find this set — Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, you name it all stock it for under ten bucks, and it’s got a genuinely nice variety of flicks, including Trip With The TeacherThe Creeping TerrorThe StepmotherMalibu High, Blood Mania, and The Pink Angels, to name just a handful of standout selections. Invite over a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and relive the good times.