Posts Tagged ‘Earl Barton’

01

 

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.

Trip-with-the-Teacher-Dina-Ousley-5

 

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.

Trip-with-the-Teacher-Zalman-K

 

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.

TripWithTeacher (21)

 

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.

07095_3l

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.