Drive-In Cult Classics (1972 - 1980)
By: Captain Red Eye on October 30, 2009  | 
DVD
Mill Creek Entertainment (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 692 Minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Directors: Bernard Hirschenson; Howard Avedis; Joseph Ruben; Irvin Berwick; Earl Barton; Noel Nosseck; Robert Anderson
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase
Fans of obscure 1970s B-movies will be hard-pressed to find better value than that contained in Mill Creek Entertainment's 2-disk box set 'Drive-In Cult Classics,' currently available from Amazon for the princely sum of $6.99. The set features no less than eight R-rated efforts from the Golden Age of drive-in cinema, and serves as an enjoyable, if not wholly comprehensive, introduction to the genre.

The action opens with Pickup (1980), in which a couple of hippy chicks hitch a ride with the easygoing Chuck, a travelling salesman at the helm of a weatherbeaten mobile home. Carefree Caroline spends most of the trip up front canoodling with Chuck and flirting with passing motorists, whilst the moody and esoteric Brodie prefers to busy herself by casting sullen glances and prattling on about the Tarot. It isn't long before the cantankerous vehicle conks out altogether, and the three are left stranded somewhere in the swamplands of America's south. This doesn't seem to dampen their spirits however, and they proceed to spend the next hour or so of screen time cavorting around in the nude. There are also a number of truly bizarre flashbacks and dream sequences (Brodie being seduced by a priest, a recurring scary clown motif etc) melded to some freeform synth freakouts, though the bewildering subplot involving Brodie and her mystical hallucinations is, thankfully, more an excuse for some topless close-ups than any genuine exploration of her spiritual leanings. Due to its rather glaring lapses in pacing, execution and coherence the film is overall a middling affair, and even contains an 'It was all just a dream... or was it?' ending that my teacher in Grade 2 told me to avoid as it was lazy and hackneyed. But what the hell did she know?

Speaking of women thoughtfully passing on their knowledge to younger males, in The Teacher (1974) leggy, lascivious educator Dianne Marshall (Angel Tompkins) spends the summer holidays cavorting with one of her youthful charges (Jay North). As the tagline neatly has it: 'Her best lessons were taught after class!' If you can suspend your disbelief for long enough to accept an attractive, married high school teacher choosing to indulge in a dalliance with a nervous seventeen year old then this is actually quite a satisfying romp. Tompkins seems to relish her role as sexed-up seductress and North, best known as the former child actor who portrayed TV's original Dennis the Menace, is believable in his final film role as the awkward student living out every adolescent male's fantasy. The tension builds when Diane's stalker, evidently the jealous type, decides to put an end to the pair's shenanigans, before the story culminates in tragedy, pathos and a moderate amount of over-acting.

Next up is the accomplished Best Friends (1975), in which a pre-wedding road trip amongst pals turns sinister when one of the party decides he isn't so keen on the idea of settling down after all. The film deals intelligently with themes such as jealousy, fidelity and the transition to adulthood and also contains a minimum of bare breasts, thus qualifying it as serious cinema, at least by the standards of this box set.

These leanings towards legitimate art are quickly remedied, however, with the appearance of Earl Barton's Trip With Teacher (1975). In his first foray into directing Barton proves to be no serious auteur, instead sticking to the mainstays of 1970s exploitation drama: mindless, sexist dialogue and a fair amount of nudity. Throw in a pair of badass bikers, catfights ("Are you calling me a bitch?" "That's right, you're just a horny little bitch") and some wonderfully unconvincing thespians and you've got all the makings of a genre classic, despite some languid pacing towards the middle and a thematic over-reliance on the far superior Last House on the Left.

The action continues with Sister In-Law (1974) in which a randy divorcee (played by the sultry Anne Saxon) spends a sizeable proportion of her time attempting to seduce her former husband's younger brother (John Savage). What little time she has left to herself, of course, is spent lounging around in various states of undress. The attractive Saxon is convincing in her role as B-movie Mrs Robinson and the interplay between her and Savage, who unlike the rest of the cast later went on to a successful film and television career, is effective and believable. Though the film suffers from sound problems, with certain portions of dialogue difficult to decipher, it is overall a convincing drama, aided by the presence of some amusingly cartoonish gangsters and a moderately confronting conclusion.

The Stepmother (1972) features all the shaky camerawork, unpredictable fashion and astonishingly bouffant hairstyles that fans of early 1970s cult cinema have come to expect. Director of Photography Jack Beckett must have been on acid when he shot this, as the film features an array of awkward jump cuts, freeze framing and 'special optical effects' presumably intended to cover its multitude of unlikely plot developments. This convoluted murder mystery does however have the added bonus of several well-chosen cameos, such as drive-in cinema stalwart Claudia Jennings in one of her obligatory full-frontal nude scenes.

Mill Creek must have been saving the best for last. Malibu High (1979) is the profane and highly unpolished story of troubled high schooler Kim (Jill Lansing) who sets out to achieve grades and financial independence 'the best way she knows how' (ie. by sleeping with her teachers and letting the local weed dealer pimp her out of his van). Eventually however Kim discovers the world of prostitution isn't without its complications, and is forced to go to ever greater extremes to maintain her new lifestyle. Despite the film featuring the worst screenplay of all time Lansing does a thoroughly decent job, grappling with a wooden supporting cast and some fairly uncompromising lines, as when she castigates her widowed mother: 'You might have made yourself look decent once in a while. Then maybe daddy wouldn't have had to kill himself because he couldn't get it up anymore.' Furthermore the storyline, for all its defects, is well-paced, and Malibu High ends up being possibly the most engaging and successful of the movies offered in this collection.

Finally, here is a brief quiz to discern whether Drive-In Cult Classics is in fact the box set for you:

Do you like any of the following?

a) breasts

b) shoddy acting

c) nonsensical, extended sequences that serve no obvious filmic purpose

d) films in which the director's idea of character progression is showing a lot of nipple

If you answered Yes to any of the above then you should purchase the set without question. If you were unsure then you should probably still buy it, as you were most likely lying when you answered a) and d).
Video
Though the contrast could occasionally be sharper, the transfers are decent and visually the films present very well. Picture quality is almost universally strong throughout. Aspect ratio for alll movies is 4:3.
Audio
Sound quality is a little patchy in places, particularly during outdoor scenes. This is mostly limited to Sister In-Law and Trip With the Teacher, in which small portions of dialogue prove difficult to decipher. The natural resonance of the rooms in which interior scenes are shot is also not taken into account on occasion, and the dialogue in several such scenes has a noticeable echo. Presumably the cast and crew were too involved in the Oscar-winning material to realise anything was amiss at the time, or perhaps they were just overly busy waiting for Claudia Jennings and Angel Tompkins to take their clothes off to give a fuck.
Extra Features
None.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
In an age where a large soy chai latte costs upwards of $5.50, US$6.99 plus postage doesn't seem a bad deal for an eight-movie set. Each of the films is enjoyable in its own idiosyncratic way, and when plot and acting ability falter, there's usually an abundance of naked skin to compensate for the deficit. The packaging itself is also novel in that the two double-sided discs are individually sleeved inside the box, which somehow suits the unusual subject matter and retro milieu of the genre. Overall this a fun and worthwhile look at a bygone age of cinema, and kudos are due to Mill Creek for preserving these largely forgotten 'classics' for posterity.

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