Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Mill Creek DVD Inferno: Second Circle - LUST


Italian poet Dante Alighieri reserved the second circle of Hell for those guilty of the sin of lust. If you wind up here, expect your soul to be blown around like that plastic bag in American Beauty. Come to think of it, pretty much the entire cast of that movie is going to wind up in Circle #2. But we're not here to talk about Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey movies, are we? Heck no! We're here to talk about the next four films in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection. In this particular circle of the Inferno, we find some flicks which have IMDb ratings ranging from 5.3 to 5.0.

Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)
The Pom Pom Girls (1976)
The Sister-in-Law (1974)
The Teacher (1974)

Yeah, these are all mid-to-late-1970s sexploitation films from Crown International Pictures. But I'm now the proud owner of these films, so let's review them one by one.

Van Nuys Blvd.

Remember when everybody used to do this? No? Me neither.

Clever menus? Widescreen transfer? DVD extras, including a commentary track? On a Mill Creek set...?!? What manner of sorcery is this? Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have 'em. Van Nuys Blvd. is kind of a fun little time capsule candidate, sort of an extremely-dumbed-down and sexed-up American Graffiti. As you may have surmised already, the film centers around the now-extinct "cruising" scene in LA's Van Nuys Boulevard. The director sadly claims that his film inadvertently helped to kill that very scene. Basically, the kids take to the streets in their cherried-out cars and vans every Wednesday night, and the humorless cops want to crack down on the raunchy fun. The plot centers mainly around the trials and travails of three couples, including the unforgettable "Chooch" and his lusty but pure-at-heart carhop squeeze. A subplot involves a grouchy cop who gets tricked (by the aforementioned carhop) into getting handcuffed to a car door while he's in his underwear and winds up nearly dehydrating and burning up in the warm California sun. The handcuffed-cop story goes off on some weird tangents, including a visit from an unsympathetic biker (played by an actual former Manson Family associate). An agreeable lark, but there are too many missed opportunities for comedy, some very contrived and unbelievable dialogue, and an unforgivably lame disco sequence. I will say, though, that I particularly liked a semi-comedic fight sequence at a gas station. GRADE: B-

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Oh heck yes. In fact, I think VNB was something of a hit in its day. There's plenty of nudity, drag racing, crude humor, and anti-authoritarian sentiment to keep the drive-in audience happy. And if you just want to gawk at the cars... well, who's stopping you?

The Pom Pom Girls

Don't be fooled. There's barely any cheerleading in this movie.

Wait, the king of the nerds was once... a jock?!? Yup, Robert Carradine of Revenge of the Nerds plays a high school football player in this one. It covers some of the same ground as Van Nuys Blvd. -- youthful hijinks, bumbling cops, casual sex with carhops, and (above all) vans -- but it does so in a slightly darker, more serious way. The plot here centers around a high school football team and its cheerleading squad, which include lovely-but-tragic cult movie star Rainbeaux Smith in a supporting role. The most interesting thing about this movie is Carradine's character, an impulsive and unpredictable kid who seems like a cross between Groucho and Harpo Marx at times. In fact, Carradine has a lunchroom showdown with bully Bill Adler which escalates in a manner very similar to Harpo's battle with the lemonade vendor in Duck Soup.
Side Note: The very same year this movie was made, both Robert Carradine and Rainbeaux Smith appeared in Massacre at Central High, a fascinating and bizarre cult flick whose title and subject matter now render it unreleasable in this post-Columbine world, and it remains sadly out of print. But in my opinion, the events at Columbine only serve to make the movie more poignant and relevant than ever. Okay, end of rant.
Although the football action in the film is in no way credible, The Pom Pom Girls is still an enjoyable watch. Adler is much more convincing as a villain here than he was as a kind of pseudo-Brando hero in Van Nuys Blvd. I give The Pom Pom Girls a GRADE: B and commend Mill Creek for a crisp and colorful full-screen transfer.

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? I'd say so. There's not quite as much nudity as you'd want, but there is an agreeable amount of mayhem, including a prank war between two rival high schools and a climactic game of "suicide chicken" between Adler and Carradine. For a film of this genre, the pacing is good. I was not bored, which is saying something.

The Sister-in-Law

No visible panty lines. Impressive!

The most remarkable thing about this film is that one of its young stars, John Savage (some name!), looks just like Chris Pratt from Parks & Recreation. Here's a side-by-side comparison:

John Savage and Chris Pratt: separated at birth?

In fact, Pratt would be my candidate to play the same part in a Wes Anderson-directed remake, should such an eventuality ever occur. I doubt it will. The Sister-in-law starts out like a low-budget Graduate wannabe. Savage plays a directionless young man who moves back in with his parents, enters into an affair with an older and more jaded married woman (in this case, his brother's wife), and then falls in love with a nice young woman his own age (in this case, his brother's mistress). But then The Sister-in-law morphs into another kind of film entirely, as Savage intentionally botches his brother's drug deal and sets up a violent and tragic conclusion. The film starts as a rather clumsy attempt at softcore, but the director's aspirations toward art soon become apparent. (Indeed, this director did go on to make "A" pictures such as Sleeping with the Enemy.) He favors long takes and rather artsy compositions. In fact, his geometric use of architecture and decor (windows, fences, hallways, doors) is what made me think of Wes Anderson's films. But the script for The Sister-in-law isn't quite up to the task. The characters seem to pause a lot because they don't have anything to say. A noble effort, but there are real pacing problems here which prevent me from recommending it. Mill Creek gives us another attractive widescreen transfer, which helps a little. GRADE: C+

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Intermittently, yes. There's some highly enjoyable toplessness here from the wife and mistress, and the mafia story does eventually yield some exciting action in the form of car chases and shootouts. But the drive-in audience's patience would be severely tested by the film's deliberate pacing and hackneyed attempts at profundity.

The Teacher

She corrupts the youthful morality of, like, two kids tops.

There are three words which must be said here, and I'll get them out of the way now: Dennis the Menace. Yes, the star of this film is Jay North, who played the title troublemaker in that fondly-remembered (by some) 1950s sitcom. North is one of those disgruntled child actors who never really made the transition to adult roles, and The Teacher was one of his last screen appearances. Truthfully, he's not that good here. He sort of looks like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, but he has no charisma or screen presence and looks uncomfortable and sullen throughout the production. Luckily, his costar is the sultry and buxom Angel Tompkins, who plays the title schoolmarm. I'm starting to notice a pattern in this DVD set. The Babysitter is about a guy who schtups his babysitter... and then gets into trouble with some violent thugs. The Sister-in-law is about a guy who schtups his his sister-in-law... and then gets into trouble with violent thugs. And The Teacher? Well, yes, Dennis the Menace does lose his virginity (!) to Ms. Tompkins, his former teacher, only to find himself being menaced (get it?) by -- you guessed it -- a violent thug. There's just one thug this time, but craggy-faced and wild-eyed Anthony James does the work of ten thugs! James plays a stalker who has been spying on Angel Tompkins (and is therefore jealous of North's affair with her) and who also blames Jay North for the accidental death of his brother. So our young hero has two major strikes against him! Other than Ms. Tompkins' nude scenes, the most interesting thing about The Teacher are the moments when James shows up in his trademark yellow windbreaker to scare the living crap out of Jay North, who seems to suffer from both short-term and long-term memory loss at various times in the story. Like The Sister-in-law, The Teacher has become very dark and downbeat by the end. GRADE: C

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Oh, sure, though this film is pretty depressing towards the end. I think the drive-in audience came for Angel Tompkins. Or maybe they were diehard Dennis the Menace superfans. Who knows? And this film brought back a classic Crown International theme: VANS! Jay North spends a good deal of the film either working on his van or talking about working on his van. I think I'll say the word "van" one more time. Van. There. Now I'm done.

COMING UP! We venture into the Third Circle, Gluttony, with four more flickeroos: Blue Money, Pick-up, Best Friends and Pink Angels.

5 comments:

  1. Van Nuys Blvd. . . . Man, what a film, eh? You're absolutely right - it gets rid of the wholesomeness of American Graffiti right off the bat and throws in a load of sex . . .

    And I dig it, man.

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  2. Yeah, it's a fun little movie for sure. One moment I failed to mention in my review: one of the characters actually quotes the infamous "You can call me Ray" routine from the Ray J. Johnson Natural Light beer commercial.

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  3. I look forward to when you can get back to this project. Pink Angels holds some fascination for me, as you might imagine.

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    1. I have seen Pink Angels, and it is off-the-charts insane. Patience, Craig. I'll return to this set in due time.

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