Friday, April 27, 2012

Trip with the Teacher

Directed by Earl Barton.
1975. Rated R, 91 minutes.
Zalman King
Brenda Fogarty
Cathy Worthington
Robert Porter
Robert Gribbin
Susan Russell
Jack Driscoll
Jill Voight
Dina Ousley
Ed Cross

If you’re familiar with my reviews of B-movies then you know that I watched way too much Skinemax back in the 80s and 90s. For those unfamiliar, Skinemax is a euphemism for the soft core adult flicks that cable network Cinemax aired pretty late on Friday and Saturday nights. Do they still do this? I haven’t that channel in years. What I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned is that I also spent some time watching their main competitor in the boobie movie arena: Showtime. One of Showtime’s main draws was a series called Zalman King’s The Red Shoes Diaries. Wham bam, thank you ma’am – get your pseudo-porn fix in thirty minute installments. FYI, none of the episodes were related in any manner other than the prevailing theme. Almost all of them revolved around a woman having some sort of sexual awakening or fantasy and also narrating the story. We’re not talking Emmy quality TV, but if you’re still up and at home at 2 AM on the weekend then it’s infinitely more interesting than watching Sports Center for the umpteenth time in a row.

Fast forward to a much more recent sleepless night. While digging feverishly through the DVD vault I latch on to one of the grindhouse collections I’m just crazy enough to own. It’s a 2 disc set with 4 movies on each disc. I’ve watched and reviewed three of the movies on Disc 1: The Pick Up, The Teacher and Best Friends. I’ve done the same for Malibu High on disc 2. Since I’m a bit of a completist, it only make sense to watch the last of the four from the first disc, Trip with the Teacher. I hit the play button and whaddya know? Our feature presentation stars none other than Zalman King. It has to be the same guy, right? I mean, how many Zalman Kings could there be? I’m willing to bet Zalman King has never met another Zalman King that wasn’t related to or named after him.

Our boy Z, produced all of and directed most episodes of “The Red Shoes Diaries”. He does have a few mainstream successes to his unique name. Of course, they’re also on the risqué side. King directed Two Moon Junction, Wild Orchid and is one of the writers of the iconic 9 ½ Weeks. Here, he’s just an actor. In fact, he gets to play Al, the villain. Suffice it to say that I can see why he went into producing and directing. Still, his is arguably the best performance in TwtT despite the fact that he mumbles all of his lines for the first third of the film, and screams them the rest of the way. It’s like he suddenly transforms from King of the Hill’s Boomhauer to Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

Al is not only a psycho, he oozes craziness from the moment we see him. He’s not terribly bright, either. He and his even less smart brother Pete (Porter) happen upon a school bus with a group of young girls waving wildly and smiling at the two of them plus Jay (Gribbin), the guy they just met because he helped fix Jay’s flat tire. Sorry, I forgot to mention that the trio is riding motorcycles. You know how much young chicks dig bikes. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

Lo and behold, the boys stop at the same gas station as the bus. By the way, the bus contains four teenaged girls, one adult female teacher, Ms. Tenny (Fogarty) and Marvin the bus driver (Driscoll). Despite the fact that the guys all look 30 and the gals all look 16, everyone except Ms. Tenny and Marvin gets their flirt on. The bus scoots off while the guys hang back, still getting gas and stuff. By the way, “and stuff” is a term only used in highbrow literature. You’re reading a pro here, folks. Anyhoo, Al takes this opportunity to sneak off and quietly kill the gas attendant/mechanic for giving them a little lip. Trust me, the sleaze is only beginning to drip at this point.

A few miles down the road, the bus breaks down. When the guys catch up, Pete tries to figure out what’s wrong with the thing and decides the fuel pump is busted. Since this is the 70s and there are no cell phones, the boys begrudgingly agree to tow the bus. Yup, you read that right. They whip out some rope from I don’t know where, hook their bikes to the bus and take off in a manner that totally looks like someone is just driving the bus slowly behind them. Never mind that. All you really need to know is that the guys tow them to an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. Once there, we get to see Al in all his glory.

Not long after arriving at the shack, Al and Pete kill Marvin the bus driver and knock out Jay, who’s actually a nice guy. The obviously scared school girls try to formulate an escape plan without consulting the teacher. The easy one among them then decides this is as good opportunity to “get some”. Well, not exactly, she has another plan. It’s not a particularly good plan, but a plan nonetheless. She tries to distract Al with her feminine wiles in hopes of getting him out of the way so the rest of the girls can…I don’t know what they think they’re gonna do, so whatever. Ol’ Al is not quite as dumb as a box of rocks, but still horny. He starts screaming at the easy girl to take off her clothes right there in front of everyone. Sufficiently petrified, she does. What’s Ms. Tenny doing while this is going on? Oh just sitting in the corner watching it go down. Apparently, her brain jumps back into her head just before the easy girl is completely naked, she remembers psycho Al doesn’t have a gun and she intervenes. None too deterred, Al drags the teacher into the next room, beats her with a belt while yanking her clothes off then raping her.

Let’s pause, shall we? From the sentence in the previous paragraph that starts with “He starts screaming,” things get uncomfortable for the viewer. At least, they did for me. Make no mistake, the movie is pure grindhouse, but the tone of this section is too dire to take the edge off what we’re seeing. The acting is just good enough to make us a bit queasy. Methinks the filmmakers found a way to really put a fright into our cast of young girls. They’re performances are unremarkable elsewhere, but during this little portion they’re downright believable. This also happens in one other scene. A little later, Al runs down one of the girls who makes a break for it. After smacking her around a bit, by the way he’s visibly missing most of the time despite what we hear, and the obligatory tearing of her blouse he knocks her to the ground, face down. He then sits on her back and pushes down on the back of her head until she’s suffocated by the dirt. It’s a bit protracted and again a little too realistic for comfort. This is coming from a guy who practically grew up on slasher flicks. In those movies, and lots of shoot ‘em ups, the violence is indeed graphic. However, its often so over the top with equally ridiculous sound effects that it has a tongue-in-cheek quality. The remake of Piranha is a perfect example of this. Without that cheekiness, there are a few moments where TwtT veers from having a twisted sense of humor to just being twisted. It can be unsettling.

Thankfully, the rest of the movie is unintentionally hilarious, for the most part. The screenplay is a total hack job. The sleaze just drips off most frames and our boy Z chews up the scenery with relentless ferocity. There may be one performance better than his, though. Brenda Fogarty actually does solid work as the teacher. The script doesn’t give her much to work with, but she does a pretty good job with what’s there. Judging from this, I can see her having gone on to more legitimate roles. With that, let’s go to good ol’ and see what else is on her resume. Um, nevermind. Let’s move on. Oh, what did I find? Alright, if you must know she’s appeared in a few classics such as If You Don’t Stop It…You’ll Go Blind, All Night Long, Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, to name a few. Hey, I’ve seen that last one. Don’t judge me.

Compared to the rest of the cast this is actually a pretty good filmography. For instance, one of our girls is played by Jill Voight. You know I just had to look her up to see if she’s related to Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie. Of course, she’s not. However, I see that she was able to parlay this little success into a few episodes of One Life to Live and winning the coveted role of “Extra Counselor #6” in Friday the 13th Part II. Nice. Okay, I confess. A couple others did have decent careers. Cathy Worthington has been appearing in TV movies and as a guest on various series for nearly 40 years. And you can’t forget our boy Z.

Make no mistake, our Trip with the Teacher is a wild ride that stays in the exploitation lane. Every now and again it drifts into uncomfortability when things get a tad too serious. Thankfully, some riotously horrible scenes snatch us back from the ledge, reminding us we’re in the land of the absurd. Therefore, despite a couple bumps in the road, it’s so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

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