Oh man…I miss BCI Eclipse releases like Welcome to the Grindhouse Double Feature, like I miss the drive-ins that showed cool trash like The Teacher and Pick-Up years and years ago.
By Paul Mavis
Oh, we still have a drive-in around here somewhere (I’m not counting the blow-up one that has about as much to do with a real drive-in as my childhood Fisher-Price lenticular TV had to do with my old man’s Curtis Mathes). But it’s clean and neat and families go to it, and you can’t find a beer can or condom wrapper on the ground to save your life. And just forget about gun racks in trucks…or shapely legs hooked up on said gun racks. And would you believe it? They’ve even got some Commie plan to charge you money if you bring your own food in! And people actually pay it! Jesus palomino, what the hell is wrong with this goddamn country, anyway?
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When that hack Tarantino made his grindhouse “hommage” a few years ago (his tenth and final rip-off can’t come soon enough), the late, lamented BCI released Welcome to the Grindhouse Double Feature: The Teacher and Pick-Up, a nostalgic trip back to 1970s exploitation fare, complete with coming attraction bumpers and trailers for The Hellcats, The Pom-Pom Girls, Weekend with The Babysitter, Van Nuys Blvd., and The Wild Riders. “Welcome to the Grindhouse” is certainly a misnomer, though; these relatively tame exploiters found acceptance at local drive-ins and even first-run houses more than urban grindhouses, where hard-core audiences expected X-rated skin and gore. You won’t find anything like that in The Teacher and Pick-Up, which barely earned their “R” ratings back then. But for anyone who remembers those great times at your local backwoods drive-in (thank you, creepy older brothers, for spiriting me along), Welcome to the Grindhouse Double Feature: Pick-Up and The Teacher should be a potent dose of old timey exploitation. For this review, let’s take a look at Pick-Up. (You can find my review for The Teacher here.)
Groovy hippie chicks Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood) crouch in the blowing feathery weeds as they spy groovy hippie dude Chuck (Alan Long) taking a leak against a large bus-turned-mobile home. Carol decides Chuck is groovy, so she asks for a ride (as hippie chicks did back in 1975), but spooky Maureen thinks it’s a bad, non-groovy idea—from an astrological standpoint. Still, she goes along anyway, and the trio are off, riding through the groovy back swamps of Florida. Chuck is delivering the mobile home to Tallahassee for an obnoxious RV dealer, Lou (Tom Quinn), who keeps calling on the mobile home’s phone, imploring Chuck to speed it up and earn his groovy $20 bonus.
As Carol and Chuck connect over a joint, Carol turns on some good ‘ol boys who pass the bus, flashing them as she grooves on pot. Soon, the weather turns ugly, and a detour leads the bus deeper and deeper into the deadly swamp, until the bus gets stuck but good. Instead of being sensibly terrified as most people would be, Carol and Chuck decide, as hippies will do, that this is the perfect time to run through the woods naked. Exploring their hippie Eden, Chuck and Carol get naked, swing on swings naked (um….where did that come from out in the middle of nowhere?), play with baby raccoons (clothed, because they bite), dance around naked, and run through the forest naked.
Meanwhile, spooky Maureen stays on the bus, and starts to run Tarot cards, foreseeing dark visions (there’s an inexplicable shot—among many in the movie—of Maureen in a dark, forbidding hotel room, with someone making love on the bed) while she deals with flashbacks from her past. In particular, a memory of a priest forcing himself on her in church when she was young, haunts her, as do present-day hallucinations including a black “Princess of Apollo,” who hands her a scepter, informing her that she is the princess’ successor, a three-legged marble bench where she strips and offers herself to Pazzuzu (yep, the same devil in The Exorcist), as well as an evil clown (who looks like Yucko) who terrifies Maureen when he takes off his mask, and finally a U.S. Senatorial candidate who speaks in a stereotypical gay lisp, asking her whether or not she intends to vote in the coming election (unfortunately, Maureen is from out of state).
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groovy spoilers After Maureen decides to take a burning stick and gouge a huge hole in her hand (as you do), she bonds with caring Chuck, who decides now’s the time to put his hippie free-lovin’ move on her. As Chuck and Maureen get it on out at their mini-classical forum (while the clown, Senator and Princess watch real close by), Carol leaves the bus to dance by the fire. Unfortunately, she is set upon by the rowdies that were in the pick-up at the beginning of the film (did you forget about them?), and they rape and kill her. As Chuck and Maureen wake up (the classic forum and bench are now gone), they see Carol’s hand sticking out of the swamp water. The scene cuts to original opening of the film, with Carol and Maureen in the feathery weeds, watching Chuck. Only this time, Maureen is anxious for a ride….
I have to admit that I didn’t think much of Pick-Up, up until the final moments where the rowdies attack Carol. So much of the movie is obviously designed as a “head trip,” with distorted camera angles, lengthy “freak out” sequences, and weirdo lighting and music, that watching it straight was becoming fairly dull. The opening scenes, first in the ethereal weeds sequence, with spooky Maureen peering out at Chuck, contrasted with the first scenes on the bus, with the increasingly dark, scary lighting and framing, gave the film a noticeably creepy feeling, and I was primed for a good, Southern backwoods thriller in the vein of 2,000 Maniacs or Deliverance. When the bus is detoured, first-time director/cinematographer Bernie Hirschenson does an admirable job of creating an increasingly menacing mise-en- scene.
However, all of that atmosphere disappears into standard exploitation nudity, hippie dramatics, and laughable bargain- basement, cracker-barrel Freudian flashbacks (Carol’s flashback, where she wears pigtails, is unintentionally fall-down funny). And after about an hour, I wondered: what the hell are all of these goofy hallucinations that Maureen is having, including the clown with the balloons, and the lame political satire of the Senatorial candidate? Fortunately, Hirschenson knew how to end the film, with the genuinely surprising attack on Carol by the rednecks. Coming totally out of the blue (I had forgotten all about them about an hour in) after being set up with the hippie Eden sequences, the violent (but only suggested), genuinely scary shots of Carol being attacked come as a big jolting shock, and just for a minute, you think Hirschenson has pulled out a brilliant diversionary ending for his film. Unfortunately, he blows it by going back to the cliched Twilight Zone reversal ending, and we’re left unsettled, to be sure…but also less than satisfied. But that’s okay, because remember: if the movies were actually good, it wouldn’t be a true drive-in experience.