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 The Teacher. (You can find my review for Pick-Up here.)
In sun-soaked Southern California, freakishly gorgeous 28-year-old high school teacher Diane Marshall (Angel Tompkins) has a stalker: former VA hospital patient Ralph Gordon (Anthony James), who pursues Diane in a black and white hearse (nothing like being inconspicuous…). The older brother of Lou Gordon (Rudy Herrera, Jr.), one of Diane’s students, Ralph’s actions are known to Diane, who doesn’t seem all that perturbed by Ralph’s fevered obsession.
Lou, taking along best friend Sean Roberts (Jay North), goes to his brother’s hangout—a deserted marina warehouse opposite Diane’s boat dock—where Lou has discovered Ralph’s stash of binoculars and weapons, hidden in a red coffin (again; subtlety is obviously not Ralph’s strong suit). Evidently, Ralph told Lou that he had slept with Diane, and now Lou wants to see for himself what his brother supposedly already knows about Diane.
spoilers galore Watching Diane sunbathing topless out on her boat (I feel funny…), the boys are startled by Ralph’s sudden appearance with a large bayonet (the real thing—not a euphemism). Lou falls backward over the staircase railing, splattering all over the pavement, while psycho Ralph immediately blames terrified Sean for Lou’s death. Fleeing from Ralph, Sean returns home, only to find Ralph at his window, threatening him if he spills the beans to the cops, which doesn’t really mean anything, because he said he was going to kill him anyway (why Ralph doesn’t kill Sean at this point, or at any of the other numerous times he has Diane and/or Sean alone, is anybody’s guess).
Meanwhile, nervous Sean, now totally stressed out, is literally pushed by his mother, Alice Roberts (Marlene Schmidt), into being alone with sexy Diane. Alice thinks they’re both “lonely,” especially Diane, who must be, um…frustrated since her husband is absent most of the time, traveling around on his motorcycle. Diane, acting on a three-year old attraction for Sean, finally manages to seduce him (dim-wit Sean’s infuriating reluctance to get the hint after several passes from the practically begging Diane will have you putting your head through a wall, trust me), whereupon the lovers now engage in almost constant sex: on her boat, at his house, at her house. Unfortunately, creepy Ralph is almost always watching, and eventually, he gets up enough nerve to actually make good on his threats. He kidnaps Sean to his warehouse lair, hoping to draw out Diane for a final act of passion and violence.
A horny 12-year-old boy’s dream picture, 1974’s The Teacher doesn’t really have a whole lot more to offer, in the way of suspense, than your average Mannix or Hawaii Five-O episode from the same year. The stalking element of the movie (elements that releasing company Crown International would recycle six years later for their Morgan Fairchild epic, The Seduction) is at best, incompetently handled. Much of Gordon’s storyline makes no sense whatsoever, including zero background on who, exactly, Gordon is, or what his problem is with Diane. Frequently, Gordon has Sean all to himself, and then he does nothing about it. He’s a very unmotivated stalker/killer, to be sure.
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The editing in The Teacher is atrocious, with inserts of characters dropped in, and then ignored, for the rest of the scene (during the big seduction scene, Ralph is seen at the window, but then…we never see him again). There’s the start of a good sequence where Ralph keeps popping up in various windows of Sean’s van, but it leads nowhere, as do most scenes in veteran exploitation director Howard Avedis’ cheap-jack production. And really, the Ralph character is pretty much a waste of supreme movie weirdo Anthony James’ talents.
However, as a T&A fest (if you don’t know that acronym, ask a real man after he’s done sleeping with your wife), The Teacher is quite enjoyable, mainly because we get to see staggering, lynx-eyed, and seriously erotic Angel Tompkins in various stages of undress, most frequently set off in her stunning tied-at-the-neck halter top bikinis (by Catalina™, of course). A lot of big things were predicted for Tompkins when she made a splash in Elliott Gould’s 1970 picture, I Love My Wife (she won the Golden Globe that year for her role). She received a lot of media attention, and other roles looked liked they might propel her into the big time (I loved her as the super-cool Clarabelle in Michael Ritchie’s delirious trash, Prime Cut), but too many low-budget misfires (Little Cigars, The Farmer, The Bees) kept her stranded in supporting roles on TV.
Here, charging around the neighborhood on her cute bicycle in her baby-doll print sundresses (I’m starting to feel faint…) or confidently stripping off her clothes to reveal another stunning bikini which we know is eventually coming off, too (I’m definitely light-headed now…), Tompkins more than fulfills every young man’s fantasy about sleeping with his gorgeous teacher. The seduction scenes are clumsily staged, but Tompkins is so magnetic on the screen (I love it when she growls, “Goddammit! I want to touch you!” at clueless dufus Jay North), it doesn’t really matter that director Avedis’ set-ups fail to take advantage of how pretty and erotic she really is (god, with better management—that would be me—she could have been huge).
The capper has to be when, inviting Sean over for sex at her house, she strips down to her ever-present bikini, grabs a couple of cans of Coors, and jumps right into the pool. When that idiot Jay North starts splashing water around, Tompkins, with the preternaturally lithe grace reserved for angels and otherworldly sprites, saves the beer from getting water-logged. That’s when I knew I was hopelessly, helplessly in love. She’s a stunner; too bad she made too many films like The Teacher….