Directors: Bennie Hirschenson and Howard (Hikmet) Avedis
BCI Eclipse

To cash in on the release of the Tarantino-Rodriguez homage film GRINDHOUSE, it seems like everyone is trying to release something with the word “grindhouse” in the title. The fact that GRINDHOUSE was one of the year’s most disappointing box office bombs hasn’t stopped discs like BCI Eclipse’s “Welcome to the Grindhouse” series from flooding the market. This second installment, double-featuring two 1970s sexploitation classics possibly better suited to a drive-in-themed double feature, is an improvement over the Eurocult twin bill of BLACK CANDLES and EVIL EYE, most notably because it features the home video debut of the obscure hitchhiker opus PICK-UP. Additional note: for some reason BCI has also included PICK-UP in a eight-pack due out on Tuesday July 24, AFTER DARK THRILLERS, so if you don’t care for THE TEACHER and just want to get the previously unreleased PICK-UP, along with seven other films in the Crown-International library newly transferred (many of which also have never been available on home video), skip this disc and pick up the eight-pack.

An animated main menu highlighting sounds of busy traffic and shots of theater marquees provides a “Start the Grindhouse Experience” option to view both films in a double-feature format. Select this option to view the popular “Coming Attractions” and “Feature Presentation” logos, which book-end previews for other BCI releases, THE HELLCATS, THE POM POM GIRLS, and WEEKEND WITH THE BABYSITTER (these trailers can’t be accessed individually elsewhere on the disc, and are a nice touch). Then sit back and prepare yourself for THE TEACHER, a clash between a psycho thriller and a cheery sexploitation relic. To give you an idea of what kind of weird mix this is, take a look at the opening. A bizarre-looking stalker watches our title character as a1970s AM-sounding theme song plays. “The Teacher” is Diane Marshall, a professional-looking woman with her hair in a tight bun who, after school’s out, lets her hair down, speeds down the road in her beautiful blue sports car, and takes her boat (with “Diane” painted on the front) out into the harbor so she can sunbathe topless without having to worry about prying eyes. However, she doesn’t know that she is being routinely stalked by Ralph, a pervert with pictures of Diane all over his abandoned warehouse hideout who loves to peek at the sexy blonde through binoculars everywhere she goes. One particular afternoon, Ralph’s brother Lou and Lou’s best friend Sean steal into the warehouse and use Ralph’s binoculars to check out Diane for themselves. Unfortunate circumstances lead to Lou dying in a fall, but Sean gets over it by nestling in the arms of Diane, who also happens to be both his teacher and neighbor! However, Ralph doesn’t get over the death of his brother so easily, and goes further off the deep end when he learns that the object of his misguided affections is shagging the “murderer” of his brother! He even shows up in a scuba diving outfit, wielding a harpoon, prepared to kill as Diane and Sean make love on her boat!

Hikmet Avedis, the man behind this drive-in anti-classic, was responsible for plenty of trashy sexploitation films (SCORCHY, DR. MINX, THE STEPMOTHER, which was somehow nominated for an Oscar!), but THE TEACHER may be his most popular. It’s such a strange little film, highlighted by a meandering script packed with ridiculous dialogue and cardboard characters, jumping back and forth between frothy comic sexuality and tense psychopath thrills. You can’t help but be sucked in! The only real problem with the film is its length; at 97 minutes, it’s just too long, and there’s too much time spent on the May-December romance that isn’t interesting (i.e., padding like scenes of the two getting drunk at a restaurant and frolicking in Diane’s pool). But things perk up whenever Angel pops her top (which is often), the psycho shows up to threaten the couple, and of course there’s the Screenwriters 101 dialogue and the unexpected ending. It’s no cult classic, but is a fun little drive-in relic that could only be made in the anything-goes 1970s.

Leading lady Angel Tompkins, at 31, looks the most vibrant she would ever look on-screen, and her honey blonde hair, dazzling smile, and bodacious bod are put to great use in a number of topless scenes and a memorable shower scene. She epitomizes the dream teacher of the 1970’s, a free spirit nymph seeing no harm in seducing the students of her choice behind closed doors. Any teenager would be crazy not to succumb to her sexual wiles! Angel was maybe the most successful drive-in starlet of the decade, regularly appearing in TV guest spots, supporting roles in Hollywood films, and lead roles in cult pics like THE BEES and LITTLE CIGARS. She kind of went off the deep end around the time she ran for SAG President, and has a reputation these days of being quite difficult and nutty. Jay North, long retired from his TV series “Dennis the Menace”, is a gawky male lead, which is perfect for his coming-of-age character. It’s interesting that after his child star days, he went from voice work in Hanna-Barbera cartoons to this feature film, then promptly disappeared again. Anthony James is one of the great character actors of the 1970s, with jagged facial features and wild eyes, forever memorable as the ghostly chauffeur in BURNT OFFERINGS and countless villains on weekly TV series (my favorite finds him playing a lecherous deputy in the notorious “Angels in Chains” episode of “Charlie’s Angels”). As the villain here, James runs the gamut from heartbroken to violently passionate. Marlene Schmidt, playing Sean’s mother, was also the film’s associate producer, and director Hikmet Avedis’ wife; Miss Universe contestant Sivi Aberg and AIP sexpot Quinn O’Hara (THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, CRY OF THE BANSHEE) are flirtatious girlfriends of Sean’s mother; and two amusing gossipy ladies in a restaurant are Katherine Cassavetes, director John’s grandmother (!), and Lady Rowlands, John’s mother-in-law.

After the feature, an Intermission logo features the SWV watermark (?!) before the popular Prevues of Coming Attractions announcement clears the way for trailers for VAN NUYS BOULEVARD, WILD RIDERS, and once again, the Feature Presentation announcement. Now, get ready for the home video debut of the ultra-obscure PICK-UP, which has been on a number of cult film fans’ want lists after the trailer began popping up on various compilations. Unlike the trailer, however, which paints the film as a shoddily-made quickie with sex to spare, this is a stylish art movie with two likable leads, beautiful cinematography, and unique storytelling. How it remained unavailable on video for years is beyond me! Happy-go-lucky free spirit Carol and her friend, somber Maureen, are hitchhiking across the country when they grab a ride with handsome Chuck, a young guy in a huge mobile home with all the luxuries that he is delivering to someone in Tallahassee. While Maureen relaxes in the back reading tarot cards, Carol smokes some pot hidden in a dead lizard on the dashboard and go-go dances to the delight of a truck filled with rowdy hillbillies. The trio quickly becomes lost in the Everglades during a heavy thunderstorm, eventually becoming stuck in the mud of a wild swamp. While Carol and Chuck venture into the swamp together, appreciating the beauty of nature and finding a friend in a baby raccoon, Maureen undergoes a spiritual experience, accepting a scepter from the goddess of Apollo and laying nude on a sacrificial altar. The three become more comfortable in their own version of Paradise, and make no real effort to come back to civilization. But will these youths be able to confront their own demons in order to survive?

While advertised as a sex-n-drugs exploitation film, PICK-UP is more of an existential road film a la EASY RIDER. Though it features the requisite sex and nudity, director Bennie Hirschenson has created something very unique and special with his story of three n’er do wells on the fringes of society. It actually plays better as an experimental student film than a drive-in epic, so you’ve been given fair warning. Not only did Hirschenson direct this film, he also produced, edited, and acted as cinematographer! His camerawork here is particularly startling, with great depth and character, prowling the Florida swamps and taking in all the splendor of the locations. Maureen’s visions are really something, including the black goddess of Apollo, a large marble altar in the middle of nowhere, and a clown with tons of balloons in the middle of a field. Writer John Winter’s script essentially acts as a guideline for the visuals of the film, though it does provide for some interesting backstory for the characters (Maureen is raped by a priest as a young girl, Carol escapes from a conservative home life and loses her virginity to a young boy in the forest, Chuck studies CB radio while his religious fanatic mother dotes on him). Political commentary appears in the form of an (imaginary?) electoral candidate campaigning for conservative values. The closest I can come to describing how strange and wonderful PICK-UP is would be to evoke memories of the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, heavy on visuals and symbolism. Simply put, PICK-UP is not an exploitation film, it’s a surreal experience of a film influenced by Goddard and Bergman. If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, you should probably stick to the cheap, fun thrills of THE TEACHER and just watch the PICK-UP trailer again. For more adventurous viewers, give it a try. Truly a great time capsule piece and worthy of repeat viewings (plus the ending is great, too!). Additional note: One of the film’s gaffers, Beau Buchanan, was an adult film director in New York, responsible for such diverse projects as HIGH PRIESTESS OF SEXUAL WITCHCRAFT (Georgina Spelvin’s first hardcore film) to CAPTAIN LUST AND THE PIRATE WOMEN.

Unlike the first “Welcome to the Grindhouse” double feature, both films here are presented 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and transferred from original film elements from the Crown-International vaults. THE TEACHER, previously available from bootleg operation Westlake, using a fullscreen video master, is bright and colorful for the first time in the digital format, with attractive yellows and lush greens. Some graininess during the opening credits aside, this is a very good transfer and the best the film has ever looked or sounded on home video. For its official home video debut, PICK-UP looks amazing, in another bright, colorful, clean transfer with no print damage or debris. Unfortunately, as good as PICK-UP looks, the audio is rather poor, requiring much cranking to understand dialogue in key scenes. (Casey Scott)